Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Sept. - BR Air Traffic Control

Contributor: Sabrina W. (from one of our 3 days of tours)

In September, 18 of our older (13+) students toured the Air Traffic Control Center of the FAA here in Baton Rouge.  We toured the 3 main areas of the facility: administration, tower room, and radar room. The radar room is where the air traffic controller is talking live with the pilot while monitoring the air space via monitors for anything to warn that pilot of.  That room still operates as a dark room because of the old equipment used, but they did tell us they are scheduled for upgrades this year.  In the tower room, we watched incoming and outgoing planes through the windows that surrounded us in a 360 degree view. Wind and radar monitors were used, but we were all interested at how much of what they do is done visually by watching the actual planes come and go before handing them off to other air space controllers.  Our guide mentioned how important it was to spot the plane and judge distance as a smaller plane can literally be flipped in the turbulence behind a larger plane. Part of their job is also knowing traits of individual airlines and how swift or slow their departures may be.  They used a specific airline example and told how they would never allow a small plane to take off/ come in if that airline was on or approaching the runway because they are always the slowest to take off or land.  It was really amazing how much information the controllers are monitoring at any given time.  They are checking radars for incoming planes, visually spotting those planes in the sky, checking flight plans, communicating with the other controllers, watching weather maps, calculating how far apart planes are and if that is problematic depending on plane size and altitude, and more.  They take breaks and rotate every hour and a half to make sure they're staying alert.  An interesting fact is that the mandatory retirement age for an air traffic controller is 56-years-old, because of the high stress of the job before it became a bit more automated.  They have a high number of people about to reach that age across the nation, so they are hiring and training at a high capacity right now to try to fill the holes before the other certified controllers are forced to retire.  We were told certification takes anywhere from a year and a half to two.

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