April 25, 2011

Show Off

The public suddenly has its eyes turned on the Air Traffic Controllers. Really?

There has always been something missing from this Blog, in my opinion. Examples of my actual job, unedited. When I have a fantastically busy session at HNK/DNY -- my perfect phraseology, creative crossing restrictions to ensure separation, subtle vectors when a crossing restriction won't work, my D-side calling New York to get control for lower on the ALB arrivals, delivering Area E some awesome looking in-trail -- I can't ask my supervisor for a recording of my frequency and land lines to upload here, and I can't take a quick screen shot from the Falcon program to show off to you how proud I am of the work that we all do on a daily basis. Giving you access to that information is a security risk, a violation of policy, and copyright infringement. And if you're not a pilot, you'll never get access into my building for a tour to see it all first hand. Instead, I do my best to explain what happened using rudimentary maps, some excellent Flightaware.com links, and my words. I appreciate all of you for following along and your comments and encouragement.

But there are people hovering. Folks just waiting for me to screw up. They're pretty sure I will; I'm human, after all. And when I do screw up there is a major possibility that what I have done, what I've said, and how horrible of a person I am, will be plastered all over the media-scape. Life really isn't fair, after all. I'm not allowed to share with you the 99.9999 percent positive aspects of my work with you here, or anywhere, but that .00001 percent may be used against my entire profession without rebuttal.

Perhaps what I want to show off to you all is too complicated, and people could be afraid of what they don't understand. But the point would be made. What I, and 15000 other air traffic controllers in the US, and tens of thousands more around the world do every day, cannot be explained to the general public in specific terms. And if the public can't understand the positive details, how can they judge us on the negative details?

So maybe we should stay locked up behind windowless doors and just do our work everyday in quiet perfection. Have we created an unfair expectation of ourselves because we do our jobs perfectly almost all the time? Have we silenced ourselves by focusing on undramatic things like "safety"? When the specifics of our rare mistakes are made public but we can't defend ourselves with details of our constant and habitual commendable actions but once a year, getting the flying public home in a safe and efficient manner, then we're loosing an unfair fight. The only thing that gets shown off is a negative image. But that isn't how I see my work at all. If only I could show you.

Till next time...


April 19, 2011


There are a few things that are certain about Air Traffic Control as a career:

1 - The schedule is crazy. Whether I claim to like it or not, working two nights-three days, three nights-two days, or two nights-two days-mid is NOT healthy for humans. I think my best alternative would be working five night shifts, but I pretend to have a social life after my day shifts occasionally.

2 - This job is stressful. I have only recently realized what this means, although I'm not sure if has to do with the soulless, windowless room that I work in, full of computer air or the actual controlling of airplanes. Sometimes its none of the above, sometimes is some of the above, and sometimes its everything and I just want a month off.

The FAA begrudgingly throws money at us to make us stop complaining about how stressful it can be working a crappy schedule. But is that why we make decent money?

Apparently, money is supposed to make me less tired at 4am when I have ZERO airplanes and there is nothing to do but stare at a blank computer screen. Fun experiment: At 12am tonight, turn off all the lights in your house, except for a reading light nearby, sit in front of your computer screen, and stay up until 5:30am. Emailing, reading, phone calls, text messaging, listening to music and "cat naps" are not permitted. Did you make it? Nice job! Do that again every Friday night for the next 20 years. Act professional, stay awake, and quit your bitchin'.

So, I'd like to say that I'm glad this is something we can finally talk about. We have a problem that has not been addressed. Controllers are tired at 3am. Shocker. So instead of ignoring it until we get caught (oh, wait, we're talking about this because we DID get caught), lets do something about it that makes sense and helps us perform our jobs effectively 24/7. None of us like being really tired. Those of us that work the Mid tend to start our weekend off half-dead. This schedule is slowly killing all of us. So lets be open to change for the better. This is an opportunity to increase the safety of the NAS.

Also, I'd be willing to start a conversation about truth number 2 at any time. Stress seems to be something that controllers shrug off. Its an inside joke. But maybe there are ways we can make the stress screw us up less. I can feel it building sometimes, and I don't know what to do about it. Oh wait, I'm not supposed to talk about that. Sorry.

Till next time...


That is all I have to say about this.

Oh. NERD ALERT: I read the entire Northeast US Airport Facility Directory (AFD) to stay awake one night. The preferred routes to the Cape were on page 444. Not sure if that is still true....(FAA related documents are approved reading).

April 8, 2011

Still There?

It is usually after 10pm. Or in a winter lull of traffic on a Saturday morning after 9am. Or because all of the sectors are open, even though all of the airports are snowed in. That happened a lot this winter. So, I only have one or two airplanes, or there is a gaggle of flights heading westbound into a strong headwind, and I'm just waiting for Cleveland to take some handoffs. The frequency is quiet. Nice and quiet.

"Still there?"

Ahh, the silence is broken. Most controllers just say "yup." Some say "unfortunately." A few throw down a sarcastic "nope." All are, frankly, unproductive use of the frequency.

Do I know who you are? Do you know who I am? None of these are rhetorical questions, but they are left un-asked most of the time.

Pilots: How about "Boston Center, (callsign), radio check"?

The question is being asked by a pilot who is concerned that they are lost in frequency land. If I answer "Yes" to the original question, then the pilot will assume all is well, even though he/she may be hundreds of miles from my sector, on the wrong frequency. If the pilot had called for Washington Center, for instance, I would have immediately known something was wrong and could attempt to remedy the situation. It's slow in my sector, after all, so I have plenty of time to make a phone call and find out where that pilot belongs. Who knows, that far away controller may be trying to call this pilot to issue a much-needed clearance.

Controllers: How about "affirmative, this is Boston Center, who is calling?"

I've been guilty of responding with a "depends, who are you?" Not exactly the most professional (see above), but my point is made.

Every transmission should have a purpose. "'still there?' 'Yup'" does not qualify as productive use of frequency.

Thank you.

till next time....


PS. Yes, there are crazy, stupid things going on in the world, and I am intentionally ignoring them. It takes more effort that I can muster some days to focus on the task at hand, but I'm trying. I'm sure a few bloggers listed under adjacent sectors have answers to other questions you may have. For now, I'm still here...mostly.