I remember it took about 2-3 months, after I resigned, before I felt free of the stress. I consider knowing how to recognise stress growing within me to be the most valuable thing I took from that part of my career.
As an aside, it is possible there is a similiar mindset, or skillset amongst controllers. I remember very clearly the selection process was very focused on 2 things
- maths and logic
The hardest test in the selection process was a combined map course plotting task, where you had to accurately plot out a course of about 15-20 waypoints, but every 60 seconds the examiner would read out a logic problem "if Jane wears blue on Tuesdays and green on weekends, what would she wear on the day before Monday ?" - stuff like that. You had to focus on plotting, correctly, as many map points as possible, AND correctly answer the puzzles being read out. That was the most directly relevant skill to the actual job of being an ATC, awareness of the task in front of you, and the ability to understand and act on the 'buzz' going on around you. They select for people who can perform accurately for multiple inputs, with time and cognition pressure.
Given the amount of stress levels I'd imagine ATC operators are rotated frequently; say once every hour or so?
1. senior tower controller.
2. approach/dep controller (sorry its been about 25 years since I did the job, I think its a diff title, but basically its his job to say 'clear to land/take off' and really mean it - it really is 'clear').
3. coord - link man between everyone in the tower and most people on phone
4. ground controller - moves the planes from the apron to the runway. Does not control apron - sometimes that a separate controller (surface movement controller), who lives in the little tower you might see on the terminal itself.
5. flight data - transcribes all the incoming plans into manual 'flight strips' - dull job but essential, if radar etc go away, the accuracy of the flight strips is essential. Most junior operator sits here.
In the ACC (Area Control Centre) there could be 100 controllers, some on shift, some just finished, some on breaks, most in teams of at least 2, a dozen flight data operators, and 5-6 seniors - big boss is the SAC - senior area controller (in Australia). Next boss is the SADC - senior app/dep controller, in charge of the team that generally operates exclusively within 30 miles - could be 15 people doing that all up.
there is a pretty cool "train control" game on ipad as well, where you guide trains across a bunch of crisscrossing train-lines. you control the lights at these intersections etc., overall game-play has a let's-solve-this-puzzle kind of feel, using minimal number of stoppages for all the trains etc. pretty nice overall...
This reminded me of a typical open office environment for a programmer...
Although, software errors can kill or cause harm so it'd be interesting to see if anyone has costed the benefits of open plan vs offices.
One of the biggest obstacles I find in a working environment, however, is other people's stress. If someone is relying on me to fix a problem and they are very clearly stressed out about it, I find that their stress can impact me greatly. There is also the aspect that if I am able to be calm and focused during the stressful situation, while they are clearly stressed, it can be perceived as me lacking concern or having a blasé attitude toward the problem at hand, in comparison.
Another one of an engine failure at Manchester - the response of the ATC within 1 second of the mayday call is plain amazing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9KhZwsYtNDE
I'm glad The Atlantic has highlighted ATC in this instance. They are definitely an under-appreciated workforce.
Here's a description of a seminar from a couple of years ago in NY: http://www.faasafety.gov/SPANS/event_details.aspx?eid=43755
Sadly, the FAA doesn't have a great way to find out about these things unless you're signed up for email notifications but if this is the sort of thing you're interested in you're probably industrious enough to figure it out.
That seems brutal. Wonder why they don't do something like a continuous print instead.
In addition to training though I wonder if those working in ATC all share similar personality types.
One very important one is the ability, when the tower is told "runway 13 is closed" with just very bare-bones information, to just accept that and start doing what needs to be done to close it down. The human tendency is to want to know more about what's happening, what needs to be done down on the ground, the condition of the aircraft and the passengers and crew, etc., but the trained-in response is to automatically trust that someone else is taking care of that, so stop thinking about it and do your job.
So the controller goes immediately from talking to the car that reported the crash, to issuing go-around orders, not knowing how bad the crash is, how long it's going to take to clear up, just trusting that "OK, I handle the planes that are still in the air, they'll handle the one on the ground".
I barely understood the first time listening.
Although circling in zero vis was unsettling (I was a passenger on a UsAir/American flight- I am not a pilot), the calls very well may have saved my life.
That's pretty impressive in its own right, from an organizational point of view.
2) Aviation is, in large part by necessity, built around the concept of knowing who has authority to do what, and listening when the person with the authority gives an instruction. When the tower hears "airport is closed" from someone with the authority to say it, then the airport is closed, full stop. Arguing about "well, why is it closed" or "I'll close it when I check with my supervisor" eats time that can cost lives, so organizationally it's set up to avoid having that happen.
If they had to go up and down a chain of authority, that following flight 1999 would have landed into the emergency.
I imagine the same thing would be true here. If you think the airport needs to be closed, then close the airport. Doesn't matter if you just got hired five minutes ago for the lowest position in the whole place, if you think the airport is no longer safe then shut it down.