Wednesday, December 19, 2012

In The Control Tower

Miles and Evan in the control tower at Washington National Airport watching planes preparing to land.
As a result of our somewhat transient lifestyle, my children have been on airplanes for as long as they can remember and they love this mode of transportation. As a result, they have acquired my love and fascination of airplanes, airports, and the commercial aviation industry. This past summer, as my boys were participating at an ice hockey camp, one of the other parents present for the weeklong day camp and I struck up a conversation. The conversation initially began regarding our love of hockey (we both enjoy playing the game) and our children's interest in the game and then it went to our professions as conversations tend to do. We shared with one another what we do for a living and we quickly became intrigued with each other's profession. This parent is an air traffic controller (ATC) at Washington National Airport (DCA) in Washington D.C. and I shared with him my and the boys fascination with airplanes and airports. As the week progressed, we learned that we had mutual friends in the area and on the last day of camp and the parent said, "Ryan, before you and your family return to Oman, would you like to check out the control tower at DCA?" I replied that we would love to and a day and time were scheduled.

Although I hadn't flown out of DCA in over 10 years, it is still one of my favorite airports. It's situated on the Potomac River, the physical structure of the airport is beautiful (Lots of windows offering great views and natural light), it is accessible by the Metro (always a plus) and when flying in/out of DCA, the views of D.C. and the different monuments are spectacular.

The boys and I arrived at DCA on a Friday evening and we met up with our host. He had us check-in with security and then he took us up to the control tower; which was a combination of elevators and stairwells. When we reached the top of the stairs, we entered a spacious, glass enclosed area with great sightlines in all directions. What made a big impression on me when we reached the control tower were our host's colleagues, they were a young, incredibly diverse group in regards to ethnicity and gender (It was great to see a sizeable number of women ATC’s represented) and they were all extremely friendly.  Our host introduced us to his colleagues, gave the boys and I a tour, patiently answered all of our questions, and showed us all the technology used to track planes. He showed us how to read the different radars and how to discern the airline of a plane and where it is headed. He explained to us when ATC’s are communicating with pilots what the lingo means, how to read runways, and then there was one particular piece of equipment that I will never forget. It was a radar screen with a map of the world that showed all of the planes in the world in airspace at that moment. It was impressive!

Annually, ATC is ranked as one of the most stressful jobs and I expected to see a highly stressed group of individuals operating at a break neck pace. The group the boys and I encountered were extremely friendly, helpful, kind, and very professional. When I asked the different ATCs how they came to choose this profession the replies varied. One young woman in her early 20’s who was new to the job said that she never knew what she wanted to do professionally. She had enrolled in one college, her mom suggested becoming an ATC and the idea intrigued her. So, she transferred colleges, began taking ATC courses and immediately loved what she was learning. Our host earned his pilot’s license as a teenager and gravitated toward the career. Only in his mid-thirties, he is a veteran among his colleagues at DCA with 15 yrs. experience. Another ATC said that growing up he and his family moved a lot due to his father’s job as a pilot. He became interested in air travel and as a result became an ATC. He then looked at Miles and Evan and said, “Who knows, maybe Miles and Evan will become ATCs one day.” Time will tell.

Miles and Evan at Washington National Airport

1 comment:

Judith Irven said...

What a great experience for all of you...something you will remember all your lives...looking forward to hearing more about the world of ATCs when we see you next week...Judith