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New NATCA Interactive Feature Takes a Fresh, Personal Look at the Controllers Who Ensure Safety of Aviation System - (10/8/2004)

WASHINGTON – Thousands of air traffic controllers work in front of radar scopes in dark, windowless rooms away from the airport, in addition to the glass-enclosed control tower cabs that many air travelers associate most with controllers’ jobs. But what do controllers feel are the best and worst parts of their job? What made them decide to become an air traffic controller? What’s the most challenging situation they’ve ever had to handle?

These and many other questions are answered as part of a new interactive feature on the National Air Traffic Controllers Association’s web site (www.natca.org) that profiles three controllers: Albuquerque, N.M., Air Route Traffic Control Center Controller Kevin DeBenedittis, Washington Dulles Tower Controller Leslie Warfield and Charlotte, N.C., Radar Approach Controller Dale Wright.

“While many people generally know that controllers are responsible for separating airplanes, they may not know the differences between the jobs of tower controllers and center controllers, the different skill sets it takes to perform the high pressure work we do, or even the fact that many controllers work in buildings away from the airport and not in the towers you see when you fly,” said NATCA Executive Vice President Ruth Marlin. “But we also developed this online feature as a way to introduce the flying public to the men and women who do these jobs and put a human face on what is mostly an anonymous profession. Most people do not have the chance to meet a controller and don’t get to interact with them like they do with pilots.”

DeBenedittis guides aircraft as they get above 17,000 feet and make their way across the country. Warfield has 16 years of experience and knows hard work and focus on the job make a big difference for the passengers and crew of the 30,000 flights that take off and land at Dulles each month. Wright began separating planes at age 18 as an Air Force controller stationed in Berlin and now safely guides planes into and out of the airport terminal airspace. The interactive feature includes an audio interview with each controller.

People who access this special feature can also test their knowledge of air traffic control while gaining insight into how the National Airspace System works and discovering that it takes innate skills to be an air traffic controller, like the ability to focus, make good, quick decisions and visualize objects in three dimensions.

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