Air traffic controllers are super humans. Well, almost. Akin to the stripes on a tiger, here are a handful of characteristics that air traffic controllers must possess in order to keep aircraft safe in the skies.
Air traffic controllers are super humans. Well, almost. How else are these professionals able to maintain safety and order in the increasingly busy skies above us? Sure enough, there are tools to help get the job done, but the human element is an important piece of the puzzle and cannot be ignored. Here are a handful of characteristics that air traffic controllers must possess [like the stripes on a tiger] in order to succeed at what they do:
- Spatial awareness – the ability to mentally build a three dimensional picture of where each aircraft is relative to the others and to foresee any potential conflicts is one of many characteristics an air traffic controller must possess.
- Simultaneous capacity – multitasking ranks in the top tier of characteristics that air traffic controllers must possess. Reading instruments, transmitting or receiving and writing simultaneously are just part of the routine of controllers on duty. [Can you rub your tummy and pat your head?]
- Excellent memory – the task of controlling aircraft requires air traffic controllers to remember both distant and recent events, even thought these may be aided by memory joggers. The multiplicity of air traffic control tasks competing for attention can easily interfere with one’s ability to remember. [Controllers are the elephants of the human race]
- Respect for authority and the rules – aviation is a highly regulated industry, which requires adherence to maintain safety. Regulations are the products of many years of industry experience and conventional wisdom and are undoubtedly superior to any single person’s judgment. Having respect for these will be a controller’s greatest asset. [I can almost hear someone saying “that” is a stupid rule]
- Making decisions under pressure – air traffic controllers must think faster than an aircraft can fly if they are to keep safety in the air. Decisions cannot be postponed when working live traffic traveling at speeds as much as 8 miles a minute. Every wasted minute brings conflicting aircraft dangerously close to one another.
- Exercising effective personal authority – the word “control” can only have meaning if air traffic controllers exercise their authority effectively. Being resolute earns a controller respect and gives pilots confidence in his/her ability. [This is not an excuse to exclaim “shut up”]
- Paying attention to details – “never assume, determine” is a phrase that air traffic controllers have repeatedly heard, and is synonymous with getting the details right. Like making quick decisions, the lack or wrong assumption of some detail can lead to dire consequences.
- Visual-motor coordination – try playing a video game without this ability… the result will be a resounding defeat. Controlling air traffic is like a complex video game, except that real lives and millions of dollars worth of aircraft are involved. Radar controllers and aerodrome controllers particularly must rely of visual-motor coordination for observing traffic and issuing instructions accordingly.
- Teamwork skills – a chain is as strong as its weakest link. That said, air traffic controllers must work together like the proverbial chain to maintain the safe and orderly flow of traffic. One blunder in the order can replicate itself throughout the chain. The defense mechanism in place, however, is often sufficient to stymie the development of any problems.
- Tolerance to frustration – this is easier said than done, but controllers cannot allow extraneous issues to interfere with their performance. When a controller enters an ATC unit, he must check all annoyances at the door if he is to carry out the exacting tasks ahead on his watch.
- Emotional stability – emotions almost always clouds one’s judgment, and air traffic controllers must keep these at bay. Like frustrations, emotions must be checked at the door.
- Willingness to accept criticism – an observer on the outside looking in is likely to be at an advantage, and criticism of from him/her should be accepted. It is likely that controllers can achieve the same objective using different methods, so it is wise to accept other points of view. [hmmm…controllers are gods unto themselves]
- Resistance to boredom – boredom leads to complacency. [no more explanation needed here]
The list of characteristics is by no means exhaustive, so tell me what are some other characteristics that an air traffic controller must possess.