Back in our preschool days, our teachers would always ask us to fill out this statement: When I grow up, I want to be a/an ________. Most kids would have these answers: a doctor, a police, a firefighter, a nurse, a lawyer, a pilot, an engineer, or a scientist. And I bet no kid in the world would have this answer: to be an air traffic controller.
Most people think that the job of an air traffic controller is to just wave the neon 'fan' to guide the plane to its designated parking bay. No, that's not the job of an ATC. There is more when you enter the realm of air traffic.
At The Beginning
When I was little, I am always fascinated with airplanes to the point that it became an obsession. I'd always wonder how and why that big, chunk of metal is capable of flying, like those birds and butterflies that I see in our garden everyday. We used to live near the airport, and the sound of a departing and arriving aircraft is music to my ears, even if it is more than 90 decibels. I would still remember that most of my toys were mostly airplanes and other airport vehicles. I didn't care if people will find me weird for just watching planes flying above me with a big smile on my face.
I can still remember the first time I visited an aerodrome control tower. I was 12 and had no knowledge what air traffic control was. My uncle, who's an ATC, was kind enough to bring me there. That first visit sparked my interest in air traffic control. Eventually, it became my habit to listen to live ATC feeds on the internet. I may not understand a single thing about the transmissions between pilots and the ATC but I found it really interesting.
The dream of becoming an ATC slipped away after finishing high school. I was determined to pursue a career in the medical field; the reason why I took BS Biology in the first place. Besides, I also had interests in Microbiology, Geology, and Chemistry. In my final year in college, I got anxious about the medical school applications, scholarships, NMAT results, and a whole lot more. Every time I think about med school, I always get uneasy. I started to doubt myself, whether if I took the right path or not (don't get me wrong, I didn't regret of taking a non-aviation degree in college... I met awesome people along the way). After my college graduation, I decided to take a rest. Within that period, I traveled across the country and as well as to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. Through my travels, I began to reevaluate my interests and passions in life. And I realized that my passion in aviation didn't fade at all. Back in college, I always find time to planespot with my friends who share the same passion and interest. I never get tired of talking about planes and other related stuff in aviation.
The Big Move
Last May 2012, my uncle informed me that CAAP (Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines) will be conducting a competitive qualifying exam for the Comprehensive Air Traffic Service training. I immediately grabbed the opportunity and by July 2012, we traveled all the way to Cagayan de Oro just to take the exam. Passed the exam, medical exam, and the final interview and by October, I flew to Manila and attended the 10-month competitive training. It was indeed challenging because I'm going to live outside my comfort zone. The training challenged me both mentally and emotionally. There were times that I'd just slack off because my brain can no longer accept more information. But because of team work, determination, and perserverance, we survived. I still can't believe that I'd memorize the whole Manila, Clark and Subic TMA, approach plates, and the infamous Manila FIR. Indeed, nothing's impossible if you work hard. As for our batch, we're almost there... a new chapter of our lives will soon unfold in a few months.
The job of an ATC is harder than what people think. To ensure a safe, orderly, and expiditious flow of air traffic, controllers from three different control units namely aerodrome, approach, and area control, should coordinate properly with the departure clearances and time, sequencing of arrivals, releases, and restrictions. It is important that each and every controllers should copy every information correctly from both pilots and ATCs. A single mistake can be fatal. Try watching Air Crash Investigation, and you'll get my point.
Air Traffic Control is not just a job; it is a lifetime commitment. Thousands of lives depend on the controller's clearances and instructions, however, he will always feel great knowing that he delivered thousands of passengers safely to their families and to their homes after his shift.
Indeed, there is no room for mistakes in our crowded skies!