Air Traffic Controller

Train Conductor

Hello, and welcome back to Gracie Meets… We’ve all heard about airplane pilots, but do know the people that keep the plane safe and tell the pilots where to go. I was lucky enough to live with a person that does this, but most people don’t know about this unique career. What is this profession you may be asking? Why, it’s an air traffic controller. To help make this job a bit more mainstream, I invited Mr. Adam Guerrero onto the show. Take a listen to learn more!

Gracie Meets...
Air Traffic Controller

Show Music: 2019 07 25 cello pizz 01 and 250109 rhodes 02 by Morusque used under Creative Commons License CC BY.  No alterations were made to the original composition. 

Cover Art: Kyleigh Kinsey. Instagram: @ato._.noodle 


Gracie Solomon  00:11

Hello, and welcome back to Gracie Meets… We’ve all heard about airplane pilots, but do know the people that keep the plane safe and tell the pilots where to go. I was lucky enough to live with a person that does this, but most people don’t know about this unique career. What is this profession you may be asking? Why, it’s an air traffic controller. To help make this job a bit more mainstream, I invited Mr. Adam Guerrero onto the show. Why don’t you tell the listeners a little bit about yourself?

Adam Guerrero  00:41

Well, my name is Adam Guerrero. I am an air traffic controller at Southern California TRACON.  TRACON stands for Terminal RADAR Approach Control. I have been doing this for since 2003. So 17 years now. I did four in the Air Force and you know the other 13 here and in the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration].

Gracie Solomon  01:03

Did you have any influences that made you choose this career?

Adam Guerrero  01:09

Yes, actually, a friend of mine from high school, his dad was a Delta pilot. And I was really interested in becoming a pilot for an airline when I was younger in high school. And when we talked about it, he had told me something about air traffic control. And I asked what was that? And he, you know, pretty much told me he’s like, well, it’s pretty much the language barrier, for some of us, you know, are not, not barriers, but the language between pilots and controllers, when they talk to each other as they’re flying. So I dug into it a little bit more for air traffic control. He told me if you understand air traffic control, it’d be a lot easier to become a pilot. And that’s kind of where it took me into this job, Air Traffic Control. That’s where I went into the Air Force under that job.

Gracie Solomon  02:00

What part of your job do you think is the most challenging?

Adam Guerrero  02:05

I would have to say training. Training for this job is challenging, because it’s almost like learning a whole new language. You’re talking in numbers and acronyms constantly, and getting everything to be able to pretty much say at a moment’s notice is nerve wracking at times because of the huge responsibility that you have with each and every aircraft that’s in the air. But it’s fun, it’s a lot of fun, but it is it is very challenging throughout the whole training process. That’s gotta be it for me.

Gracie Solomon  02:37

So, do you have to have like fast like thinking and reflexes for this job?

Adam Guerrero  02:42

That comes with time in the training, that’s what makes it a really cool job that that you don’t have to have all book smarts for this job, although you do obviously need to study very hard. But there’s some common sense in there that you know, you can balance out with it. That makes it fun. That makes it challenging but you know, rewarding at the same time.

Gracie Solomon  03:03

When did you decide this career was the one that you wanted to stay in? Or do?

Adam Guerrero  03:08

When I joined the Air Force, and I got into air traffic control, I didn’t have nothing really to, I didn’t know what to expect completely, when I got into it, and joining the ranks, you know, at the bottom of the barrel, so to speak, being an Airman Basic there. And then basically all the higher ups, you know, officers, they have to tell you what to do all that kind of stuff in the hierarchy of the military. And then after going through all the training, and I get to my first base, they were like, well, every pilot out there is an officer, and you get to tell them what to do. And it was kind of cool at that time, you know, like, hey, I get to tell officers what to do while I’m still in the military. So that was like one of the little hitting points. You know, when I was younger, that like this is really cool. I get to tell these guys what to do. But it also shows like how much responsibility that you have and it just, it’s something that I was really proud of to be able to do so that when I got into air traffic control, having all that responsibility to me was cool in itself to make me want to continue to do this job for the rest of my career.

Gracie Solomon  04:03

With great power, beco… gets great responsibility or whatever the quote is, from Spider Man, something like that. You kind of touched on this in question 2, about your biggest influence. But why would a teenager want to go into this career in the future?

Adam Guerrero  04:23

Because it’s something challenging. It’s something different every single day, there’s something new, the responsibility, you kind of grow up a lot, really quickly, knowing that you have other people’s lives in your hands. After I got out of the Air Force, I worked at LAX [Los Angeles International Airport]. And to see as many planes come in and out of that out of there every single day. And every single plane having more than 100 people on each and every single plane you’re talking to for the most part. It’s just It’s surreal in a moment, when you first get there, and just interesting, very, very interesting. Every single day, that there is something different that that can go either good or wrong, that you have the ability to make, make right, before it becomes something disastrous. So it’s, it’s very, very interesting every single day, not every single day is the same. But you know, as a teenager, it’s just it’s just really cool job to say if you’re into aviation and planes in general. It’s a really cool.

Gracie Solomon  05:22

Is there like a school that you need to go to become an air traffic controller? Or is it just like training?

Adam Guerrero  05:28

There are schools across the United States that I know that some people have gone through I went the military route. All my training came through the United States Air Force. I know there’s schools, one out here in California called Mount San Antonio College. There’s also Embry Riddle University,  in University of North Dakota UND, I believe is one, and then there’s another one somewhere in the northeast that I do not know I’m not very familiar with but there’s a few schools out there to get the job training, but my specific background is military.

Gracie Solomon  06:04

So what did the training kind of entail? Like what was it like cause you said it was difficult?

Adam Guerrero  06:11

The difficult part was understanding the acronyms, you know, understanding what they are, and you know, the pressures of the military and, you know, making sure that you make it all the way through because once, if you can’t make it through there, it’s like you have to get retrained into a new job. And this is really what I, the only thing I really wanted to do when I got in here so I could become a pilot. It was it was just a self-pressure on myself to make sure that I made it through. I think that’s what made it a little bit more difficult. But in the end, I was able to complete it and get going with the rest of my training.

Gracie Solomon  06:41

Why do you think this job isn’t normal?

Adam Guerrero  06:44

It’s not normal, in the sense that it’s not a nine to five job where you just go in you have like a normal office. There’s different aspects of air traffic control. The hours are different depending on where you work. I’ve worked at 24-hour facilities all my career, so the hours of operation for us to be there, every week, it’s different hours, it changes constantly. But a few other things that are not normal, just the situations that happen every single day, or once in a while, I should say not every day. But once in a while you get our emergencies, you hear of an aircraft that might have an engine out, and everybody within your team, that you work with supervisors to other controllers, everybody that’s in that area all help you out in a team fashion to be able to get that airplane back onto the ground. So it’s very unique in that aspect of it still can be like a team that’s helping you out not an individual, not individual performance, so to speak. Everybody’s there to help each other out to make sure every plane is safe in the skies.

Gracie Solomon  07:46

Yeah, and you mentioned that you’re often like you don’t go to an office whenever you go to work. So what kind of like what does it look like?

Adam Guerrero  07:55

Well, to me coming out of high school in office was a cubicle sat at a desk you know, that was in my mind when in office was my first I work in the towers. That was the way I went, the route that I went, I told you there’s three aspects of air traffic control, the tower route is at the top of a tower. And it’s got glass all the way around 360-view, and you’re looking at the airplanes as they land and as they take off from the airport, so you get to see, you know, the surrounding areas pretty well. It’s a great view from the tower. The second aspect of air traffic control is going to be the terminal where I work at, it’s called Terminal RADAR Approach Control. And that is where you’re going to be looking on a scope. Kind of like those old movies. Well, the technology is a lot better now. But those old movies where you see the sweeping around, and then the little blips on there. It’s something like that. It’s gotten a lot better. It’s more digitized now. And that’s the second aspect to where we take care of anything that’s coming into the airport. And then we let them go from 10 miles out, we hand them over to the tower and vice versa when tower has them departing and they, they take off, we also receive them and we start talking to the pilot once you’re just off the ground, about 1000 feet in the air, and then we start taking you up to a higher altitude.  We’ll take you maneuver you guys between other aircraft until you get to a cruising altitude. And we’ll give you guys over to the third aspect of air traffic control, which is the center. And the center handles everything in high altitude from 17,000 feet and above, in my area particularly.  And they take care of a lot of high altitude all across the country. And some areas across the country where it’s not as compact with the air traffic demand, they can also work everything all the way down almost to the ground except for the tower stuff, of course, but they can do some of our job as well.

Gracie Solomon  09:47

That’s a lot.

Adam Guerrero  09:49

Right? So but we as far as the three different aspects you only get qualified and one of them so if you’re an air traffic controller at a tower, you will be at that tower until you’re done, or you can be at a tracon, until you’re done being certified. And if you’d like to move around, you can, you can request to do that stuff as well.

Gracie Solomon  10:09

So we talked a little bit about, like, what a person would need to become an air traffic controller. So, but what kind of person do you think would excel in this career?

Adam Guerrero  10:22

Anybody really, and I, I like that about my job is that we have people who have bachelor’s or master’s degrees in different areas, but we also have people in a sense, like myself, who just came straight out of high school with training through the military. If you start at a smaller facility and move your way up, you can, you can pretty much do anything with the right training. This job is so versatile that like I said, you don’t need you don’t need the bachelor’s degree. You don’t need the master’s degree. But it helps for some people. It does help for the structure because it is structured for the most part, but you also have that, you have that have that capability to think outside the box, you’ll get stuck in a situation to where the outside of the outside of the box thinking really helps you. And that’s where you can excel the most in this job.

Gracie Solomon  11:11

Well, thank you for letting me interview you.

Adam Guerrero  11:14

All right. Thank you, Gracie.

Gracie Solomon  11:16

Mr. Adam gave a lot of great information about this career that I didn’t even know. This job definitely isn’t for the faint of heart, because you have to think on your toes. While many, many lives are in your hands. No normal person could be focused and motivated enough to go through the intense training and be able to work strange hours, but then again, show me a normal teenager. Thanks for listening.

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