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Air Traffic Controller History and Careers

Posted by Cirrus Aviation on Sep 30, 2015 12:32:00 PM

Air Traffic Controllers, From Archie League to Today


Air traffic controllers have come a long way from the days of Archie League.

League is considered by many to be the first air traffic controller. From a ground position near a St. Louis, Mo., runway, he waved checkered flags to communicate with pilots in the late 1920s.

Today, thousands of highly trained air traffic controllers use sophisticated tracking equipment to coordinate the flow of aircraft around the globe. Air travel would be impossible without these professionals.

Their importance was underscored in 1981, when 12,000 air traffic controllers in the U.S. went on strike for higher wages and better working conditions. President Ronald Reagan, citing the illegality of a strike by a government union, warned them to get back to work. When they refused, he fired them all.

The result was a wild scramble by the FAA to find replacement controllers and an enormous disruption of air traffic while new controllers were trained. Flight cancellations and delays inconvenienced millions of travelers, and it was years before staffing at the nation’s airports was fully restored.

Air traffic controllers play an integral role in organizing flight paths around the world. Their responsibility to keep passengers and cargo safe grows as air traffic increases.

Consider what an air traffic controller deals with at busy Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. On a typical day, the controller handles more than 2,700 aircraft a day - about 150 an hour.

Although short periods of intense activity are followed by frequent breaks, this career, along with pilots, surgeons, police officers and 911 dispatchers, is considered among the most stressful.

To attract applicants, salaries for controllers can reach more than $100,000 a year. Only the best candidates for the job are chosen after intensive initial training in Oklahoma City, followed by training on simulators and then “live” training, monitored by a seasoned controller.

Potential controllers are screened for health and security issues. A good memory and an aptitude for numbers are pluses for candidates, who must be no older than 31 by the time training starts.

For a position in which perfection is not only expected but required, air traffic controllers report a high level of satisfaction with their jobs. It seems that getting passengers to their destinations without incident can be quite rewarding.

The prowess of today’s air traffic controllers would amaze Archie League, and their dedication would make him proud of what he began.

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