Air Traffic Controllers

Air Traffic Controllers

As the US joins the second month of a government shutdown that started on December 22, 2018, federal shortages of employees are becoming a growing issue. On the afternoon of January 25, 2019, the FAA announced that they were stopping flights to LaGuardia Airport in New York City owing to air traffic control personnel shortages along the south shore. It is a powerful reminder that while drivers and flight staff are key to keeping air transport secure, air traffic controllers — though less visible— are just as crucial to bringing you from Point A to Point B.

More than 14,000 of them are employed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to choreograph the flow of aircraft on the floor and in the heavens, whether this implies using radar and other instruments to guide aircraft to take off, interacting with drivers on flight routes and climate, or assisting passengers leave their planes securely. Look at these air traffic controller secrets to know about their distinctive lingo, elevated job stress, and occasional appearances of UFOs.


You likely imagine someone operating in a large glass tower at an airport when you imagine an air traffic controller. Many controllers, however, work either at a Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) facility or at a path center that may be far from an airport.

Controllers have distinct duties in each of the three kinds of installations, according to air traffic controller Chris Solomon, who regulates military aircraft. “The typical tower controllers get the planes from the gate to the runway and then airborne to within five or so miles of an airport. The aircraft then becomes under the control of the approach controllers [TRACON],” he told the website Art of Manliness.

During their approach and departure from the airport, these TRACON operators generally regulate the aircraft. The path center controller takes over when aircraft achieve an altitude above 18,000 feet, using radar to direct aircraft at flying altitudes until the aircraft starts its descent. Then the keys are taken by the flight controller, followed by a tower controller who directs the landing of the aircraft.


Some air traffic controllers start their army careers, while others transfer to the Air Traffic Control Academy of the FAA. But they have to have excellent sight, a strong mind, and the capacity to think rapidly and clearly under stress, no matter how they join the career. The FAA needs candidates to be 30 years of era or older when applying for the position, and operators must leave at 56 years of era before most of them experience any mental deterioration related to age.


Pilots and air traffic operators around the globe must talk English to interact (ICAO requires), but they also have their own vocabulary related to flight. This alphabetical and numerical phonetic scheme, replacing letters (A to Z) and digits (zero to nine) with code words, minimizes confusion and misunderstandings between air traffic controllers and drivers.

For example, controllers say “bravo” instead of the letter “B,” “Charlie” instead of the letter “C,” and “niner” instead of the number “nine.” (Theories explaining the origin of the code word “niner” differ, but aircraft enthusiasts speculate that the extra syllable differentiates it from the German word for “no” or distinguishes it from the pronunciation of the number “five.”) Air traffic controllers also have their own slang and, for instance, use the phrase “souls on board” to refer to the number of people on a plane.

The FAA Order 7110.65 handbook [PDF] details the phonetic scheme, along with other keywords, sentences, and processes. Controllers call the handbook their "bible," research it during instruction, and frequently check it to maintain updates and changes informed.


Although English is the formal aviation language, it is not well spoken by all drivers. Brandon Miller, an air traffic controller working for Potomac Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) in northern Virginia, informs Mental Floss that communicating with overseas drivers can be hard. "We're in the communication company, however," he tells, explaining that learning to address future communication problems is component of their practice. Controllers can talk more smoothly when speaking to a pilot with a strong accent, pronounce phrases more dramatically, and attempt to prevent as much as necessary altering paths.

Stephen, a FAA air traffic controller, repeats the statement made by Miller. "We're predominantly just bitching, saying stuff very gently, and doing the utmost we can," he commented on Reddit when interacting with drivers with strong accents.


Because they are accountable for thousands of life 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, most air traffic controllers are experiencing a elevated amount of stress associated with employment. "We often skip birthdays, work on holidays and weekends, and often work on alternative cycles of sleep," describes Miller. Staying centered is vital, particularly in moments of crowded traffic and poor climate, so most air traffic controllers take a break every hour or two, based on their facility's laws.

According to Miller, his job remains difficult due to the variety of duties in his working day. He may direct Air Force One or other VIPs (from our nation or from a overseas nation) at any specified moment, sequencing business passenger aircraft into a multitude of Washington, D.C. airports. Area, helping police or paramedic helicopters, speeding up army combatants and military transport aircraft, or searching for suspect aircraft in the Special Flight Rules Area of Washington, D.C.

On the other hand, graveyard shifts and periods with less traffic can be tedious and dull. “Hours and hours of boredom combined with moments of sheer terror, as we like to say,” Stephen told Reddit. “But if you like the challenge and want to be where the action is, it's a great job!”


In a 2011 report for The Daily Beast, Bob Richards, who has served for more than two centuries as an air traffic controller at Chicago O'Hare International Airport, defined his work as "exciting, satisfying, and completely exhausting." Richards observed that four of his coworkers died of sudden cardiac death, two died of pancreatic cancer, and many others suffered from stress-related illnee. Richards himself endured from atrial fibrillation in his early 40s, which ultimately developed into congestive heart failure.

A 2011 NASA secret research discovered that nearly one-fifth of controllers produced important mistakes, partially owing to chronic fatigue owing to absence of sleep and busy schedules for shifts. The FAA issued a series of new rules to combat fatigue and address controllers allegedly sleeping on the job, which increase the mandatory time between the shifts of controllers.


During their professions, most air traffic controllers have personally found some kind of unidentified flying object (or have a coworker who has noticed it). UFO sightings are more prevalent at night when air traffic controllers can see an unexplained flashing light coming from an aircraft. But strange sightings aren't simply forms of alien life — radar is so delicate that it can pick up objects on the floor like clouds, a flock of birds, or even a big car.


While air traffic controllers depend on radar and other technology to do their employment, there is no risk that technology will quickly replace them. With so many life at risk, it is probable that air traffic control will always require people to guarantee that automated systems work correctly and that technology will not fail. And controllers appreciate the feeling of fulfillment with using their understanding and abilities to assist travelers securely get from A to B. "It's a lot of pride that my colleagues and I know that air traffic control safety is the last thing on the minds of travelers when they get stuck in the aircraft," tells Miller.

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