Tower controllers ensure safety of flight

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Jordan Garner
  • 8th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

KUNSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea--The art of juggling requires tons of coordination, training and consistent precision. Jugglers must be confident with every move, because one mistake can lead to failure. 

Air traffic controllers are the jugglers of the airfield, coordinating with the flight line and consistently training to ensure a safe and expeditious flow of air traffic and travel.

“To be an air traffic controller, you have to make decisions as fast as possible,” said Staff Sgt. Gregory Ellsworth, 8th Operations Support Squadron tower watch supervisor. “If you said one word wrong, you can be taken out of the career field. They just need to make sure everything you were trained on, everything you do is correct at all times to ensure safety overall.”

Commonly known as the “eyes in the sky,” tower controllers coordinate with many agencies on the flight line. Whether it’s airfield management, weather, or base operations, tower personnel are responsible for knowing what goes on for flight operations to run smoothly. 

“The importance of communicating with the agencies is so everyone has the same information, at the same time, as soon as possible, so we can get the job done,” said Staff Sgt. Gregory Ellsworth, 8th Operations Support Squadron tower watch supervisor. “No one’s going to be on the airfield without us knowing.”

Tower controllers are certified every time they are reassigned to a new base or deployed. The controllers are constantly learning new information that comes out regarding air spaces, runways and taxiways of each base they are assigned to.

“Whenever you get to a new base, no matter your rank, you’re going to be watched by somebody that’s already certified at that base, and you start on-the-job training all over again,” Ellsworth said.

Training is the most crucial aspect of becoming a proficient air traffic controller. When air traffic controllers aren’t on the main floor, orchestrating the runway, they are training to ensure maximum performance.

“We have weekly training at least,” Ellsworth said. “We have mandatory monthly training that comes down from headquarters that we also have to complete. It’s about a two-month training period before you actually start the job.”

Just like a juggler’s performance depends on precise training, the execution of the flight line mission depends on an air traffic controller’s efficiency in getting aircraft in and out of the air.

“With our job, we have lives in our hands 24/7, seven days a week,” said Senior Airman Arthur Shields, 8th OSS tower air traffic controller. “It’s one of those jobs where we can’t make mistakes. The whole point of the mission is that we always want to make sure that people get home safely.”