We had an AMA “Ask Me Anything” with Julien Lim this Saturday in the ATC Education Group Workshop. Here’s the best questions and answers.
Julien is a real world Toronto Center Controller and Infinite Flight ATC Specialist.
Why Air Traffic Control?
I have been interested in aviation since I was young. Originally wanted to be a pilot but after working as a flight attendant for Air Canada, I found out I was not made for the lifestyle of an aircrew member. I prefer to be home everynight. I was introduced to ATC whilst playing FS98. Always had it in the back of my mind, but was not ready to take the leap till 2015 when I applied to become ATC.
What was it like training and testing to become IFATC as someone with your experience?
Being a center controller, working Tower and Ground on Infinite Flight was a little bit of a learning curve. Took me a few sessions to learn the commands. As far as training for IFATC, I simply got in contact with a recruiter and started a tracking thread on the community to get some practice going. I did some serious practice for about a month before I did the IFATC practical. I believe the IFATC testers threw everything they got at me, I ran intersecting runways operation with traffic for both runways, which was a first for me. But managed to do well and became an ATC Specialist for IFATC.
How did you get into Air Traffic Control and what was the real world recruitment/training process like?
I had knowledge of ATC since playing flight simulators from back in 1998. I don’t remember when exactly, but I started paying attention to the automated ATC that Microsoft had at the time. However originally I wanted to become a pilot, but as mentioned above, I didn’t like the lifestyle of an aircrew member (working as a flight attendant).
One day I was bored working airport security and I applied. The application process itself can take up to 18 months. Once one gets through all the testing and interviews, the training is long and stressful. Once you have been accepted for training, you start generic training (this is split between IFR and VFR). once you pass generic you either start the VFR speciality or IFR speciality courses. The speciality courses can take up to 24 months to complete prior to earning your ATC license.
How long did it take for you to be at your position right now?
From day one of training to getting my license, 18 months total. If you include from the day I applied, over 24 months
Do you have any advice for somebody that would be looking into becoming an ATC in the future? Airspace? From what airline?
Biggest tips for success in ATC: work hard, be able to take criticism, always strive to do better, open to learning everyday, and always try to maintain a relaxed demeanor.
What is the your biggest pet peeve that pilots request or do improperly?
Biggest pet peeves so far has been when a pilot is told to standby and they do not. When ATC says standby it is for a good reason. Just because the frequency seems to be quiet doesn’t mean the controller isn’t busy, There are many things that are done off frequency.
How long do you typically control at a time, and what can you do on your breaks?
On a regular shift we work hours on and hours off usually. If we have enough stafff sometimes we get 1.5hrs-2hr breaks. Legally we can work a maximum of 2hrs15mins without a break. On our breaks we can do lots. We have a gym, a lounge and a games room.
As an ATC controller, your job is known for being one of the most stressful in the world. How do you cope with your daily work on a mental level?
Honestly I personally do not find it stressful. I enjoy being in high pressure environment and find that I perform better in those situations. I do believe however that if you find yourself stressed in this profession, that it might not be the best profession for you.
How much of your time is active on channel vs. trainings and simulators?
Once a year at least we have proficiency checks where we must score more that 80% to stay current. Once a year we do emergencies training. All simulators work is done while in training.
How do ATC rotations work? From person to person or channel to channel.
In my airspace we have two sectors so usually after we work one sector we go on break and come back to the other sector
What are ways you have found you can really earn respect from pilots based on how you control?
As a controller to earn trust and respect from the pilots; you have to be assertive in your voice and confident in your clearances and instructions
Did you get to pick whether to go IFR or VFR specialization, and do you see yourself switching to VFR at a later date?
You do not get to pick where you end up. The company usually will assign to a stream based on your scores. I do not plan to go VFR for a while. Maybe CYOW tower before I retire in 23 years or more.
What is the strangest thing that has occured in your airspace?
Strangest thing; I’ve seen targets that move very very fast….ufo? maybe?
How is it determined who does ground/tower/approach/departure/clearance, Ect.
The tower supervisor would be the one who decides the rotation between Clearnace/Ground/Tower – also known as VFR controllers, Approach and Departure are IFR Terminal controllers – they usually start on either position then go to the other position after their break.
For me as centre controller, we work one sector then move to another sector after our breaks
How do you communicate with other sectors/controllers/app/dep. Are they in close proximity so you can just talk to them? Or do you call/message them in another way?
We have a little box that we call the voice switch communication system. From this device we can connect to all the sectors within the control centre as well as other adjacent centres. We sometimes yell over to the units we are physically close to, to coordinate. For the most part it is done via hotlines or telephone calls. we also have a feature on your screens to communicate via messages (however this has a limit of 20 characters I believe – so we really have to be short and concise).
We are actually in a little building a few hundred feet from the Toronto tower. For example, every IFR controller in YYZ is in the same big room.
Really fascinating AMA with Julien, I’d like to thank him again for coming in and answering all of our questions.
If you’d like to join in discussions such as this with like-minded people like yourself and learn, I’d encourage you to sign up for our Workshop.