Air Traffic Controller
What did you study?
To gain a job as an air traffic controller I studied towards a diploma in air traffic control with Airways New Zealand. Before I started the course with Airways I also studied towards a bachelor in aviation management with Massey University.
Why did you choose these courses?
I have always had a passion for aviation. I was 17 when I applied to become an air traffic controller – but because I wasn’t old enough to start training (you need to be 21 to obtain an air traffic control licence) I needed to fill in the gap between high school and Airways. So that’s when I decided to study towards a degree in aviation management.
What did you enjoy about your course?
The best thing about the course had to be the people. Airways really want you to succeed and will try their best to get you through the course successfully; whether that’s taking time after class to answer all your questions, or teaching you in another style that makes it easier for you to understand.
What helped you to successfully complete your course?
Support from Airways and family members definitely helped. My on-the-job instructors, at Nelson control tower, really pushed me to break through the barriers holding me back. They kept me confident in my abilities which helped relieve a lot of the stress during my training.
What advice do you have for future students?
Two things are needed - a passion for what you are doing, and the confidence to succeed. Airways can teach you all the theory, but at the end of the day, if you are too nervous to make a decision you might find it difficult to cope with the pressure of training. However once you do obtain your controller’s rating, the pressure falls off and the real fun begins!
Describe your job
In a sentence, my job is to prevent the collision of aircraft in the air and on the ground. But there is a lot more to it than that, such as co-ordinating with other control towers, billing the aircraft that come and go at the airport, sighting and reporting forest fires, dealing with emergencies and so much more. There is definitely a lot to do and a lot to learn – even the more experienced controllers who have been around for decades still learn new things every day.
What do you do on an average day?
When I get to work I check the weather and get a briefing from the controller on duty. I settle in on a delivery position where I don’t control any planes but provide information to pilots, and do the ‘paperwork’ side of things such as answer the telephones, billing of aircraft, and assisting the tower controller. After a couple of hours I swap positions with the tower controller and start controlling aircraft, giving clearances and instructions to pilots. The day ends with me briefing the next controller.
What is the most exciting about your job?
Never knowing what the day has to throw at you! I could be controlling a formation of Iroquois helicopters or a couple of Australian Hercules aircraft, or I could be clearing the first renovated Anson aircraft for takeoff in formation with a TV3 news helicopter. The weather also plays a role in giving me a new challenge every day, if not every hour.
What opportunities does your job offer?
There are plenty of opportunities for air traffic controllers in New Zealand, and because our qualification is internationally recognised, there is always the possibility of travelling overseas for work.
In the past couple of years I have controlled at Palmerston North and Nelson, and in a couple of months I’ll be controlling in Queenstown before moving to Christchurch. I am hoping Christchurch will be my final destination but anything is possible.
What skills, training, education or past experiences helped you secure your job?
My aviation management degree and my passion for aviation both really helped me to secure the job. The degree gave me a good appreciation of the aviation industry, and I still apply the knowledge I learnt from Massey every day. My passion for aviation started at a young age, and it was through school and the use of career advisors that I started looking into air traffic control as a real option.
Where do you see yourself heading in the future within this industry?
Christchurch is my ultimate goal, as there are the choices of working at the airport, becoming a radar controller, or taking up a management role with Airways. However this job has so many opportunities that I have no idea where I will ultimately end up.
What advice do you have for anyone wanting to work in the aviation industry?
Just have fun. If you don’t enjoy waking up in the morning and going to work, then you’re not in the right industry. Everyone in the aviation industry loves their job; it’s what makes them so good at it.