MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --
There’s a rollercoaster of emotions and adrenaline rushing through his body. He’s in the zone, talking to about 15 different pilots because he’s responsible for ensuring the aircraft are deconflicted and safe.
One-by-one, he radios each pilot and with the help of his fellow air traffic controllers, all the aircraft land safely, the rollercoaster is over and he is overcome with a sense of pride and achievement.
This feat is accomplished daily by Moody’s control tower where air traffic controllers train to sequence and separate aircraft, issue safety alerts, ensure the safety of pilots and manage the expeditious flow of air traffic in and out of Moody’s airspace.
“Training is extremely important,” said Senior Airman Jonah Sterling, 23d Operations Support Squadron air traffic controller. “It’s your foundation for being a controller. If you don’t get good training, then you won’t be a good controller and that directly jeopardizes the mission.”
Along with four months of technical school, air traffic controllers must complete a year-long, on-the-job training (OJT) program where they are required to pass various proficiency tests. Unlike most other career fields, the air traffic control occupational badge is earned at their first duty station.
Being able to direct all the aircraft and pilots in a training environment helps build experience and allows Airmen to safely make mistakes, learn from them and progress.
“In training, it’s stressful to have that many aircraft but you need that experience when you’re a trainee,” Sterling said. “You need to see the traffic so when it actually happens, you know how to handle that volume of traffic.”
With an average of 150 aircraft operations occurring on a typical day in Moody’s airspace, the extensive OJT program helps air traffic controllers ensure the safety of pilots and their passengers by issuing traffic calls, having multiple checklists, a coordinator, who coordinates with adjacent facilities and a watch supervisor, who listens to everything going on.
“Knowing what other air traffic is in the area helps us avoid collisions and keeps us in safe areas,” said Capt. Oliver Neumann, 41st Rescue Squadron pilot. “Air traffic controllers use information from our aircraft’s transponder combined with radar to pinpoint our position and flight path. It lets them know where we are and where we're going. If there is a thunderstorm in the flight path we can't see, air traffic controllers can let us know and provide alternate routing to keep us out of dangerous conditions.”
Air traffic controllers can see the whole flightline and then some. However, pilots can only see what’s in front of them. When controllers are working, if something were to go wrong, lives could be in danger.
“The better we understand each other's capabilities and limitations, the better we can work together and the smoother our mission execution,” Neumann said. “The more busy airspace gets, the more vital it is for everyone to be on the same page. An air traffic controller can be the direct voice that keeps everyone in their lanes and sequenced correctly.”
Air traffic controllers maintain aircraft deconflictions in a controlled airspace and send weather updates, which are not only important to pilots like Neumann but safety of all air traffic.
“As air traffic controllers, we’re trying to get things done in an expeditious manner,” Sterling said. “You don’t want to jeopardize safety just because you’re trying to get things moving quickly. Safety is the number one thing that you should be thinking about.”
Air traffic controllers like Staff Sgt. Daniel Sattar, 23d OSS air traffic controller, have to keep in mind people’s lives are in their hands and it’s their responsibility to make sure the pilots land safely.
“It’s not a big conversation we have (but) in that back of your mind you have to know you’re responsible for people’s safety,” Sattar said. “If we don’t do our jobs correctly, people could get injured or worse. That’s something to take pride in. We’re responsible for people’s safety.”