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Airport tower workers rely on their eyes

Airport tower workers rely on their eyes
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Without air traffic controllers, airline pilots would be flying blind; here’s what else only an air traffic controller knows.

Air traffic controllers who work in airport towers spend as much time looking out their windows as they do at the radar screen. “In short, we sit staring out of the window a lot,” Dutch air traffic controllers Feike and Carlijn explains on the KLM Airlines blog. “In fact, we can handle more traffic if we can see it directly than if we have to rely on technology.” In bad weather, ATCs can’t see as well, which is why those days can mean delays for passengers.

Not all air traffic controllers work at the airport

Not all air traffic controllers work at the airport
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“While air traffic control towers are certainly the most visible part of our workplaces, tower controllers are only responsible for the airport surfaces and the airspace immediately surrounding the airport,” air traffic controller “Vic Vector” explains on thepointsguy.com. The air traffic in the airspace around major airports is controlled by ATCs who work in “dark, windowless rooms, sometimes hundreds of miles away from the airspace they’re watching [via radar].”

They’re not on the ground waving their arms around

They’re not on the ground waving their arms around
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The people directing runway traffic are called “ground marshallers.” Air traffic controllers (ATCs) are different: ATCs are responsible for the safe, orderly, and expeditious movement of air traffic through the nation’s airspace. For example, ATCs ensure that aircraft remain at safe distances from one another. They also guide pilots away from bad weather. Essentially, air traffic controllers tell pilots where and when to fly, reports airline KLM.

The job is shockingly unpredictable

The job is shockingly unpredictable
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For a job that relies on absolute precision, air traffic controllers can’t predict what a shift will be like. “No day is like any other, and they never know what they might face when they arrive at work to start their shift.” retired ATC Keith Brown explains on quora.com.

The stress isn’t as bad as you’d think

The stress isn’t as bad as you’d think
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Although being an ATC ranks among the most stressful jobs, the people who actually do it for a living don’t seem to mind. “The fact that many lives could be at risk if a mistake is made was a positive stressor for me,” Brown explains on another quora.com post. Plus, less than 5 per cent of the job feels high-stress, adds former air traffic controller Jeff Jarr in a separate post. If the work stresses you out, he says, you won’t last long. So, travellers are more likely to be stressed than ATCs. Try these tips to de-stress while travelling.

Six-figure salary, generous benefits

Six-figure salary, generous benefits
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A typical air traffic control specialist earned on average $141,795 in 2017, according to Airservices Australia, the local governing authority. In April 2018, the Australian Taxation Office released taxation data across professions, which placed ATC among Australia’s top income earners.

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ATCs need to take breaks

ATCs need to take breaks
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Although ATCs are on the job for six hours a shift, they get breaks within that time to avoid fatigue. Most workers take a 30 minute break over a six hour shift, according to the Airservices Australia enterprise agreement.

The application process is rigorous

The application process is rigorous
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The entire application process, from application to hiring, can take anywhere from months to years to complete, Vector tells thepointsguy.com. And you need good timing: “About once a year, an application window opens on usajobs.gov and generally remains open for a week or so,” he says. See if you’re ready by taking this test air traffic controllers used to have to pass.

Age does (and doesn’t matter)

Age does (and doesn’t matter)
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While ATCs in the United States must be 30 or younger during the application window, in Australia applicants must simply be over 18 years of age. Similarly in the US, retirement is mandatory at age 56. This differs in each country. You also have to pass a criminal history background check and a medical exam that covers vision, colour vision, hearing, psychological health, substance abuse, cardiovascular fitness, and neurological well-being.

They speak their own language

They speak their own language
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“In our world, we speak a unique language called radiotelephony (RT),” note Carlijn and Feike. “This is based on English and there is a lot of jargon involved.” RT means all pilots and ATCs speak the same language, but even if English is your native tongue, you’ll need time to become fluent in RT.

Here are some RT words and their definitions:

  • Squawk: Set the mode or code of transmission.
  • Wilco: I understand your message and will comply with it.
  • Words twice: Communication is difficult, so please send every word or phrase twice. Find out what these other 11 mysterious flight codes really mean.

“In our world, we speak a unique language called radiotelephony (RT),” note Carlijn and Feike. “This is based on English and there is a lot of jargon involved.” RT means all pilots and ATCs speak the same language, but even if English is your native tongue, you’ll need time to become fluent in RT.

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