Air traffic controllers: training for success

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Shandresha Mitchell
  • 6th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
In the 6th Air Mobility Wing, readiness is mission essential. The Airmen who work in the air traffic control tower know all too well the necessary time and effort they must put forth in order to succeed.

Air traffic controllers are required to keep safe and orderly operation of all aircraft, vehicles, and personnel on the flightline and in the airspace under their jurisdiction.
Upon graduating technical school, air traffic controllers are required to complete rigorous upgrade and on-the-job training.

"When you start on-the-job training at your first base, you spend countless hours studying and training," said Airman 1st Class Kevin Beasley, an air traffic controller assigned to the 6th Operations Support Squadron at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida.

During their training, the Airman learn to effectively use two-way radio communications, radar systems with associated computer equipment, and landline communication systems to relay information to aircraft, vehicles, and personnel on the flightline and in the airspace.

Once completed, the controllers receive their Federal Aviation Administration certification rating as a control tower operator from their supervisors before being entrusted to handle the job on their own. This feat can take anywhere from a year to two years to complete.

Beasley, a Melbourne, Florida native, has been at MacDill for a year and is nearing the end of his upgrade training. He is currently in the process of becoming certified.
"Working in a tower, you have three certifications you must obtain, and those are the three positions you will be responsible for managing," said Beasley.

The three certifications correlate with the three positions an air traffic controller may be tasked to oversee. Ground control talks to any vehicle requesting permission onto the runway and directs the route of an aircraft to and from the runway. Local control deals with any aircraft that is airborne, whether it is landing, departing, or flying around for practice approaches. Flight data assists the other two positions by answering the phone lines and keeping track of pertinent data.

"You must score an 80 percent or above on every test and be able to effectively direct air and ground traffic," said Beasley.

For another air traffic controller, who recently graduated technical school, the transition and road ahead will be significantly demanding. 

"The job is very challenging and requires a high amount of mental focus," said Airman 1st Class Jeffery French, an air traffic controller assigned to the 6th OSS. "Awareness and the ability to see the big picture is required for me to become a successful air traffic controller."

French, a Bloomington, Indiana native, always wanted to be a part of aviation in some capacity. Becoming an Air Force air traffic controller was not the first career choice for him as a child; however, he was always curious about what the tower was used for.

"The highlight of my day is keeping orderly and safe operations of everyone under my control and also having the best view of the entire base," said French.

Even though French is at the beginning of his training and career, his sight is set on receiving his certifications.

"I have to be persistent and confident because I'm constantly learning something new and every day is going to be different," stated French.

Although Beasley and French are on opposite ends of the training spectrum, they each recognize the importance of constant training.

Beasley explained that if Airmen do not keep up with training they could easily be removed from the career field.

"You have to come into it very head strong because you're going to go through a lot personally and mentally. The fact that you know everything you attain in this career field is earned, not given, gives you a feeling of success and worth," commented Beasley.