One of the problems controllers face—either in the developmental phase when successful training is in doubt, or at the end of one's career when one is still capable of functioning in a work environment—is finding a niche for which ATC has provided some useful background and experience. I remember seeing documentaries about railroading and public transit systems and noticed they also did separation and had direct communications with their users.
At the risk of offending workers in other transportation systems, however, I have to say that after working for thirty years in three dimensions, I'd find it unchallenging to do a similar job in only two. I made a like observation after years of interest in radio controlled airplanes when some friends tried to get me interested in radio controlled boats. Left, right, slow, fast. Okay, now what?
On my satellite TV I get the NASA channel to which I frequently turn, particularly when there's a launch or return of the Shuttle. And over the years I've seen hours and hours of manned flight operations at Johnson Space Center. They often focus on CapCom—the person who does the actual talking to the astronauts. I've watched with interest since the Mercury program. Every once in a while, particularly since I retired, I would think, “I could do that. That would be kind of neat—talking to the astronauts.”
One day, however, it struck me. I immediately called Roddy and laid it out for him just like in the paragraph above. Then I said, “ohmigod, that's the worst job in the world!”
“What do you mean?”
“He's only working one airplane.”
For most controllers, interest in the job was in direct proportion to the number of airplanes one had to work. A twenty airplane inbound rush was something to get in line to do for most. Twiddling one's thumbs at a sector with only one airplane was pure torture. We called it being one-airplaned to death. No thanks. When NASA calls me, I'll politely decline.
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Last updated: 19 December 2009