Air traffic controllers explain what it's like working at world's busiest airport
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Air traffic controllers at the world’s busiest airport once revealed what the biggest challenges of their job are, as well as what their working world is like.
As you can probably imagine, the biggest challenges that they face are keeping planes from crashing into each other, making sure loads of different flights take off on time, and generally avoiding anything that might make the news all around the world.
That’s a lot of pressure to be going on with, but there are other issues as well.
Amongst them, the fact that a problem at their airport has a massive effect on the world of air travel and transport, because they are so busy that if something gets held up there it has a knock-on effect way beyond the confines of their runways.
Not to mention that people may have booked connecting flights elsewhere that could be missed, which is admittedly less serious than an aeroplane accident, but no doubt annoying nonetheless.
The airport in question is Atlanta Hartfield-Jackson International Airport, which had as many as 909,431 flights take off and land during 2019.
That’s the last year we can really use as a barometer for business, give everything that happened to travel after the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
There are 58 controllers at the airport, working to ensure that the hundreds of millions of passengers get to where they need to be and – more importantly – get there safely.
That means watching the time, the weather, and a whole heap of other things.
At the time we’re considering – when Business Insider showed up for a day – they had 2,600 departures and landings each day.
One told them: “This is the ultimate in domino effects. If something's going wrong in Atlanta or if there are major delays, it disrupts air travel all throughout the country and parts of the world.”
They continued: “There's a lot of dynamic decisions.
"If an aircraft is coming in to land and they have to go around because of an unstable approach, the weather didn't cooperate, they couldn't get the runway in sight, you have to be ready to make a decision.”
And as for becoming an air controller? Well, there’s a lot of training.
Five years in a classroom, on a simulator, and on the job, on some occasions.
Then, to get hired it can take a year, with a number of test scenarios and simulator challenges to face.
They also have to learn almost another language, which is how everyone communicates at the airport and stays on the same page.
Basically, there is a lot to remember at once, under pressure, and mistakes simply cannot happen.
It works, though, as in 2018 the airport was the best in the US for low flight delays and on-time departures.
When it comes to the weather, there are more decisions.
The controller explained: “You have to be ready to make a decision.
“How am I going to get this airplane back up into the air, back over to the next air traffic control facility, so that they can resequence them back into our pattern?”
Technology also plays a massive role, of course.
“There used to be a time when weather would shut your airport down. Being able to forecast and project when that weather's coming, we're not surprised like we used to be.”
Still, it’s a seriously tough job that requires a lot of concentration, precision, and organisation amongst a relatively small group of people.
Just remember that the next time you’re getting on a flight from a busy airport, there’s an awful lot that goes into it.