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Airservices Australia

  • 1,000 - 50,000 employees

Victoria Brown

A day in the life of an Air Traffic Controller can be quite varied depending on factors such as weather and fluctuating traffic levels.

What's your job about?

Airservices’ primary purpose is to provide a service to aircraft to ensure they transit through Australian airspace safely and expeditiously – consequently, my job involves controlling a section of airspace over northern NSW to ensure these goals are met. A day in the life of an Air Traffic Controller can be quite varied depending on factors such as weather and fluctuating traffic levels. The basic premise, however, involves sitting at a console with a screen containing radar images of any aircraft operating within my airspace and surrounding airspace, and processing these flights. This consists of talking to pilots from when they begin taxiing at an aerodrome until they land safely at the other end of their flight. Usually, numerous air traffic controllers will be responsible for an aircraft at different stages of the flight. Our primary goal is to ensure all aircraft are separated from each other, as well as any terrain or dangerous weather, and to assist the pilots in the case of an emergency. Our secondary goal is to get them where they are going as quickly and efficiently as possible. 

The work can be fast-paced and requires 24/7, 365 days/year shift work to ensure an around the clock service to aircraft. Whilst my job is very specialised and safety critical, it is quite accessible for anyone who has an interest in learning what exactly we do. 

What's your background?

I grew up north of Brisbane, and upon completing my secondary education, began studying science at the University of Queensland (UQ). I quickly learned that I preferred having a practical application for my knowledge, and consequently ended up graduating with a degree in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering instead. Upon nearing completion of my degree, I found I still wasn’t getting to apply my knowledge in a fast-paced environment as I had hoped to. It was at this stage that I first heard about Air Traffic Control, and realised it would be the perfect job for me with my interest in aviation and love of keeping my mind active. I organised to visit the Brisbane control centre to experience for myself what exactly was involved, and loved what I saw. I quickly applied for the job, and in 2016 moved to Melbourne to begin my air traffic control training – a course which takes an average of 14 months to complete. The result was an AVI50115 Diploma in Aviation Air Traffic Control and a job that I really enjoy. After completing my last few months of training in Brisbane, I have now been a licenced air traffic controller for approximately 16 months, and can’t see myself doing anything else in the foreseeable future. 

Could someone with a different background do your job?

Absolutely – whilst Air Traffic Control takes a certain type of personality and thought process, good controllers come from all different backgrounds.  Important skills for the job include confidence, spatial awareness, mathematics, planning, projection, problem-solving, adaptability, communication and, most importantly, the ability to use all of these skills efficiently and calmly when under pressure. People who have these skills come from a huge variety of backgrounds – some with tertiary education, some without. Some with a background in math/science, some with a background in arts. However, we all share the capability to calmly and efficiently control aircraft to the best of our abilities no matter what the situation.

What's the coolest thing about your job?

To me, the best part of the job is when you successfully solve a problem that initially seemed very difficult, or that was sprung upon you very unexpectedly. Some days at work are much tougher than others, but they leave you with a sense of accomplishment that you successfully got all of the aircraft through your airspace safely, and as efficiently as possible given the circumstances. Sometimes following a busy period, other controllers or pilots will thank you for your help, and it’s a great feeling to know that you contributed to the safe management of Australian airspace. Teamwork is a huge part of the job and really shines through in those busy periods.

3 pieces of advice for yourself when you were a student...

  • Do not lock yourself into a career based on exactly what you chose to study – explore outside options. The problem-solving skills taught in engineering, the analytical skills taught in law… all of these can be adaptable to numerous careers. Luckily I took this advice in the end – but wish I had done so sooner!
  • Take subjects outside of the core subjects required for your major, it’s a great way to explore any other interests you may have, or to reaffirm that you chose the correct major.
  • Enjoy yourself! University will be one of the most social aspects of your adult life, it’s unlikely you will ever again be in a place with quite so many people with so many different interests/backgrounds.