Yet Another Near Miss Over Springfield. Southwest Airlines Jet Has Close Call

The federal investigation will begin in January following a long list of close calls involving airliners. The latest near miss involved a Southwest Airlines passenger jet enroute to Chicago.

An air traffic control trainee issued a descent clearance to the Southwest Airlines aircraft in the direction of, and through another aircraft's level. The trainee had only been on the job for three weeks at the time of the incident.

It was at this point the veteran training officer instructed the Southwest pilots to increase their descent profile to avert the business turbo-prop aircraft.

The TCAS (Traffic Collision Avoidance System) on board the Southwest Airliner issued an alert that along with the quick actions of the training officer, avoided any collision.

Although the two aircraft did not collide, the event still resulted in a violation of air traffic control separation standards. The two aircraft coming within a proximity 3.1 miles laterally and 300ft vertically at the closest point with a high rate of closure. Almost two mile less than the minimum standard laterally and less than a third of the vertical standard.

It is reported that it could have been a true "T-Bone" incident with the two aircraft being on crossing tracks. The incident occurred at about 9:30 a.m. local on Wednesday approximately 15 miles north of Springfield.

This is believed to be the second serious incident in only three days at the Chicago facility. The sixth in 11 weeks involving aircraft flying dangerously close to each other... My Life And Air Traffic Control does apologise to it's readers for missing the scoop on the previous incidents. This however, is not the first time the Chicago facility has made My Life And Air Traffic Control's honour roll of serious incidents. We last reported a near miss between a Midwest Ailines jet and a United Express aircraft back in November.

My Life And Air Traffic Control is slightly amused by the FAA's comments stating that "The pilots could always see each other. This was not a near-miss,".

At least they are consistent. This comment is almost identical to that made by FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory on the near miss last month.

So how deep does this rabbit hole go? How close do they have to get before the FAA will admit to a near miss?

Data Error Causes Near Miss South-West Of Sydney

ATSB reports have concluded that a data error resulted in the near miss of a Boeing 737-8FE and and Airbus A330-342X south-west of Sydney on April 4.

The Boeing 737 was on descent to Sydney from Melbourne when the Airbus A330, departing for Hong Kong came within 1.9 nautical mile laterally and 600 feet vertically. 1.1 nautical miles and 400 feet short of the minimum separation standard.

The incident occurred only minutes after the controller came on duty. The report found that the controller was "distracted" while adjusting personal setting on the TAAATS display and an incorrect CFL (Cleared Flight Level) was assigned to the B737. According to the report "That assigned level was being used for separation by another air traffic controller."

The error was discovered prior to a conflict alert on the console being activated and the controller took action to avert any possible collision.

Bad weather had caused a complicated situation at the time, with forced changes in flight paths. This may have also contributed to the resulted break down in separation.

Media reports indicate that "adjusting personal settings on the ASD was not a part of official handover procedures". Implying that the distraction was a result of the controller acting irresponsibly.

In the controllers defence My Life And Air Traffic Control would like to point out to it's readers that "The investigation concluded that this data entry error occurred within two minutes of the air traffic controller assuming responsibility for the control position". Any Air Traffic Controllers reading will agree that responsibility is assumed on completion of the handover and not only that, the distraction caused by not adjusting personal settings on the console far outweighs that caused by doing so.

The handover and the distraction in this case are completely unrelated and this is purely a ploy to sell headlines.

FAA In Gross Violation Of Federal Air Regulations Forcing Controller To Work Over 13 Hours

The NATCA reports this week that an Air Traffic Controller at Syracuse Tower was forced to work 13 hours and 40 minutes in a single shift. An event that is in gross violation of federal air regulations and the FAA's own internal order governing safe working limits. The shift commencing at 2:20 p.m. and ending at 4 a.m.

The shift occurred on December 4 when a controller that was scheduled to work the midnight shift called in sick due to a broken ankle. Due to short staffing, no one was available for overtime and the decision was made by the tower's FAA manager to extend a controller from the afternoon shift until 4 a.m.

This situation is a perfect example of controller fatigue, which is an ongoing issue with the FAA. So much so it has made international headlines. My Life And Air Traffic Control reported only last week on an article from The Age about US investigators warning of a runway crash.

NATCA Eastern Regional Vice President Phil Barbarello said "This is a prime example of how staffing is really hurting us physically," and that "This decision was absolutely ridiculous and extremely unsafe."

And I'm sure no one will disagree with him. My Life And Air Traffic Control contacted the FAA to ask their feelings on the issue. At the time of publishing no comment had been received.

Syracuse Tower will lose another four veteran controllers in January due to retirement, leaving a grand total of 16 fully trained and certified controllers on the roster. This number representing just one-half of the qualified air traffic controllers it had just a few years ago.

Waterbombing Aircraft Crashes Into Lake In The Hunter Valley Killing Pilot

A waterbombing aircraft has plunged into a lake in the Hunter Valley today killing the pilot, now identified at 75 year old Col Pay. A man well known within the aviation industry with over 50 years flight experience.

Although the report below states that no one was able to comment on what work Mr Pay was carrying out at the time, My Life And Air Traffic Control resources confirm the aircraft was conducting practice manoeuvres in an Air Tractor 802, scooping water in preparation for the fast approaching bush fire season.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports:

"An agricultural pilot with more than 50 years experience is feared dead after a light aircraft crashed into a lake in the NSW Hunter region.

Without naming the pilot, police said a man aged in his seventies was missing after the plane went down at Lake Liddell, north-west of Singleton, at 9.40am (AEDT).

Scone Aero Club president Neville Partridge said the pilot of the plane was Col Pay, a water bomber pilot and crop-duster from Scone.

He had more than half a century of flying experience, Mr Partridge said.

"Without doubt, he was one of the most experienced pilots," he told AAP.

"He was flying an agricultural-type plane when it happened."

Police divers will undertake a search of the lake.

There was initial confusion over how many people were on board the plane when it crashed, with ambulance services saying earlier that two passengers had survived and managed to swim ashore.

However a spokeswoman for Pay's Air Service later said Mr Pay was the only person in the plane at the time of the crash.

She was unable to say what work Mr Pay was carrying out at the time.

An Air Services Australia (ASA) spokeswoman said the plane, a fire-bomber Air Tractor model AT 8T usually used for water bombing, was licensed to carry two people.

Pay's Air Service carries out fire spotting and bushfire water bombing operations out of Scone and Moree, according to the company website.

Chief executive of the Aerial Agricultural Association of Australia, Phil Hurst, said he understood the aircraft involved in the crash was a two-seater, but he was unsure how many people were aboard."

There is no doubt the death of Col Pay is a tragic loss to the aviation industry.

FAA Makes International Headlines - US Investigators Warn Of Runway Crash

The ongoing dramas with the FAA and it's tired Air Traffic Controllers has reached international headlines with an Australian article from The Age about US investigators warning of an accident waiting to happen.

Here's what The Age article on runway incursions had to say:

"There is "a high risk of a catastrophic runway collision occurring in the United States" because of faltering federal leadership, malfunctioning technology and overworked air traffic controllers, congressional investigators concluded.

The investigators gave the Federal Aviation Administration credit for reducing runway safety incidents from a peak in 2001 but said "FAA's runway safety efforts subsequently waned" as the number of incidents settled at a lower level.

Then in fiscal year to September 30 2007, the incidents spiked to 370, or 6.05 runway incursions per one million air traffic control operations, almost returning to 2001's 407 incursions and 6.1 rate.

An incursion is any aircraft, vehicle or person that goes where it shouldn't be in space reserved for take-off or landing.

At this time, "no single office is taking charge of assessing the causes of runway safety problems and taking the steps needed to address those problems," the Government Accountability Office, the US Congress' investigative arm, said in the report.

Transportation Secretary Mary Peters stepped into that leadership void in August by calling an industry-wide brainstorming conference to produce ideas for quick action.

In October, the FAA reported progress on steps recommended by the August conclave, particularly in speeding improved runway markings and pilot training.

The GAO report approved of those moves but also recommended more leadership from the FAA, improved data collection and a reduction in overtime required of air traffic controllers.
Even though serious incursions, where a collision was narrowly averted, declined to a record low 24 in 2007 from 31 the year before, the report said they have remained high enough since the FAA took its eye off the ball to represent a high risk of catastrophe.

Since 1990, 63 people have died in six US runway collisions. And the FAA's previous definition did not classify some serious runway errors as incursions, including an August 27, 2006, crash in Lexington, Kentucky, of a Comair jet that took off from a too-short runway, killing 49.

This year has seen some dramatic near-misses:

* On August 16, two commercial jets carrying 296 people came within 11 metres of colliding at Los Angeles International.

* A Delta Boeing 757 touched down in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on July 11 and had to take off immediately to avoid hitting a United Airbus A320 mistakenly on its runway.

* A Delta Boeing 737 landing at New York's LaGuardia airport on July 5 narrowly missed a commuter jet mistakenly cleared to cross its runway.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating those, two others in Denver and one in San Francisco.

The GAO seconded the transportation safety board's April recommendation that the FAA reduce mandatory overtime for controllers.

Since the FAA imposed a contract on the controllers union in 2006, experienced controllers have retired much faster than the agency predicted.

The FAA also cut controller staff to respond to traffic pattern changes from airline mergers and bankruptcies. The union says the cuts are too deep and reduce safety; the FAA says US air travel has never been safer.

The GAO said 52 per cent of controllers at the busiest US airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, regularly work six-day weeks.

Overall, between 20 per cent and 52 per cent of controllers at 25 FAA facilities, including seven of the 50 busiest towers, are on such weeks.

Nevertheless, "agency officials indicated that they had no plan to mitigate the effects of air traffic controller fatigue," the GAO said.

The GAO found that radar the FAA installed at 34 of the busiest airports to monitor aircraft on the ground does not work well when needed most - during heavy rain or snow.

FAA's more advanced ground-control radar, operational at only eight airports, issues false alerts of impending collisions - 41 from June 7, 2006, to May 16, 2007, at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International.

FAA's Office of Runway Safety has not produced a national runway safety plan since 2002, went two years without a permanent director and had a 45 per cent staff cut over the past four years, the GAO found."

So as you can see, the message is getting through to the rest of the world. But is the FAA listening?

Mid-Air Collision Over Gippsland Kills Pilot

A mid-air collision over Gippsland, Victoria has resulted in the aircraft bursting into flames killing the 65 year old pilot.

The aircraft, believed to be an ultralight crashed at a country airfield in Morwell just after 11am today. Country Fire Authority spokesman George Ellis said the aircraft was destroyed in the crash at the Latrobe Valley airfield as the aircraft came down, bursting into flames on impact.

Local Police said it appeared the cause of the crash was a mid-air collision between the ultralight plane and another light aircraft. The two aircraft colliding when attempting to land at the regional aerodrome

The light Cessna aircraft involved in the collision managed to land safely at the aerodrome, the 15 year old student pilot amazingly uninjured.

It is reported no one could get close to the downed aircraft in an attempt to save the pilot.

ATSB is currently making it's way to the scene for investigations. The Civil Aviation Authority (CASA) has also been notified although they will not be involved in the investigation as no passenger aircraft were involved.

Air Traffic Control Frequently Asked Questions

I've decided to create a post for all you Googlers out there with all the questions. Here is a list of the most frequently asked questions related to air traffic control.

1. How much do Air Traffic Controllers earn?

This has to be the number one most asked question. How much do we earn? Similar salary questions that come up are how much do air traffic controllers start out with? And what are the ATC pay levels?

I've covered this in previous posts and listed Australian air traffic controller pay scales. For my international readers you can pretty much convert these dollars into your local currency and it's gonna be pretty close to the mark. Generally speaking a fully rated air traffic controller on the top pay scale is going to earn on average 125-150k a year. Here in Australia the pay scales start in the low 60's for a freshly rated controller and are around 145k at the top level in Sydney.

2. A day in the life of an Air Traffic Controller.

This isn't really a question, but it is a query that is entered into Google a lot. People want to know what it's like being a controller.

Well not much different to any other job really. We do shift work. Some air traffic controllers work a twenty four hour rotating roster, like those working in the centres as enroute controllers and capital city towers. Others (like me) don't. I am currently working at an outstation tower. We open at 7am. Close at 8.15pm local. In Australia we work a 36 hour week and at the end of the day, work gets left at work.

Air Traffic Control has been associated with stress, but I believe it is manageable. You do need to be able to work under pressure and make quick and accurate decisions. Air Traffic Control is a very dynamic environment. Things can happen quickly.

I would recommend Air Traffic Control to anyone who likes to constantly challenge themselves, enjoys problem solving and displays confidence. The latter is not necessarily required but it is a common trait shown across the industry.

3. How to become an Air Traffic Controller

For Australian residents you can get all these details from my previous post here. For international readers visit your local Air Traffic Control provider's website and I guarantee you will find an employment opportunities link.

Generally speaking applicants will be required to have completed the Higher School Certificate. In Australia the first step when applying is completing the online aptitude tests. The second step for successful applicants is then attending a testing day where you do similar tests again under examination conditions. Step three is your interview.

Applicants deemed suitable will then be sent to Melbourne to study. Twelve months later you will be in the field training on the job for your first rating. Achieve your first rating and you will then receive your air traffic controllers licence.

These three questions are by far the most common. I will update this post as more questions roll in.

Good Luck

FAA Air Traffic Controller Numbers At 15 Year Low

It's official, the total number of national Air Traffic Controllers is at a 15 year low according to a report from the NATCA. The year 2007 has seen a record number of Air Traffic Controllers retire resulting in a shortage 33% higher than that projected by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The shortage is not only having an overall effect on staffing, but is also impacting on new recruits, many of whom have no air traffic control experience, and are unable to receive an efficient and effective training program. Currently, there are 3618 trainees in the system. Approximately one third of the trainees are not certified on any position and cannot work alone. Many of the facilities have more trainees on staff, than there are resources to train them. For example Miami Centre has 102 trainees, comprising 34 per cent of total staffing. Sixty Two of these trainees have had no functional training and the backlog resulting in a waiting period of up to 16 months for any real training. Because of these conditions 9 trainees have quit this year.

The number of retirees represented 7.4% of the total air traffic control workforce. A grand total of 856 (16 0f which were mandatory) retirements in the fiscal year 2007. This being the forth straight year the FAA has come up short in their predictions.

The NATCA says it's no surprise, they predicted a surge of Air Traffic Controller retirements in response to the FAA's imposition of work rules and pay cuts on September 3, 2006. It is also reported that Air Traffic Controllers have been without a contract for a period of now well over 430 days. Research of this topic suggests it was only in September 2006, the FAA commenced a drive to cut the number of Air Traffic Controllers nationally by 10 percent below negotiated levels. Now 14 months later controller numbers are at situation critical.

And things are only getting worse. There has been an increase in the use of mandatory overtime, combined radar and tower control positions resulting in exhausted, over stressed and burnt out controllers.

"This is a problem entirely of the FAA making. It didn't have to happen. We do not have a contract and that is taking a very serious toll on the controller workforce and the nation’s aviation system."

NATCA President Patrick Forrey said. "Only once in our nation’s history have we seen conditions in our air traffic control facilities that are as acrimonious, overworked, overstressed, demoralized and angry as we do today and that was in the period leading up to the 1981 PATCO strike. There is only one possible solution to this crisis: We must have a contract. Veteran controllers must have an incentive not to retire early at age 50 or before and to use the six-plus years of service they have left before mandatory retirement to keep the system running today and train tomorrow's controllers without being burned out and driven to total exhaustion".

In addition to the 856 retirements of air traffic controllers there were 201 resignations, 126 removals, 10 deaths and an amazing 365 promotions to FAA supervisory roles (double the FAA predictions). With no contract and the FAA work rules and pay bands in place, taking a supervisory position is the only way a fully certified air traffic controller can earn a pay rise, receive cash bonuses and avoid mandatory overtime.

NOTE: In Australia, combining Radar and Tower air traffic control positions is not only unheard of, but would be considered unsafe to do so by any reasonable standards.

Airservices Australia Voted Worlds Best Air Traffic Services Provider

Airservices Australia has been voted the worlds best provider of Air Traffic Control by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) for the second time. Airservices Australia previously won the award in 1999. The latest award reinforces the company's reputation as one of the most consistently high-performing businesses in the global aviation industry.

The "Eagle Award" recognises the significant value Airservices Australia is adding to help airlines deliver on-time performance safely, effectively and efficiently.

This award and our unmatched safety record is a credit to the Air Traffic Controllers across Australia.

FAA's Comments on Near Miss In Chicago Last week

After further investigation of the near miss resulting from Air Traffic Control error over Indiana on Tuesday, between a Midwest Airlines Regional Jet and a United Express aircraft, it appears the FAA are playing the incident down. John Diedrich reports the FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory, stated "We're not calling it a near miss". Although Elizabeth also admitted in the interview that "this event definitely violated our separation standards".

The FAA confirms reports that the two aircraft came as close as 1.3 miles horizontally, and 600 feet vertically with the aircraft's Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) resolving the conflict. The horizontal proximity being almost one fifth of the minimum standard of 5 miles and almost half the vertical standard of 1000 feet.

The fact that the Federal Aviation Administration would make such a comment is not so surprising. They display the same attitude when it comes to their staffing crisis. As reported in my previous post, the FAA believe "staffing levels were adequate" even though Air Traffic Controllers complain of fatigue and over work. A member of the Chicago Controllers Association believes the FAA was not prepared for the high number of retirements of controllers. Three controllers a day retire nationally and three a month locally which has resulted in the shortage.

The "near miss" over Indiana is unfortunately not an isolated case, with three incidents since October 1 in the Chicago facility. Air Traffic controllers in the Chicago region and elsewhere have said "they were weary and more error-prone after having to work repeated six day weeks". Joseph Belinno from the National Air Traffic Controllers Association says the chances are "pretty good" that controller error will increase at busy times. "Any time you have people on six day work weeks it always increases".

Near Miss In Chicago Last Week

I recently read a report of a near miss over northern Indiana between a United Express and Midwest Airlines aircraft. It appears the incident was due to an error by Air Traffic Control.

I'm sure all the Air Traffic Controllers from FAA will be pleased to read that a Federal Aviation "Official" commented that "staffing levels were adequate despite controllers' complaints of fatigue and over work".

This comment is in complete contradiction to the following news clip I found on Youtube titled "FAA: Unsafe staffing: Air Traffic Controller Fatigue." from April 12, 2007. Government regulators say "Tired controllers are putting people in danger".

It reports on an Air Traffic Controller on his second shift in a 24 hour period, was working on only two hours sleep when an aircraft taxied onto the wrong runway last August resulting in a fatal accident killing 49 people. NTSB reports that this Kentucky crash is "hardly the only example of troubling controller fatigue".

I was also shocked to learn that Air Traffic Controllers working for the FAA can work 4, ten hour shifts in three days as long as they have an eight hour period between shifts! NTSB is urging the FAA to change the way Air Traffic Controllers are scheduled to give them longer rest periods between shifts. The FAA apparently welcomed the recommendation with a response of "Controllers need to play a role too".

My question is, if staffing levels are so adequate why are these controllers having to work constant six day weeks?

The incident on Tuesday night occurred when the Air Traffic Controller vectored the Midwest Airlines aircraft east, into the path of the United Express aircraft heading west out of Greensboro, N.C.

The only thing that saved a mid-air collision at FL250 was the aircraft's TCAS systems. The two aircraft coming within a proximity of 1.3 miles horizontally and 600ft vertically.

The required separation standard in this situation for Air Traffic Controllers here in Australia is 5 miles horizontally and at least 1000ft vertically.

Bouncing Airliner From Air China

I have found yet another hilarious video. This one was sent to me by email from an Air Traffic Controller I work with.

So far this takes the prize of most embarrassing landing so I couldn't resist posting it on my Youtube account. Way to Go Air China!

You can subscribe to my videos at

View from Sydney Air Traffic Control Tower

I stole this Flash object from my company website. I'm sure they won't mind. It's a 360 degree view from Sydney ATC tower (they could have at least cleaned up the sink area!) and is pretty cool. Why would you want to do Air Traffic Control in a centre when you can look at this all day???

Ab-initio Air Traffic Control Tower Courses Discontinued Due Lack Of Staffing In The Centres

Airservices Australia have discontinued all Ab-initio Air Traffic Control Tower stream courses to push the numbers of controllers up in the centres.

Previously, newly recruited Air Traffic Controllers chose their stream of preference. Terminal Approach courses weren't available due to a high failure rate of ab-initios. There was however the choice of Tower or Enroute. This was made during the application process and applicants were then placed into the two groups for selection.

There are a number of factors that contributed to the discontinuation, and from conversations I've had with controllers from other country's the same problems are occurring across the globe.

One problem is the huge number of controllers retiring. It seems there is a large gap in the age department. Companies went through a large recruitment process a decade or more ago and boosted numbers and then for quite a while the process stopped. Now the older generation are approaching retirement age and numbers are falling dramatically if not already at critical stage.

Controllers in the centres are burning out, unable to take annual leave. Overtime is a weekly occurrence and I've even seen shifts being filled by management or staffing contingency plans being utilised.

It is clear that a lot of the enroute ATC have had enough by the number of them applying for tower positions across the country. Air Traffic Control Tower positions are in high demand and the competition is fierce. I really consider myself lucky to have won my recent application.

Still to this day I haven't received a transfer date. The staffing problems don't just stop in the centres, even in the Tower we have problems. Problems with people rating.

I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but at my current location they haven't had an Air Traffic Control rate on the Procedural Approach position for over two years. One controller has been waiting for this whole duration for someone to rate so that he can have his position filled and transfer to the job he won in Brisbane in 2005!

So how will management fix the problem? I have no idea. I've only been in the Air Traffic Control industry for a few years and the whole time it seems to be getting worse. I think the company's priority at the moment is screwing us all over in other ways (salary related).

All I want to do is come to work and do my job well and go home.

FA-18 Hornets On Show

I completely forgot I had these images on file from last week. They were taken by a work mate from the tower balcony.

Apparently there was a reunion for members of the RAAF over the weekend. Half a dozen or so FA-18's (with pilots) rocked up for the occasion.

As the RAAF training academy is located at the airport these guys were pretty keen to put on a show. They held OCTA for 10 minutes until traffic cleared for a low level beat up over the academy. And man, did they have these things wound up!

It doesn't matter how many times I see a show like this, it's still just as enjoyable the next time.

The video clip below was taken with my camera phone so sorry about the image quality.

Here a a few more images from the occasion. I have to be honest though. Pictures of aircraft (even jets) don't quite have the same effect as watching the real thing.

Fedex Thunderstorm Ops Memphis

I just had to publish this Youtube video below.

I won't spoil the show by telling you all about it. Just watch it for yourself.

My favourite part is at the end when you can see them all holding and diverting. Hilarious. So is the soundtrack. They look like little ants bolting to their little ants nest.

Closing Time

There are a couple of great things about working at my current location.

The first and probably the best thing about it is we don't do doggo's (night shift for you 9 to 5'ers). Being an outstation tower we close for the night and the Control Zone becomes a CTAF. I have done my fair share of doggo's though in my previous job and it doesn't matter who you are, working nights is hard work. It's not natural to be up working those hours.

The second great thing for me is, because I'm still a Journeyman at my current location (I don't hold all the ratings) I don't work weekends. The tower is operated by a single controller on Saturday and Sunday. The academy's don't fly so there is next to no traffic. Just a few RPT and the usual weekend warriors.

The third great thing is that all the academies close up for the Christmas break! Meaning every year (as a Journeyman) I get two weeks off over Christmas/New Year. And because of all the public holidays I only need to take six days recreation leave to cover it.

If you are looking for a career as an Air Traffic Controller, these three points are something you really should take into consideration when choosing your stream. Trust me, being a Tower Controller is the way to go. The perks are endless.

When we are all kicking back enjoying the break next month, try to take a moment to think about those poor Enroute boys and girls slugging it out in the centres.

Then give yourself an uppercut and get back to reality and pop another bottle of red!

Moving On

After 18 months at my present location, I'll be moving on at some stage soon.

Just a couple of weeks ago I applied for a position at another tower and was lucky enough to get a job. My transfer date is yet to be confirmed but I'd expect the move to happen in the first half of 2008. Where am I going? Well, I never disclose where I work (although if you pay enough attention to the detail of my posts on this blog it is quite easy to work out!), so Ill be keeping that one to myself. All I will say though is that just a couple of years ago it was the busiest aerodrome in the southern hemisphere. That title has since been given to another location but word on the street is traffic levels are on the rise again.

I see this as good news. It will keep me interested and maybe I can provide my readers with some great reading!

So what has been happening over the last few weeks? Not a lot to be honest. Traffic levels have slid back again giving me more time to notice things some pilots do that annoy me. Notice I said "some". So you can't take offense, it might not be you.

It's just the little things. Here's one example. In our local instructions we have a LOA (Letter Of Agreement) with the local academy that clearly states that when traffic information is passed to the pilot and the pilot has that traffic in sight, he/she shall respond with

"Traffic Sighted".

Quite simple right? Haha, you'd think so. Day in and day out I get all sorts of different responses. Traffic copied, copied traffic, roger traffic, just today "traffic noted" to name a few. The other option is often no response at all. Anyway, rarely do I get the correct response.

So you may be thinking, what difference does it make? Well so far for me, no difference at all. But what would happen if the two aircraft in question were to collide?

We use Class D airspace procedures here. VFR to VFR don't require separation, just traffic information when necessary and we are to provide an "Air Traffic Control service".

What is an Air Traffic Control service? There are a few points but the important one in this case is that an Air Traffic Controller must

"Prevent collisions between aircraft..."

Ok, so Class D we don't have to provide a separation standard between two VFR aircraft, we can just pass traffic to them about each other BUT we must also prevent those two aircraft from colliding. Hmmm?

One simple technique to use in these procedures is passing separation responsibility on to the pilot. The phraseology would be:

"ABC report sighting the (aircraft) (position)"

"Traffic sighted ABC"

"ABC maintain own separation with the (aircraft)"

Now we get back to my original story about the "Traffic sighted". Our LOA covers this scenario. If an aircraft reports the traffic sighted then separation responsibility is automatically passed to the pilot. Basically it avoids having to make the above lengthy transmissions over and over again.

This is just one of the many things that annoy me. Why can't some people just do things properly? They should know their requirements but they either don't know them, or just don't care. It gets to the point where policing it on a case by case basis is impossible. It's like pulling teeth trying to coach them into saying the correct phrase. In the end I just give up and write them off as morons.

Controllers Vs Pilots - Authors Response

It's been a while again since my last blog. A few things have happened over the last few weeks, including a response to my "Controllers Vs Pilots" post. The response came in the form of an email, and the email was from Danielle Bruckert, the author of the "Go Numbers" blog. The blog that my post was written about.

thanks for your comment to gonumbers blog, it illustrated (as I have had the blog for a year or two now) I am finally getting to the market I intended - to promote feedback about aviation safety issues, whilst still laughing at ourselves.
Sorry if it seemed abrasive, the post wasn't written very well-one of those moods...I was going to edit it but it did serve a purpose - that was provoking comment.
I posted a reply online just to let you know, I thought your blog was not quite similar enough to link, but enjoyed your comments,

I fully agree with
-ATC theory training for pilots, I am busy publishing separation minima in my airlaw book
-Tower experience for pilots - why not, I for one would be very willing to volunteer if the options are given.

But the main one like in a marraige I feel is more effective communication,

Will check your blog

Thanks Danielle. That's great that you are in the process of publishing separation minima. I hope you share your thoughts with other pilots. The only way I could see pilots gaining experience in the tower would be as an observer. I guess this would be beneficial as the pilot would have an opportunity to raise questions with the controller as situations occur and the controller would be able to share their thinking process and application of separation standards with them.

Why not push the issue at your local aerodrome? I'm sure your local ATC would be more than happy to have you.

Controllers Vs Pilots

Just last night I was browsing through a few aviation blogs when I came across a post titled "Controllers Vs Pilots...Why it's a bit like a bad marriage". This is a topic that I must admit, I try to avoid in my blog. Due to the broad range of visitors My Life And Air Traffic Control receives, I'm sure to offend someone!

It's a topic that controllers talk about in the tower and pilots talk about in the cockpit and a fly on the wall would tell you that the two conversations, although on the same topic, are very different. I'm going to attempt to pick the above mentioned blog apart and break it down in such a way, that maybe the pilots out there that feel the same way as this author, might have a better understanding of where ATC stand in this argument.

The author begins by asking the question "how can you work together in an effective partnership when one person is always telling the other what to do". It is often obvious to the controller that a pilot may feel this way due to a number of factors which are all disappointing. Firstly I'd like to say that Controllers don't "tell" pilots what to do. We simply issue an "instruction" and we do it because it's our job and we have to. It is not personal, there is no malice behind it. The only time it gets personal is when you don't comply with our instructions or you complain about it and it gives us the shits.

Just two weeks ago I had an aircraft joining upwind for the circuit and at that time another aircraft was directly underneath it and becoming airborne from a touch and go. The instruction I gave to the pilot was:

"Maintain 3000, there's touch and go traffic becoming airborne beneath you, report sighting an aircraft turning crosswind."

The pilot responded in an angry voice "Tower can't we have normal decent".

This a perfect example of what gets on our nerves. Why do I have to explain my actions to this guy more than once? He is maintaining 3000ft because it is not safe to issue decent on top of another aircraft. Not because I feel like f#@king him around.

A pilots lack of compliance with an instruction or complaining makes our job harder and it's unnecessary. At the end of the day we are only there to do a job and ensure safety. It's our licence on the chopping block. All you are to us is an aircraft and a registration so don't get upset by being "told" what to do.

The next paragraph the author goes on to talk about pilots not understanding separation requirements and that once upon a time "controllers were required to learn basic flying skills as part of their training - at least to have minimum air experience time."

Only yesterday I wrote an article on this topic. As explained in my previous post, Air Traffic Controller's do, do extensive flight theory on course, among other things. So we do flight theory, why shouldn't a pilot do ATC theory? We also have pilot publications in the tower, why shouldn't a pilot have ATC publications in the cockpit? And as for controllers having air time, the equivalent would be pilots having tower or radar time which is a ridiculous proposal.

The next comment was "I like to rub the salt in a bit more mentioning, pilots normally controll to VFR or Tower requirements on their own when at unmanned airfields to some extent." A little bit confusing in the way it's written but I know what you are getting at. If an aerodrome was busy enough to warrant having a controller there 24 hours a day, the controller would be there 24 hours a day. Please don't confuse self separation outside of tower hours with Air Traffic Control. I have had this conversation before with other controllers, wondering what that busy sequence would have been like if the tower wasn't open. Just watch what goes on at a busy aerodrome minutes before a tower opening, or just minutes after close and the answer is clear.

"Pilots don’t always understand the complexities of the controllers requirements for separation, nor do controllers always find out what the pilots need in terms of performance and engine types". This is a true statement. We may not know ALL of your needs and requirements but we do have a pretty good idea. Aircraft are grouped into simple categories. One group for example could be piston, turbo-prop and jet. If you have any special requirements advise ATC on first contact or just making a simple transmission is all that is required. It is not our job to ask every aircraft what their special needs may be.

I'd like to complete this article by quoting the only paragraph I was even close to agreeing with.

"When the pilots begin to learn about required separation standards, and provide helpful requests and/or suggestions, and the controllers begin to learn about pilot requirements, aircraft performance, and flight priorities not from the books but from the realities of aviation, we can all work together more effectively."

Some elements of truth in that. The rest was utter bullshit.

Air Traffic Control Separation Standards

It's been a frustrating couple of weeks. A few things have come up, but one thing in particular got under my skin a bit.

You may or may not have read my previous post on a runway standard issue that came up, but another issue with the same standard has come up again. Here's the scenario.

ABC was cleared to land and roughly 500m down the runway.

There had obviously been a bit of confusion in the cockpit as to whether DEF was to be for a touch and go or a full stop. Previous to this point in time he had called on base for a touch and go. The clearance was withheld as ABC was still on short final and DEF was advised he was number two.

DEF then made a second call on about a 1 mile final that he was to be for a full stop landing. My assessment was that ABC would shortly vacate, even if he required full length for his landing roll there was no collision risk. So DEF was then cleared to land.

ABC vacated at the second taxiway, DEF landed shortly behind and that's the end of the story.


ABC contacted the ground controller and advised him that DEF had been given a landing clearance while he was still on the runway. The ground controller then advised the pilot that no separation standard had been breached, as a landing clearance can be issued with another aircraft on the runway provided that in the opinion of the controller no collision risks exists, end of story.


Not happy with the ground controllers response the pilot of ABC then attempted to convince the ground controller otherwise. He then proceeded to tell how he had to brake hard to vacate the runway at the taxiway he did, otherwise he would have required full length. The standard was then further explained to the pilot which was then responded to with silence.

An easy way to avoid this type of confusion is for me as the controller to avoid using the standard. It was quite easy to withhold the clearance until ABC had vacated and prior to DEF second call on final that is probably what would have happened. But in my opinion I had good reason to use the standard.

The first reason is because it is a standard that can be used. It's an open and shut case really and there's not much more to comment on that.

The second reason in this scenario is to cut down transmissions. Saving time is a good habit to get into in this job as things can get out of hand if you don't. We are trained in various techniques to do this and reducing the amount of transmissions is one of them. It reduces workload and reduces frequency congestion. How many pilots reading this have been in a control zone and had to "wait in line" for an opportunity to make a transmission? I'd say all of you. By reducing the transmissions the controller makes it also reduces the number of transmissions the pilot makes and things run a hell of a lot smoother.

In my explanations of scenarios I only ever include the aircraft involved. At the time this situation happened I had at least half a dozen other aircraft on frequency and other traffic conflictions to consider. When DEF called on final for a full stop landing by issuing the clearance then, I reduced the frequency transmissions by two and was then also able to transmit to another aircraft.

As previously explained, the Air Traffic Controller's course included a lot of theory from the private pilot's license course and we have publications readily available in the tower, used by pilots such as AIP. Maybe there should be a topic on ATC Separation Standards in the course for a PPL? If not maybe some documentation available on this topic?

To my knowledge there is no such thing but maybe one day someone might clue on to the fact that it's a good idea.

Until then...

Air Traffic Control Salary Part 2

Due to the massive demand I have decided to do a more detailed post on just how much you can earn as an Air Traffic Controller. In my previous post on ATC salaries I wasn't very specific and just gave a broad range.

The salaries you will see here are exact values as of 1st July 2007. I just want to clarify that the base salaries I am about to give you are for Australian Air Traffic Controllers in the tower stream. Enroute or TMA controllers salaries may vary but not by much.

Any persons wishing to publish these figures, please provide a link back to this blog!

Trainee College - $34,710
Trainee Field - $52,066
Level 1 - $70,658
Level 2 - $78,945
Level 3 - $87,232
Level 4 - $95,518
Level 5 - $99,818
Level 6 - $104,117
Level 7 - $108,417
Level 8 - $113,683
Level 9 - $117,014
Level 10 - $121,314
Level 11 - $125,009
Level 12 - $128,705
Level 13 - $132,331
Sydney 1 - $138,627
Sydney 2 - $142,517

Team Leaders/Supervisors: Applicable Salary plus 10% loading
Tower Managers: Applicable Salary plus 10% loading plus representative allowance.

The two Sydney levels are additional levels available to Sydney controllers as these were negotiated back in the 80's for Sim Ops. and I have no idea how much the representative allowance is for Tower Managers.

Another thing to note is that you do get paid for over time. Unlike a lot of other occupations where you are on a set salary and any extra time isn't accounted for, with ATC if you do extra hours you get extra pay. And at great rates! I once heard an enroute controller added close to 50k on top of his base salary in "additional duties". The enroute sector is so short staffed it's really no surprise.

Pilot Calls Mayday

Thursday morning a CT4 lost all oil pressure on upwind and called mayday. Luckily the conditions were such that the pilot was able to make a tear drop turn back to the runway and land safely. If the runway was occupied or another aircraft was becoming airborne it could have been messy.

We also often get strong winds at the aerodrome well in excess of 20 knots. Thursday the wind was straight across the runway and a light 5 knots so there was no downwind for the turn back. If it had been like it was a couple of weeks ago, 25 knots straight down the runway he may not have made it.

There are a few plenty of other options though, just in this case the simplest option was the turn back to the runway. As an Air Traffic Controller this is the perfect example of making a decision in a split second, and it's a life and death situation.

It wasn't me controlling, I was rostered off. So let's breakdown what went through my colleagues mind in that half a second or so.

In this case the pilot advised he was making a turn back to the runway. This can have positive and/or negative effects depending on the circumstances. In this case it was all positive.

  • The controller knew exactly what the pilots intentions were. A mayday can often cause confusion for a controller. Because the pilot may fear for his/her life (and this is fair enough), he/she may make a decision to deal with the situation that is in total disregard for what is happening in the airspace around them. Communication with the pilot is also limited at this point in time so you can be left guessing what they are going to do and move everyone else out of the way.
  • There was no confliction with other traffic.
  • There was no excessive downwind component on the opposite runway.
  • It was probably the best option.
So by the pilot making the decision to conduct the tear drop turn it took a lot of the load off the controller. All he had to do was:
  • Assess that no collision risk existed with other aircraft
  • Assess the downwind component on the runway.
In light traffic this is quite simple, in heavy traffic it could prove to be a nightmare. And this is where we lead into the negative impact of the pilot making his decision. The circuit area at the aerodrome is usually a busy place with 8-9 aircraft not uncommon. If this had been the case and the pilot conducted this manoeuvre it would almost be a guarantee that two aircraft would end up nose to nose and the controller would be earning his money to solve the problem!

So what were the various options? My knee jerk reaction would have been a left turn for a landing on the crosswind runway. It solves any confliction with other aircraft becoming airborne and negates any downwind component that may have been present on the opposite runway. Another option would have been a base leg for the parallel runway, the third option the one that took place.

Anyway, the whole fleet was grounded on Friday so I had a nice relaxing day at work!

Any pilots reading this feel free to add your comments to this post. It's always interesting to know what goes on through your head when your engine is about to seize. In my training we were always taught that a pilot flies the plane first. This is true for the above situation and TCAS alerts are another good example.

I worked with a controller at my last posting who was also a pilot. He once told me a story that I found quite funny.

You often hear stories of engine failures and pilots positioning the aircraft so that no one on the ground was in danger for a forced landing. This guy had an engine failure once in a C172 and there just happened to be a football oval nearby for his landing. The only problem was it was full of football players! Fearing for his life he totally ignored the fact that there were people everywhere and steered straight for the football field!

Some people may call it cowardly, I call it self preservation!

One Week Of Training - Procedural Approach

(Above: Australian FIR)

It's been well over a week since my last post on how to be an Air Traffic Controller. This has been due to the fact that I was in the process of doing a week of training on ADC1 - Procedural Approach.

My official training won't commence until January next year as I am number two in line for training at that position. As an Air Traffic Controller you may often receive additional training prior to commencing your official training date.

The reason for this is because your training is set to a specified time limit (in this case 16 weeks) and it isn't ideal to spend the first 4-6 weeks of that 16 weeks learning things like phraseology's. For those that don't know what that is, phraseology is basically set phrases Air Traffic Controllers use to pass instructions. Pilots then also have their own set of standard phraseology's that they would reply with.

When I meet someone and they ask what I do for a living, usually the first response is something along the lines of "Oh, yeah. So you're the guy that waves the bats around on the ground". I then correct them which is followed by "Oh...that must be stressful". I have had this exact conversation countless times, so has every Air Traffic Controller I have met.

For the Air Traffic Controllers of tomorrow I'd like you to know that 95% of the time the job isn't all that stressful. We spend all our working days doing the job and seeing certain scenarios come up, that it eventually becomes like second nature. At times it can get really busy and the pressure can build up, but it is something you become accustomed to.

Something that I never get used to is Training. And it doesn't matter how you package it up and make it all nice, training in my opinion is bloody stressful. And for a number of reasons.

  1. It's new - Like I said in above, "it eventually becomes like second nature". When you are training for a new position you are seeing and doing things that you have never done before. New scenarios, new solutions. Add complex phraseology's to this mix and you have a cocktail for information overload. You thought you experienced an information overload in your studies? Ha, you haven't experienced anything until you have that much going on in your head that you can't even speak properly.
  2. Time Restrictions - Every training officer will tell you not to stress about this point. They'll say "We've all been where you are" and it's supposed to make you feel better. I guess it does in a way, knowing that the guy who knows everything about the job, once upon a time struggled like you are right now and then eventually overcame that. The reality for me is that I know that I have until a certain date to get this right and If I don't I may be speaking to my manager and telling him why I deserve to keep my job!
  3. Long Hours - After what feels like a long day at work, you go home to do study in your own time and learn what you didn't know today for tomorrow.
There are good points however!
  1. It's not your licence! When you are training, your training officer is ultimately responsible for what happens in your airspace. If you do something wrong, you have your training officer their to pick up the pieces for you!
  2. It won't go on forever - Your training period only lasts for a few months, if not less. Within a matter of a couple of months you will be back within your comfort zone and it will all be over!
I'm so glad last week is over. Until next time. Next post Ill do a little write up on Procedural Approach and what it is all about.

Who Wants To Be An Air Traffic Controller?

My last post I spoke about Air Traffic Controller's Salaries. It appears a lot of people search that topic in search engines for some reason so I thought I'd satisfy their curiosity.

Even more people search about what it's like to be an Air Traffic Controller and how to be an Air Traffic Controller. If this is you then definitely read on because that's what this post is all about.

(Above: Australian ATC Locations.)

So how demanding is the job of Air Traffic Control? According to Airservices Australia "The nature of the job demands that Air Traffic Controllers be able to make quick and accurate decisions based on information regarding an aircraft's position". To this end you must:
  • be confident and able to work with modern computer-based equipment;
  • be self-motivated and independent, yet work within a team environment;
  • be dedicated, professional, conscientious, confident and able to accept high levels of personal responsibility;
  • possess a good understanding and a clear application of the English language; and
  • be prepared to work shifts on any day of the year.
Yes any time of the year. It was only two Christmas's ago I was lucky enough to be on holidays and flew home Christmas day.

What are the different types of Air Traffic Control?
  • Enroute Controllers are responsible for the safe management of air traffic over the majority of the Australian mainland and on oceanic routes. Enroute control services are delivered from our two major centres in Brisbane and Melbourne.
  • Terminal Area Controllers use radar to manage the orderly flow of aircraft arriving and departing from major city airports. Terminal Area Control services are provided from the Brisbane and Melbourne Centres and Terminal Control Unit’s in Cairns, Sydney, Adelaide or Perth.
  • Tower Controllers work in the control tower at an aerodrome where they are responsible for all aircraft and vehicle movements on the taxi ways, runways and in the immediate vicinity of the aerodrome. Airservices Australia operates 26 control towers around Australia.
You can click the links below to view PDF documents on applications, assessment tests and interviews, training and postings. Visit here to apply. Applications for previously trained and rated Air Traffic Controllers and/or applicants with no previous experience never close.

Air Traffic Controller's Salary

Received great news yesterday. My wife is 4 weeks pregnant! This is our first child so its very exciting. We printed out a table showing different stages of the pregnancy and what to expect and made an appointment to see a doctor in a few weeks for the first ultrasound. I've got mates coming to visit in a few weeks so now we have a designated driver! haha. Sounds terrible I know but it's something we joke about.

(Picture above: ATC Workstation, TAAATS Display)

I'd like to talk about Air Traffic Controller's salaries. I use a counter for my web pages to log visitors information. For those of you who are looking for a good counter go to it's great. I get information on visitors location, how they got to my pages, how long they stayed, and many other useful tools including search queries from search engines like Google. Tonight while I was browsing through the visitors activity I noticed one interesting query a visitor from Australia entered into Google. "How much do Air Traffic Controllers get a year?" That a good question and ill be happy to answer it for you.

ATC salary can be broken up into three basic categories.

  1. ATC Trainee College Salary

  2. ATC Field Training Salary

  3. ATC Salary

Obviously this salary changes every year as it is a natural process for a salary to increase with time due to things like inflation. I can't give an exact dollar amount but pretty close to it give or take a couple thousand. (I could give an exact amount but I'd have to source that information from work, I'm not at work and it's probably not that important.)

1. ATC Trainee College Salary - Yes you get paid while you study! When I went through the college in 2004 the college salary was approximately $32,000 a year. We have had multiple pay rises since then, roughly 2% every six months. That's a pay rise of about $1,200 a year so it's safe to say a trainee at the ATC college would make about $36,000 a year. That's better than most 9 to 5 office jobs

2. ATC Field Training Salary - After you finish at the college you then move out into the real world of Air Traffic Control and start doing on the job training for your first rating. A couple of years ago this salary was approximately $48,000 P.A. Add the 4% P.A. increase and an Air Traffic Controller during field training makes in excess of $50,000.

3. ATC Salary - As soon as you pass your first rating checks you commence the next level of your salary. This is broken up into tiers. You go up a tier on the anniversary of your first rating. Tier 1 salary was roughly $62,000 in 2005. Once again you have to add 4% P.A. to get the current salary.

These tiers go from 1 to 12 or 13. I'm not sure, I haven't made it that far. Your first few tiers jump by a lot. For example I am at the end of tier 2 which is close to $78,000 P.A. In September I will be on tier 3 which is close to $90,000. Tier 4 is mid to high 90's, tier 5 hits six figure income all the way to the highest tier which varies with location. Anywhere from about $125,000 to $135,000+. This isn't including Team Leaders and Managers which can be a natural career progression.

So I hope I have answered your question anonymous from Australia.

Average Day

Driving to work today first thing I noticed was an empty apron. The aerodrome I work at happens to be home of the training academy for our military. They fly CT4's, not exactly sure how many they have but it must be close to twenty. The two in the picture are actual aircraft from the academy. We refer to the apron being empty as "bases loaded". Its a common scenario, I had a late start (11am), the early start had spent the morning processing a whole bunch of departures and I was just in time for all the arrivals and circuit training.

ADC2 isn't really all that difficult. It has its moments of frustration but a large majority of the time it easy going. Its the ADC1 controllers who get the headaches. Today was pretty straight forward. I think the most I had in the circuit was six aircraft with just a few arrivals in between and only a couple of departures at the time.

Six in the circuit is a good number. There's still plenty of room and not too much congestion on the radio. I think I only had a two or three aircraft over transmit today. Every over transmit puts you a few seconds behind, with six in the circuit its easy to recover but when you have eight or nine it gets a bit ridiculous. But there are ways to handle the traffic intensity. Holding any departures on the ground for a couple of minutes is always a good one. Probably frustrating for the pilots on the odd occasion but its safe. And at the end of the day that's what its all about. If safety wasn't a concern then I wouldn't have a job and pilots would separate themselves. I didn't have this drama today. It was pretty straight forward and I went home.

What I might do is bring up something that happened a few months back. As an Air Traffic Control you must apply various "separation standards" on a daily basis. They come in all shapes and colours, one group of them being runway standards. I can't speak for everyone but I have pretty much figured out some of the pilots I deal with don't have an understanding of runway separation.

The standard I was applying this day was one relating to a landing aircraft behind another landing aircraft. This is only one of about five or six but this one allows the controller to clear an aircraft to land while the runway is still occupied by the preceding landing aircraft. I'd like to make a note to my international visitors that separation standards vary in different countries.

This standard states:

A landing aircraft shall not be permitted to cross the landing threshold unless, in the opinion of the tower controller n, no collision risk exists, and:

  1. the landing aircraft has a MTOW below 3,000kg and is a performance category A aircraft; and
  2. the preceding aircraft has a MTOW of 7,000kg or less; and
  3. if landing will vacate the runway without backtracking...
The standard continues on but in this case in unrelated.

I was reasonably busy this day. I had multiple other traffic on frequency but as for the two aircraft in question, one was cleared to land and yet to vacate the runway and one was short final. Both were CT4's so section 1 and 2 of the above standards requirements were met, the preceding CT4 did not have a clearance to backtrack and it wouldn't be required so section 3 was covered and my opinion was that there was no collision risk. The CT4 on final was cleared to land.

During my training and still to this day on my checks (we are required to do routine performance checks) I have had it drilled into me to ensure I do "my runway scans". With every clearance on the runway we are required to scan the runway to ensure it is cleared. Twice. Once with the clearance and once just prior to the aircraft using the runway. In this case my first scan was with the clearance noting the runway was still occupied but there was no collision risk. With my second scan I noticed the preceding CT4 on the runway had missed the second exit and had decided to help himself to a short backtrack. At this instant I no longer had the above standard and the aircraft on final, by this stage close to the runway threshold was sent around. Would the two have collided? Probably not, but there was definitely a possibility.

In text this sounds like a problem with a simple solution. In reality the controllers attention is shared amongst a dozen aircraft and a situation that occurs in a matter of seconds is easily missed.

So how could this situation be avoided in the future? Firstly I'd like to say that an aircraft requires a clearance from ATC to backtrack a runway, everyone knows that. A better appreciation for what the controller is trying to achieve could also help the situation.

That's the job though and that's why we are there.

Ab-Initio Air Traffic Control Course Continued

I could go on and on about my experiences in the college and what I found challenging but we are getting further and further away from what the blog is really about and that is day to day events as they happen in the real world. So I am gonna briefly run over the topics covered during the Air Traffic Control course I studied and then briefly explain how I got to where I am today. For more in depth information on the course you can request it through the comments section of this blog and I will be more than happy to assist.

So my course covered many theory topics. Theory is boring but it is a necessity in life. I wont put you through the drama of reading all about it so don't worry. Our theory topics were anything from basic fundamentals like different types of airspace and restrictions associated with that airspace. We did a lot of flight theory, how does an aircraft fly and what effects its flight. Aerodrome specific topics, runway lighting, taxiway lighting, distance of runway markings from the landing threshold. The list goes on and on. To cut a long story short we learnt quite a lot about the other guys job (the pilot) and everything you could need to know about Air Traffic Control.

The practical part of our course consisted of four topics.

  • Basic TMA - Approach Radar
  • Radar Tower
  • GAAP Tower
  • Procedural Tower
The TMA side of things was only basic. Moderate levels of traffic but the complexity was very basic. I believe the idea of it all is to get an insight into what the other controller is trying to achieve.

Radar Towers are those towers found mostly in capital cities or other areas of importance like major tourist destinations. For example Cairns.

GAAP stands for General Aviation Aerodrome Procedures. Places like Bankstown in Sydney, Archerfield In Brisbane, Jandekot in Perth are all GAAP aerodromes. High density traffic, mostly light aircraft.

Procedural Tower. Any control zone that does not have the luxury of radar coverage. The controller must separate aircraft based on a procedural standard. A procedural standard is one based on information from sources other than radar. Time standards, longitudinal, lateral standards derived by pilots reporting their position and the controller applying the separation standard based on these reports.

I personally found the procedural control to be the most challenging. I mostly enjoyed the TMA side of things, probably due to my background in radar.

So in May 2005 I graduated from the college. This proves you don't need a background in aviation to pass the Air Traffic Control course (but it sure would have helped!).

I was first posted to a GAAP aerodrome.

My first rating was Surface Movement Control (SMC) and Co-ord. Pilots know what a ground controller is but what most of them dont realise is that you are also a co-ordinator. Co-ordinating clearances with other controllers.

I then began training on Aerodrome Control (ADC) and passed this also.

After 6 months consolidation I was transferred to my current location. A Procedural Control Zone. Here we have three positions. SMC/COORD, ADC1 and ADC2.

So far I have acheived my SMC/COORD rating and my ADC2 rating. Our airspace is divided into two sections. ADC1 controls most of the control zone. ADC2 controls a small piece of airspace underneath ADC1's airspace up to 3000ft AMSL. In this airspace we operate VFR Class D Procedures.

So that brings us up to date and I'm about to go to work for the day.

What to look forward to in these posts from now?

Day to day events. Things I could have done better as a controller, things a pilot could have done better and just my thoughts on different things.

I also start some training on ADC1 next week so look forward to hearing about that.

Ab-Initio Air Traffic Control Course

The first day of my course was REAL interesting.

Due to my previous employment I was well and truly comfortable by this stage when it came to moving interstate. Over a period of four years I had moved

  • Sydney to Melbourne
  • Melbourne back to Sydney
  • Sydney to Perth
  • Perth to Melbourne
  • Melbourne back to Perth again
  • Perth back to Sydney
This isn't including the time I spent at sea. Constantly on the move, we spent most of our time out of Darwin.

So I was comfortable with the move to Melbourne. What I wasn't real comfortable with was what I experienced on my first day on course.

Walking into the room (I was close to the last one there) I was confronted with twelve strangers, my classmates. I was quick to realise that professionally I had nothing in common with these people. And to be brutally honest, I had nothing in common with a few of them socially. The ages of my classmates ranged from 21 all the way up to the mid 30's. One theme that seemed to be common amongst them was that they all had some sort of experience in the aviation industry. Those who read the introduction will know that I did not.

This made me very uncomfortable. The conversation in the room consisted of who flew what type of aircraft, how many hours, so on and so on. I began to doubt whether or not I should even be there and wondered why they gave me the job in the first place. The conversation went on, I sat in silence. I was an outsider.

About 15 minutes later our instructors entered the room. It was typical that these "aviators" already knew them. I did not. They introduced themselves anyway and at that point the course began.

Our very first task was known as "ice breakers". Each student would take it in turns of introducing themselves to everyone, giving a short story of where they come from and their previous experience. Socially amongst my friends and family I am apparently known as quite a confident individual. The truth is, deep down I conceal many hidden issues and lack quite a lot of confidence. Public speaking being one of them. I hated my first day.

The rest of the afternoon was all about settling in to the college. Most of the first week was about that actually. Orientation I think they call it. That and bonding sessions with the other classmates.

In the end I did find a couple of people I could relate to. Two of them in particular are still good mates to this day and attended my wedding last month.