Gaining Respect as Air Traffic Controllers

Respect from peers in the air traffic control profession and users of the service has to be earned above and beyond the mystique that comes with the profession. Honesty, knowledge of your role, acceptance of responsibility, acceptance of limitation, embracing conventional wisdom, and the good old desire to do the right thing are among the list of respect earners.

Gaining the respect from peers in the air traffic control profession and users of the service is pretty much premised on the same principles as any other profession. Respect has to be earned above and beyond the mystique that comes with the profession. In my book, respect is given when there is a display of honesty, knowledge of your role, acceptance of responsibility, acceptance of limitation, embracing conventional wisdom, and the good old desire to do the right thing.
Over the years that I’ve been in the air traffic control profession, I’ve seen all sorts of characters with various attitudes being displayed in an attempt to gain respect. But inadvertently, perhaps through ignorance, they achieve the opposite. Here are some points to consider:


The importance of honesty cannot be underestimated; it is one of the pillars of any respectable person from the beginning of humanity and it is still valid today. If you gain a reputation for being ‘slippery with the truth’ it will be difficult to gain the genuine respect of others. We must recognize that we are not perfect, and thus cannot always be on the right side all issues. When things go wrong, we have a natural inclination to apportion blame to someone or something else, but it takes courage to just be honest and accept things didn’t work out as planned. The honesty will be appreciated, respect will be gained, and finding solutions to remedy any situation will be easier to accomplish.

Knowledge of Your Role

This point may seem like a no-brainer, but it is not. Not every controller working alongside you explicitly knows his/her role. Recently, perhaps due to anxiety, a US controller not getting a response from an aircraft flying IFR, sent another aircraft to fly close to see what’s going on in the cockpit of the defaulting aircraft. What was he thinking? That act was clearly not the role of an air traffic controller, and he paid the price by being suspended. Controllers, supervisors and/or managers sometimes act outside of their assigned role or just fail to act in accordance with their role. Any of the two scenarios is bad and respect is surely lost.

Acceptance of Responsibility

The recent firestorm over controllers sleeping on the job factors into the acceptance of responsibility by controllers. Despite the circumstances which prevail, controllers must do their part to ensure that they fully rested before showing up for duty. Controllers must accept responsibility for all the things that are within their control; getting enough rest, exercise, proper diet, continued review of procedures, keeping up-to-date with industry news, etc. Acceptance of responsibility is contingent on knowledge of one’s role, so start reviewing those employment contracts and job descriptions.

Acceptance of Limitation

Yes, we have limitations, and must employ the use of tools, aids and the advice of others around us. Nothing impresses me more when I see my colleagues recognize their limitations. This opens the door for learning, and the overall improvement of what we do. I never see it as a weakness when help or advice is solicited. We are not super-humans.

Embracing Conventional Wisdom

I have great respect for the knowledge and experience of the men and women who came before us. The International Civil Aviation Organization in their wisdom have charted the course for us to follow using those collective experiences. It would be my counsel to follow them. Sadly, when I look at most of the ills around us in this profession, it is because of the departure from standards and recommended practices set by ICAO and other such organizations. The wisdom of one individual can never outweigh that of entire international organizations. I recently read this somewhere: “Wise men don’t need to prove their point; men who need to prove their point aren’t wise“.

Do The Right Thing

These were the words constantly spoken by the SATCO, Robert Singh, when I was a young controller: “do the right thing“. They echo in my ears to this day, 23 years after I joined the profession, and it makes perfect sense. Just as departing from conventional wisdom is dangerous, so is doing the wrong thing. By doing the right thing, we are plugging up at least one more hole in the swiss cheese lineup. Think for a minute, about the danger created when the controller in Florida sent a B737 jetliner to fly up close to a Cirrus to see what was going on in the cockpit. We must keep on constant guard to ensure that all of our actions are right. The way I characterize it: “what do I gain from doing the wrong thing?” As an instructor, I always admonish my student to do the right thing even if they see the more experienced controllers doing otherwise. Not because something is practiced by others, although more experienced, makes it right. Bad habits are like a comfortable bed, and once you start to do something the wrong way, it’s hard to break free.


The ability to gain and maintain respect as controllers reside in our hands. Last week when I entered the US, once it was established that I was a controller, the Customs and Border Protection Officer asked me: “You are not sleeping on the job now, are you?” She was just poking fun at me, but, that question underscores the damage that can be done to the respect for profession if we are not mindful of what we do.
In the words of comedian Russell Peters, “be a man“.
Tell me now, what are some other ways that controllers can gain respect.

2 Responses


Hi Wayne,
This is one of the best posts ever on this blog!!!
I was thinking while reading through, it’s amazing how this job makes one “grow up” if I can use that term: you really learn a lot about yourself and it helps you develop qualities and character!
happy anniversary, the fact that you’re keeping up this blog reveals the true love for Air Traffic that you have!
Keep up the good work ,

Wayne Farley

Thanks for the kind words. The profession does bring the best out of you are you worm your way through it.

About Wayne Farley

I am Wayne, a career air traffic controller. Engage me while I share my thoughts, experience, and news from around the aviation world. A post titled “13 Characteristics of an Air Traffic Controller” written in 2010 went viral and established me as the unofficial ambassador of ATC.

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