Air traffic controllers control the flow of aircraft traffic in the air
and on the ground at airports.
They issue radio instructions to pilots to make sure air traffic arrives
and leaves the airport in a safe and orderly fashion.
A controller works with all kinds of pilots, from inexperienced student
pilots in single-engine planes to seasoned airline pilots flying 747s.
Air traffic controllers also work at all kinds of airports. Some airports
are busier than others. The busier an airport, the more stressful the job
and the higher the pay. Yet, no matter where a controller works, stress comes
with the territory.
Tim Schroeder is an air traffic controller who is no longer actively controlling.
Now, he is an instructor with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Academy.
According to Schroeder, comments from the field indicate high stress levels.
"It's not a consistent stress on a daily basis, but there will be 45-minute
to two-hour periods that get very stressful."
Schroeder explains that airports operate under the "hub principle." The
idea behind the hub principle is that airports work best when peak flight
times are alternated with slow times.
This means that air traffic controllers can rest their nerves during slow
times throughout the day. "Very few facilities that I know of would be able
to maintain that type of [peak] level for a full eight-hour shift, for example.
It's more like three or four high-stress periods during your eight-hour shift,"
Air traffic controllers have enormous responsibility for the safety of
thousands of people at a time. The agency in charge of hiring air traffic
controllers accepts only those people who can cope with this stress.
Controllers do a lot of shift work. Air traffic control towers don't shut
down at night -- neither do air traffic controllers.