The air traffic control profession is not well understood by the general public. Every traveler would heartily concur that controllers are necessary and do a good job. Few could articulate exactly what they do and how they do it. In this context, Raytheon’s establishment of an award for Controller of the Year and its honoring of Matthew Tucker is well deserved.
What exactly do controllers do? It depends; there are three basic environments in which they worked, labeled as Tower, ARTCC and TRACON. The first is the most visible for passengers see where these women and men work at the airport. The specific details are too many to recite in a brief review, but they guide the aircraft from gate to taxiway to runway and the reverse upon landing. Some, not all airspace include a second function, the Terminal Radar Approach Control; that set of controllers assume responsibility for instructing the pilots after take-off and before landing. The last component, the Air Traffic Control Centers, manages the planes at higher altitudes as they travel across the country.
The job involves the command of a large number of factors affecting flights (aircraft type, performance capabilities, weather, etc.) and the configuration of the airspace under his/her control. Essentially, they must commit to memory a series of “if/then” statements which define the path of the airplane within the “scope” of the job (not some VFR towers have no radars and thus “scope” here refers to the meets and bound within the specific arrival/departure pattern).
The ATC system has increasingly relied on computers for some of the relevant information. Controllers still, for example, bear the responsibility to maintain separation between and among planes; that’s a difficult skill to master; as automation has become more sophisticated, messages now warn the controller of a potential problem.
Mr. Tucker is presently focused on one aspect of the integration of technology into the ATC system. His current task is to assure that the right/best data on weather is delivered on a timely basis to the working controllers. Getting the forecast of difficult meteorological conditions to the controllers, as soon as the information becomes reliable, allows the people working the positions to advise the pilots how to avoid the impending problem. As noted in the Raytheon commendation:
“The ability for controllers to maintain safety and improve operations when faced with inclement weather has been a major focus of Tucker’s efforts within the industry. He served as the NATCA Weather Liaison from 2002 – 2004 and continues to advocate for the introduction of enhanced weather predictability and information systems into air traffic management operations.”
Mr. Tucker and his co-workers help control the safest ATC system in the word. We should appreciate each of them for their dedication and professionalism.
Acronyms used in this article (in order):
TRACON: Terminal Radar Approach Control
VFR: Visual Flight Rules
ATC: Air Traffic Control
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