Teesside International Airport | Published on: 30th January 2023
An experienced controller has urged others to consider a career in Air Traffic after revealing what it takes to keep Teesside Airport moving.
Amanda Usher first joined the airport team in 1988 on the Information Desk after spells working as a hairdresser, the Post Office and McDonald’s.
She transferred to the Air Traffic Control Tower as an Assistant in 1992 and has never looked back.
Now, more than three decades after moving over, the Darlington mum-of-two has lifted the lid on the attributes needed to keep our skies safe. And she has encouraged those considering the job to take the plunge.
Amanda explained how she enjoyed the flight briefing role while on the Information Desk – where she relayed air traffic messages and weather conditions.
After much applying, she got a job as an Air Traffic Control Assistant – helping Controllers, taking details of aircraft, answering telephone queries, and taking weather observations.
She said: “You look out the window and you judge the visibility, rain, snow, hail, small hail, the cloud level and type of cloud. This is done every 30 minutes for pilots – and that still is part of the Assistant’s role.”
Amanda spent five years as an Assistant before looking to progress.
She initially failed her entrance exam for NATS (National Air Traffic Services) – but she didn’t let the early setback deter her spirit.
After convincing airport leaders at the time to sponsor her, she passed her Controller’s course with flying colours – and is now one of the most experienced Controllers in the North of England.
Being an Air Traffic Controller takes a lot of vital multi-tasking – with the safety of hundreds of people resting in their hands.
Amanda explained how keeping a cool head was vital.
“If you’re spinning all these plates, you’ve got to keep calm,” she said.
“You’ve got to prioritise and get those priorities right. And you’ve got to have common sense.”
Amanda recalled some course mates who had more than one degree to their name but struggled when it came to learning more practical skills.
She added: “You’ve got to have your head screwed on, and a reasonable grounding in education is what you need. I left school at 15 – I did hairdressing, worked at the Post Office, and worked at McDonald’s.”
Adjusting to changing workloads is also another vital skill needed in the tower at Teesside Airport.
Amanda said: “You can be going hell for leather – so it’s being able to flick that switch within two minutes to cope with all sorts while keeping everything orderly. You must be organised to sort your priorities.
“Air Traffic also has a completely different way of speaking.
“It’s a different language, but everyone who flies has to speak it – otherwise, there’d be carnage.”
Amanda admitted it was quite alien learning the new terminology and getting to grips with radar environments. But she relished the challenge.
“It’s like nothing else,” she said.
“It’s not like filing your papers in drawer or looking at a timetable to help a passenger – it’s like nothing you’ve experienced in your life.”
The unique challenges faced by the Air Traffic Control team mean there is great camaraderie and spirit – particularly at Teesside.
Amanda added: “People come and go, and we get lots of visitors who say they like coming here because we’re very friendly – and we’re northerners aren’t we? We’re going to be!
“There is a good team spirit here.
“I enjoy the challenge. If you have a good day, you feel so proud of yourself. “You think: ‘That plane I saw in safely – I did that’, and you feel proud.”
How crucial the role is to the safety and lives of passengers and crews isn’t lost on Amanda.
She added: “Ultimately, if I don’t know what I’m supposed to, and I make an error, then I’m in court.
“It’s taking the correct actions and keeping your head. That’s why we train for it.”
But for those who seek out a challenge and enjoy multi-tasking, she recommended they applied – even if they didn’t have reams of qualifications.
Amanda said: “Somebody I know came through work experience, and she’s an Assistant here now. If you’ve got the right set of skills, it’s a challenging and rewarding job.
“You’ve got to be flexible. If you’re one of these people who likes all your ducks in a row, then forget it.
“Nine times out of 10, it’s not like that – you’ve got to have different plans, and four different alternatives for one set of circumstances lined up in your mind.”
If you think you have what it takes, applications are open now. To find out more, go here: Air Traffic Control Jobs – 2022 | Indeed.com
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