September 21, 2013

Request Vectors

I am a certain kind of person.  I can sit down with some one and talk about what I do for a living for hours.

I really enjoy writing this blog.  But I can't find hours of time to do so.  If feels like that is what is necessary.  I had a crazy idea to start an ATC Twitter feed, where I establish context initially and then conquer the epic challenge of describing hours of complex air traffic to you in 140 characters.  But that's impossible.  No, really.  It is.  

So, I, dispirited, accepted what I believed to be the reason I just never take the time to write my experiences for you.  But that isn't the reason.  

A few years back, I took a hiatus for a while.  The reason was my lack of confidence in myself to be outward with you.  I couldn't see myself as a expert in my field that I strive to be. It was a much more personal problem back then.  But, I realize, my lack of content lately also stems from the same personal limitation in confidence.  The depth of this lack of confidence is different, though.  

In the crazy, complex world of air traffic, I like to tell you stories about being up to my eyeballs in airplanes, and how I magically weaved them through storms and they came out the other side perfectly 20 miles in trail per airport.  My job is fun.  And I can talk about it for hours.  But I keep snagging on an issue.  

The snag is that while I continually learn more about my trade, the more I realize that I will never have all of the answers.  I don't feel comfortable putting myself behind the facade of "expert".  

For example, some controllers believe their job is giving planes as many short cuts as possible.  But not every shortcut saves time and fuel, based on winds and weather.  Other controllers believe, that as Center controllers, we need to maintain a shred of structure and order to promote safety.  I lean in that direction.  There is a happy medium somewhere in between, but I, nor any one person, should never be put in a position to determine medium happiness.  

This post is about my realization that ambition is like a compass.  My direction in life is to be an air traffic controller.  And in that direction, I want to be the most effective controller I can imagine.  But other controllers aren't required to follow my exact heading in order to still be great controllers.  


Part of me is inspired by the modest following I've appreciated over the years.   The other part of me doesn't like the thought of representing all controllers with my limited perspective. So, maybe now that I've gotten this out there, I can be more true to who I am, and still have fun writing.  When I am plugged in to my sector, I am one of 15000 controllers in the US.  But I am also one WITH 15000 controllers.  We all work together to keep the airspace above the US safe and efficient.  

This teamwork is important and hard to describe.  It's complicated.  It is powerful.  And I need to conclude this post by saying that I, as one controller, am unsure if we are using the power of our teamwork effectively for the citizens of the United States.  Controllers spent one week under rules of Sequestration.  We reduced staffing and, correspondingly, reduced traffic to maintain safety.  Then, we inconvenienced a few important people, and suddenly, we received special funding so we could maintain normal staffing levels.  On one hand, I'm glad we were able to run normal summer traffic and serve the citizens of this country in that way.  But on the other hand, the Sequester has been swept under the rug because the most publicly glaring effect of Sequestration was averted - for now....

Now that Congress has labelled controllers with such humbling importance, is it our duty to now insist that we sacrifice a few unpaid days of furlough to force the aforementioned Congress to start respecting the rest of this country with the same urgency and importance?  Is that even the appropriate scope of our service?  

I am consciously aware of how fortunate I am to have a job - and I love it.  I am also consciously aware that the direction my compass points isn't necessarily the vector I'd recommend for you.  

Now that I got that out of the way...



LRod said...

Maybe this will help: as you know, I'm a retired controller. I did the job for 30 years during what I like to call the "Golden Age of ATC". I hand wrote strips, I was an FPL on broad band radar, I experienced 1981 and all the before and after, I worked with Host, I worked with DARC, I got out just before DSR, RVSM, and the CPC title and pay scale.

And yet I follow every ATC site I can find. Not to check for errors—with my experience that certainly could be a possibility—but because even though I've been gone for nearly 16 years, aviation and ATC are still deeply fascinating for me.

The reason I tell you all this is because despite your relative youth (in comparison to dinosaurs like me), you're still telling a tale that's worth telling—if not for your audience, then for you. It's worth making the effort to share your experience.

And I will tell you, it's definitely not a Twitter friendly task. That's why my ATC website is pretty extensive. It took me 20 chapters to write my own story, and I know I've left a lot out. I have over 100 short posts of humorous events, character essays, and other aviation/ATC related content I find interesting.

Does anyone else? It doesn't matter. In the end, I built that page for me. Any visitors are gravy or frosting or your preferred topping. Write for you first. No one's going to say, "hey, DM, you're not posting enough—what a slacker!" Well, no one worth listening to, anyway.

ZJX, ORD, ZAU retired
The Big Sky Theory dot com

XR650L_Dave said...

I don't think anyone expects you to represent all controllers any more than descriptions of your facility's operations and procedures to represent all facilities.

Also, the day you don't feel like you are learning a whole bunch is the day it will start to get boring!

Now, what I'd like to know is what the FAA's response was to the 174th saying they anticipate flying the reapers out of SYR next year!
" In a cost-cutting move, the New York Air National Guard’s 174th Attack Wing will move its drone operations from Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield to Hancock Field Air National Guard Base near Syracuse next year."

Don Brown said...


Let me echo LRod's thoughts. You're doing a good thing. Do it for yourself. And that will make it worthy of others.

At some point in time, it will hit you that you are indeed the expert. Maybe not the best. Maybe not the most talented. But the sheer fact that you think about it and write about it will put you ahead of 90% of your peers. And being in that 10% of a profession with only 15,000 practitioners at any one time makes you the expert.

You'll never be perfect. No one ever is. It's the trying that counts. Keep at it.

Best regards,
Don Brown