“Be open and be prepared.”

That was the message delivered Tuesday (March 8) by a panel of air traffic controllers to Vaughn College students eager to land their first jobs with the Federal Aviation Administration. Be open to outside-the-box options and be prepared for whatever controller training brings.

“There’s a lot of air traffic out there and not all of it flows through New York,” said Matt Abbazia, a controller at Kennedy Airport and a 2007 Vaughn graduate. “Don’t think if you get assigned someplace else that you are not an air traffic controller. Be prepared to relocate and accept opportunities across all the regions.”

Tuesday’s panel discussion, attended by about 100 students, was sponsored by the Vaughn College Air Traffic Control Club and coordinated by faculty member and air traffic controller Thomas Sargent. In addition to Abbazia, panelists included Vaughn graduates Yahay Obeid, a controller and adjunct instructor at the College; and Keith Jacobs, vice president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association at Kennedy. Also attending was Ryan Kaye, a developmental controller at Kennedy and closest in age to many of the students in attendance.

As of 2011, more than one-quarter of all Kennedy Airport controllers are Vaughn graduates.

“The best advice I can give you is to believe in yourselves,” Jacobs said. “I didn’t know what to expect, but the good news is that when you leave Vaughn you will have a foundation in the basics of air traffic control. If you show you’re dedicated and committed to studying during training, you will make it.”

Jacobs studied air traffic control at Vaughn after completing his undergraduate degree at Binghamton University. In 2006, he became the first applicant in 13 years assigned to Kennedy who did not transfer from another controller location.

Obeid graduated from Vaughn in 2005. Like all would-be controllers, he went for training at the FAA’s Oklahoma City facility. His advice to Vaughn students heading there? Work hard and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

“If you’re dedicated at Oklahoma City, you will make it,” Obeid said. “But if you need help, ask for it. They will help you if you ask for help.”

After the 50-minute discussion, students were encouraged to return March 22, when Claude Vieirra, operations manager and second in command at Kennedy’s air traffic control center will be the featured speaker. That meeting will be held in Room W143 at 11 a.m.


Air traffic controllers, from left, Yahay Obeid, Keith Jacobs, Matt Abbazia and Ryan Kaye at Vaughn yesterday.