By Kathleen Mest
At most airports, there is an Air Traffic Control Tower, sitting high above the runways, with its dark windows and omniscient presence. EVERY plane that enters their air space is tracked and pilots are given very specific instructions to ensure that all planes arrive and depart safely. And those “eyes in the sky” belong to the Air Traffic Controller.
After Jason Fellers graduated high school, he found himself… adrift, deciding that college was not the right choice but also not sure what he wanted to do next. At the recommendation of his dad, he entered the Air Force and chose his path - Air Traffic Control.
“There will always be a high demand for air traffic controllers and opportunities for careers outside of the Air Force. It seemed like a solid choice,” Jason shares.
After completing the rigorous training in the Air Force, Jason worked at Federal Contract Towers (typically smaller airports) in Idaho and Connecticut. Then, he worked for the DOD (Department of Defense) and finally the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) at airports in Burbank, Honolulu, and Los Angeles. With 27 years of air traffic control experience, last year he became an Operations Manager.
There is no doubt about the importance of this job. “I help ensure the safety of the national air space system, make sure that everyone gets to where they want to be safely,” Jason says seriously.
“It’s amazing how many pieces need to come together,” Jason adds, “This job requires common sense, critical thinking, quick thinking and problem solving. You need to be able to see things in four dimensions - lateral, vertical, distance and time. You must be proactive and plan ahead. If you are reactive, you are behind. And you can feel it.”
That Sweet Feeling of Success
“The busiest time is in the morning, around 8am. In the next 2 hours, over 200 airplanes are landing and taking off. You need to set up the planes in the right positions,” Jason says passionately. “You need to set up for success.”
“You ‘plug-in’ (your headset) and you’re talking to the pilots.” Jason says purposefully, “You are present. You are super focused. And the 1½ hours goes by so fast.” Air traffic controllers are required to take these periodic breaks. As you can imagine, the intensity of the job is mentally and physically exhausting.
“When you have set up a good sequence, when you do it well, you realize, ‘I did that, my decision making did that,’ and that feeling is sweet,” Jason says with a smile.
The Path to the Tower
“I highly recommend the Air Force. You are guaranteed food, shelter, and pay for four years while you are getting educated, and serving your country” Jason advises. “All military branches have air traffic controllers so you can also choose a different branch.”
He projects, “The future of air traffic control will always require people to do the job. Technology will be integrated but the ramifications of an error are far too great.”
“I Love Long Beach”
Jason has lived in Long Beach with his family for the last 10 years. “Long Beach is close to everything. It’s conveniently located. Close enough to work, and I’m 6 hours from Mammoth, 30 minutes from Disneyland, right by the beach. I can snowboard and swim in the ocean on the same day!” Jason adds, “And Long Beach has everything you need. I like the school system. And it has a great airport!”
Air Force website: https://www.airforce.com
Mount San Antonio College (Walnut, CA) offers an Air Traffic Control program within their Aeronautics Pathway. The curriculum meets the requirements of the Federal Aviation Administration Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative (AT-CTI). Website: https://www.mtsac.edu/aeronautics/