Saturday, October 19, 2013

Campaign urges Emiratis to consider a high-flying career as an air traffic controller

ABU DHABI // Young Emiratis are being urged to look to the skies when choosing a career.

While many opt to study medicine or engineering, a national campaign is promoting the benefits of training to become an air traffic controller.

“Traditionally, the popular jobs for UAE nationals are doctors and engineers. Why not become an air traffic controller?” asked Mutasem Al Swaini, manager of air navigation service-provider training at the Sheikh Zayed Air Navigation Center (SZC).

The Air Traffic Controller Promotion Campaign aims to raise awareness of the profession and generate interest in pursuing a career in it.

Launched by the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), officials from the initiative have visited schools, universities, colleges and career fairs.

“We have seen a lot of interest from males and females,” said Mr Al Swaini, who is a graduate of the GCAA’s Air Traffic Control Nationalization Training Program, which the campaign promotes.

The Emirati-only training scheme began in 1998.

The campaign, which began about two years ago, is not about getting more applicants, but is focused on raising awareness of the profession, said Mr Al Swaini.

“We get thousands of applicants every year but you want people who really are keen and interested in the job,” he said.

“You want to raise awareness and it also gives an opportunity to younger people to think about a career in the future.”

People need a specific set of skills to make the grade, such as being able to multitask, work under pressure, speak good English and analytical thinking.

“We have to train someone from zero,” Mr Al Swaini said. “It’s a very technical job, it’s a highly skilled job. The right skills have to be there. There are certain skills we look for in a person and it’s not easy to find. Safety comes first, so there’s no room for mistakes.”

The air traffic controllers at SZC are responsible for about 2,100 flights across the UAE every day.

These includes planes entering or leaving the country, domestic flights and those passing through.

Controllers guide the pilots, telling them where to go and what speed to fly at, to ensure all aircraft operate in a safe and efficient manner, complying with international standards.

Applicants for the training program, who should be between the ages of 19 and 25, have to go through a screening process.

This includes aptitude, psychometric, English and maths tests, plus interviews to assess their personalities.

Training takes between two-and-a-half and three years and consists of theory classes – in-house and sometimes in other countries – as well as simulator sessions and a year of live training under the supervision of an instructor.

As a testament to the success of the program, the top two levels of management at SZC are Emirati.

Out of 102 air traffic controllers at the Abu Dhabi-based centre, 27 are UAE nationals. There are another 20 Emiratis at different stages of training.

“It’s very important to nationalize in all of the industries in the UAE, especially in the aviation industry,” Mr Al Swaini said. “We recognize the efforts from the GCAA management in making this program a success and appreciate their continuous support.”

Thani Al Karimi, 22, was following in his father’s footsteps and studying engineering when he changed his mind and decided to become an air traffic controller. He graduated from the training program in August.

“I thought that I wanted to do something else, something unique,” he said. “It’s a job that’s as important as a doctor or engineer. I recommend it.”

The Dubai resident said it was an interesting and fun job.

“You find new situations every day. You will never face the same problem every day,” he said. “There is a lot of pressure. We have been trained to deal with high-pressure situations and just do it.”

Emirati Hamad Sabaan, 24, from Abu Dhabi, graduated last month.

“I like to control.” he said. “I want to be in charge of everything. I was in the petrol industry as an instrument control technician.”

He recommends a career as an air traffic controller to other Emiratis.

“It’s a good opportunity,” he said. “Every day you will experience a lot of things. It’s exciting.”

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