Ever wonder how the skies got so friendly? Air traffic controllers direct planes on both the ground and in the air to prevent collisions (and the nefarious near-misses and to optimize speeds and distances between take-offs and destinations). The ATC (Air Traffic Control) likes to refer to preventing air collisions as “separating” planes to keep them from coming too close to each other. Sounds like a video game. It ain’t. Actually, the responsibility it takes to ensure that thousands of passengers safely leave and meet their gate is one of the more stressful jobs on the planet. There is glory for the upside; and hideous ignomy on the downside if you just happen to be the cause of 2 planes with 300 loved ones colliding. Air traffic controllers stare at green dots on a screen and are busy every minute of the day. People who tend to stare into space and daydream need not apply. Ahem. Are you listening?
The goal of an air traffic controller is to help planes taxi from the terminal to the runway or vice versa, keep planes three to five miles apart in the air (and separate them vertically 1,000 feet or more when in the air), determine the routes that planes should fly, give pilots weather advice and assist pilots during emergencies. Air traffic controller jobs are not something that you can moonlight at while you’re waiting for your band to make it. Most air traffic controllers are employed and salaried by the federal government (specifically, by the Federal Aviation Administration). However, there are a number of controllers who work for the private air traffic control companies that serve non-FAA towers or the military. You can’t exactly waltz in one day and start directing air traffic. In fact, waltzing is pretty much frowned upon, period. All controllers must go through training to receive an FAA-issued Air Traffic Control Certificate. If you want to work in the tower, you need a Control Tower Operator Certificate. It would also be good if you’ve conquered your vertigo.