Air Traffic Control - Stress - ATC - Aviation Information

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Air Traffic Control - Stress

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Air traffic controllers are one of the highest paid professions without a college degree. For example, the average starting salary within the first year is around $28.00 an hour while controllers can earn upwards of $100,000 annually after just a few years in the field. However, there is an opposing side to the good money. Controllers work on a shift schedule that involves them performing their duties on weekends, holidays, and all hours of the day and night. Another downside, air traffic controllers work eight hour shifts with limited or no breaks. In a one hour sitting an air traffic controller may be responsible for more money and lives than an average person is during their entire lifetime. Three common stresses as an air traffic controller are: the complexity of traffic, working long shifts with no break, and dealing with complex traffic during adverse weather.
Many things can affect the complexity of the traffic a controller has to deal with. One or two aircraft inbound or outbound to the same location is usually not a problem. Controllers really earn their money when multiple aircraft are conducting approaches on intersecting runways simultaneously while other aircraft are departing the same runways. For instance, there are times air traffic controllers will be communicating with ten or more aircraft all within five miles of each other, and many on converging courses. Some of the busier airports handle over one hundred operations an hour. To illustrate, that is almost two takeoffs or landings every minute. The density of traffic can continue uninterrupted for hours. This can be very stressful for controllers that work by themselves, which is common in Federal Contract Towers. In some instances, air traffic controllers are handling a variety of tasks at the same time such as: combining all positions in the tower, talking with aircraft in the sky, on the ground, and coordinating with up to three facilities at once.

Most Federal Contract Towers provide for only one air traffic controller to be working at a time. This can cause extra strains on the individual controller over an eight hour shift. There have been times where the air traffic has been so busy for extended periods of time that the controller could not take bathroom breaks. This added stress can initiate errors that could be prevented if adequate breaks were available. In addition, statistics have also shown that the level of awareness among air traffic controllers decreases sufficiently after two continuous hours on position. Eating can be another problem for controllers that work alone. Specifically, some facilities do not even provide refrigerators or other places to store food during a shift. This can make the selection of food available very limited and cause performance to decrease in controller duties.

It takes a certain kind of individual to deal with the amount of stress an air traffic controller has to endure during a routine shift. As a result, the Federal Aviation Administration requires air traffic controllers to retire by the age of 56. A stressful day for an average person is just another day on the job for a controller. Air traffic controllers have been around for sixty years and with every day that passes more and more passengers rely on the valuable service they provide. In conclusion, the United States air traffic control system is and will continue to be the most complex yet safe and efficient air traffic control system in the world.
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