Take Your Child to Work Day Brings Interest at DOT
Thursday, May 03, 2012

A young man figures out his next move in "Safer Skies" as Chrissy Padgett of ZDC looks on.

Last Thursday, to help celebrate Take Your Child to Work Day," NATCA members from facilities in Northern Virginia and Maryland went to the Department of Transportation to teach children how to safely land planes. And the kids got to play with iPads, too.

Children of DOT employees at their facility in Southwest Washington, D.C. got to play NASA’s “Sector 33” iPad application. The kids went around the building, learning how different DOT employees do their jobs, and the air traffic stop was one of the most popular.

Each child got to spend 10 to 15 minutes with a controller playing the simulator game, which is free on the Apple Store and available for anyone to download. In the game, the player has to guide two planes safely over the San Francisco Bay Area using the same commands a real NATCA controller would.

Ryan Araj, a controller at Washington-Dulles ATCT (IAD), said the response was great. Some children tried to keep playing the game after it was time to go to another station, because they were having so much fun.

“We’re talking young kids here, so they’re probably not spending a lot of time normally thinking about what air traffic controllers do,” Araj said. “But you bring in video games, especially on an iPad, and they’ll respond to it phenomenally, and learn a lot too.”

Lynne Trenis, a Human Resources Specialist at the FAA, who helped coordinate the event with NATCA, said she was thrilled with how well the event came together.

“We must have 50 kids outside waiting to come in here now, which shows how much they’re responding to this,” Trenis said, nearly an hour after the event began. “This was a really great joint effort with NATCA, and we’re so thrilled to give these kids the chance to see what the people who protect their safety actually do.”

Dan Quinn, a controller at Washington-National (DCA), said a lot of parents were telling him that this demonstration was as educational for them as it was for their children.

“The cool thing about what we’re doing today is that it can give anyone a quick and full understanding of what we do,” he said. “I’ve never seen something like this app, where we are able to simplify what we do into something so basic.”

Each of the facilities around Washington solicited NATCA volunteers, and there were around 10 in a classroom-sized space, constantly cycling kids through the stations.

Controller Bob Taylor of DCA explains how to play "Safer Skies."

Three children of DOT employees enjoy learning about how NATCA members do their jobs safely.