A Day in the Life: What it’s Like to Work as an Air Traffic Manager During the Holiday Season

December 19, 2018 Vaughn Spotlights

With the holiday travel season upon us, travelers will be taking to the skies in record numbers. So, how do air traffic managers handle so much activity during this busy time of year? There’s more to it than you may think. Ronald Ruggeri, online technical specialist instructor at Vaughn College, shares his 33 years of experience and sheds some light on how these professionals oversee and coordinate air traffic operations.

Keeping spirits high

Keeping morale up during the holiday season is an important part of an air traffic manager’s role.  Thousands of planes take off and land every day, all around the world, which makes working as an air traffic controller a 24/7, 365 day-a-year job. It’s no surprise the number of departures and arrivals climb even higher during the holidays, thus keeping controllers at their posts and away from their families on these special days. Here are some ways air traffic supervisors keep spirits high in the tower:

  • Work closely with controllers to accommodate staffing schedules
  • Decorate the tower with lights and decorations to create a fun and festive holiday atmosphere
  • Provide food on holidays to make working on these days more enjoyable

Vaughn College student perspective

Rachel Underland, a junior studying airport management with a focus on air traffic control at Vaughn College, is an online student who works full time as a simulator pilot at New York TRACON (Terminal Radar Approach Control Facility) in Westbury, New York. She said she loves her job and credits Vaughn for their comprehensive curriculum which gave her the knowledge and training she needed to land her position. Underland shares her thoughts on the busy holiday travel season. “It’s an exciting time of year,” she said. “The days go faster and there’s more to do, but through it all, we have to be on the ball to help limit delays.”


Weather woes

Some of us may be dreaming of a white Christmas and the beauty of the season, but snow and ice can wreak havoc on air travel, causing delays and frustration for passengers and airport personnel.

“Communication is key to maintaining a smooth and safe flow of incoming and departing flights during the holidays,” Ruggeri said. “The holidays should be a happy time of year where passengers travel to be with their friends and family. It’s our job to keep passengers calm and ensure they arrive at their destinations safely.”

To keep order and efficiency during potential weather delays, air traffic managers must:

  • Anticipate and project weather impacts throughout the country to help airlines stay on schedule
  • Communicate with the traffic management unit to gauge how many flights are expected, and adjust this acceptance rate to accommodate arrival and departure work loads
  • Maintain communications on weather conditions between the airport authority, the air traffic controllers, the traffic management unit and the air traffic supervisors to ensure all are aware of when, where and how an aircraft may be cleared to land.

Heavy air traffic

No passenger wants to experience a delay, especially when they’re excited to arrive at their destination for the holidays, so it’s important to explain why these may be necessary to keep passengers and pilots safe. In the past planes would be put into a holding pattern where they would circle for a time until air traffic control approved an available runway for a safe landing. Today, it’s more common for airlines to hold passengers on the ground at their departure city rather than in the air―unless there is an unforeseen circumstance like last-minute inclement weather that hinders a safe landing. Air traffic managers may delay passengers on the ground level to:

  • Increase organizational efficiency
  • Increase safety of passengers and staff
  • Reduce stress on air traffic controllers and pilots
  • Save fuel
  • Decrease air pollution

Wherever your holiday travels take you, the faculty and staff at Vaughn College wish you and your family a happy and safe holiday season.

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