Air traffic controllers, unsung heroes of the aviation industry

The first aviation-related career that comes to mind, which many people dream of, is a pilot.

But there is another career, one that many people may not dream of, but it is essential to aviation _ the air traffic controller, whose job it is to authorise landings and takeoffs.

The job demands concentration, accuracy and zero mistakes, because air traffic controllers are responsible for aircraft and their passengers, said Piyanate Chuasomboon, a 32-year-old air traffic controller at Suvarnabhumi airport.

Ms Piyanate has worked as an air traffic controller (ATC) for seven-and-a-half years. In her first three years she worked at Phuket airport.

"ATCs must not make any mistakes, but they may not always be able to ensure smooth traffic. For example, from 11pm to midnight, there are numerous departures to Europe, Korea and Japan and it is very difficult to discharge 20-30 planes in 1-2 minutes _ especially when weather conditions are taken into account," Ms Piyanate said.

According to her, air traffic controllers work a two-days-on, two-days-off schedule.

An ATC works from 8am to 8pm on the first day and on the second day from 8pm to 8am. They are not on duty for the entire 12-hour shift, but work one to two hours at a time, taking one-hour breaks in between.

During each shift at Suvarnabhumi airport, there are five ATCs on duty.

Two supervise planes on the eastern and western runways and communicate information about winds and weather conditions to pilots.

They receive real-time weather information from the Meteorological Department.

The other three ATCs manage traffic on the ground for the eastern, central and western parking areas for aircraft. ATCs use computers to help them do their work.

It's a challenge to communicate information as quickly and accurately as possible, Ms Piyanate said, especially the code names of flights. ATCs must also make swift decisions when airplanes have problems, such as critically ill passengers.

The most difficult part of the ATC job is weather, she added, which can change minute-by-minute. There might be rain to the north of the airport, for example, and in less than a minute a wind shear might come from the south or the east.

University graduates can apply to be ATCs. They must not be older than 27 and must pass entrance examinations in English, mathematics, computer, typing and mental health. The training takes about two years to complete.

Miss Piyanate said the best reward of her job is a thank you from pilots.

About the author

Writer: Amornrat Mahitthirook
Position: Reporter