FEEA’s Stories in Motion: Showcasing the Dynamic World of Air Traffic Controllers and Aviation Safety
Every day, the sky teems with activity. The FAA’s Air Traffic Organization (ATO) oversees a vast expanse, ensuring the safety and efficiency of over 45,000 flights and 2.9 million airline passengers spanning a remarkable 29 million square miles of airspace.
In the thick of peak operational times, up to 5,400 aircraft pierce through the clouds simultaneously. Behind this extraordinary ballet of motion, unsung heroes work tirelessly to keep the rhythm alive.
Ira Thompson is an Air Traffic Control Supervisor at Philadelphia International Airport.
Ira paints a picture of his typical day: “My days usually revolve around assessing our staffing in comparison to the day’s workload. We consider special events and predicted weather to ensure staffing aligns with the demand. Once this is taken care of, I work either on radar or in the tower, acting as an extra pair of eyes for the controller.”
At Delaware State University, Ira studied Aviation Management. He hadn’t initially considered the role of an Air Traffic Controller until one class piqued his interest and a professor encourages him to apply during a hiring period.
“Out of a handful of students, I was the one hired. I’d always been drawn to aviation, originally aiming to be a pilot. Yet, this job turned out to be the silver lining in my aviation aspirations.”
However, not all days are routine or easy. Ira recounts one particularly challenging night at Philadelphia International Airport: “A series of thunderstorms remained over us for hours, much longer than usual. Typically, storms dissipate within an hour, but that night was different. Gates were shut, incoming planes had no place to park, creating a massive gridlock. Aircraft filled every available spot. Despite the chaotic scene, our team persevered. We worked until the weather cleared, always remembering our prime goal – ensuring the safety and efficient movement of all aircraft.”
Ira firmly believes in the foundational training he received. After obtaining his BS in Aviation Management from Delaware State University, he underwent initial training in Oklahoma City. “The training was intense, preparing us for real-world challenges. But for those aspiring to join the ATC ranks, persistence is key. Apply, get a firsthand look through a tour, and understand the profession from those who live it daily.”
Despite the high-pressure nature of the job, Ira finds solace in leaving work at work. “While there are undoubtedly stressful days, there are also calm, routine ones. After a challenging shift, camaraderie amongst colleagues serves as a valuable outlet for us.”
Outside of work, Ira’s passion for fitness, particularly CrossFit, allows him a much-needed mental break. “The irregular shifts take a toll on the body. While it hampers my gym routine, I also prioritize rest and recovery.”
As our world becomes increasingly interconnected, the skies above us buzz with heightened activity. Air Traffic Controllers, the linchpins of this vast aerial network, are entrusted with monumental responsibilities.
If you’re drawn to the vast expanse above and possess a meticulous eye for detail, a fulfilling career in Air Traffic Control is calling your name.
To learn more about becoming an Air Traffic Controller, visit https://www.faa.gov/be-atc where the FAA has a number of resources to guide you through the process of joining the ranks.
About Stories in Motion
Through FEEA’s Feds in Motion Challenge, we’ve created a space that fosters health, wellness, and community. Now our Stories in Motion feature aims to spotlight federal employees who have compelling stories about moving forward, be it leading a project, advancing in their careers, overcoming challenges, or bringing about positive change in their agency.
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