Air traffic controllers worldwide celebrate their jobs today while reflecting on their part in the aviation industry, a challenging role that is still somewhat unknown and often misunderstood.
Cayman Islands air traffic controllers at both Owen Roberts International and Gerrard Smith International airports join global colleagues and their parent organisation – the International Federation of Air Traffic Controller Associations – each 20 October to celebrate the International Day of the Air Traffic Controller by recognising the advancements and contributions of the profession.
Aviation, as the backbone of globalisation and worldwide markets and industry, has become an integral part of many people’s lives. But the profession of air traffic control often remains underestimated and sometimes unfairly linked with the consequences of accidents, delays and industrial actions resulting in negative media exposure and an incorrect public perception.
“Air traffic control has developed from the humblest beginnings into a highly sophisticated and technology dependent occupation,” said Rob Harris, an air traffic controller at Owen Roberts International Airport in Grand Cayman. “And even as we are on the cusp of an even more dramatic leap of new technologies, many people remain unaware of just what an air traffic controller does and few comprehend just what is involved in keeping aircraft safely apart, but close enough so that they get to their destinations as efficiently as possible.
“Air traffic controllers are the voice behind the noise of aircraft movements,” Mr. Harris said. “If you have ever flown to or from the Cayman Islands, you have been under the watchful eye of members of local Cayman Islands air traffic controllers and their predecessors.”
Founded in 1961 with 12 member associations, 50 years later the IFATCA counts more than 50,000 members in more than 130 countries.
For decades, travellers and consumers have enjoyed the fruits of an ever-expanding global air transport system and witnessed the industry’s reliable transformation in increased passenger numbers and cargo volumes despite repeated shocks from recessions, terrorism and disease. All the time, behind the scenes, the air traffic control aspect of managing air transportation has developed from pen and paper (still used in some locales) to highly automated and complex electronic networks.
“Unfortunately, local controllers currently do not have the aid of a synthetic eye such as radar, and are required to separate aircraft by the traditional procedural control,” Mr. Harris said. “Although this may seem archaic, the local group states quite plainly in the absence of tools that make the job technically easier, we are proud to employ the very finest of professionals who more than make up for the lack of advanced and sometimes common technology.”
Working conditions and work environment, training and remuneration, equipment and automation need to reflect the complexity of the profession and assist the air traffic controller in their challenging task, read a news release from the IFATCA.
Despite increasingly critical media exposure, often fuelled by wrong economical interpretations, air traffic controllers worldwide hold on to the highest aims of our federation, safety and efficiency.
“Behind every movement of an aircraft, there sits a choreographer of the madness whom speaks in code,” Mr. Harris said. “(They aren’t) allowed to make an error, unless it is immediately recognised and corrected. (They) cannot push back the chair to regroup when 20 customers are clamouring for the identical thing, and a deadline can never be pushed back.”