Sunday, January 30, 2011

US community college teaching air traffic control

MAYS LANDING — Imagine a video game that lets you control all the air traffic over 10 major American airports. Three people play simultaneously, one managing the planes on the ground, one managing takeoffs and landings, and a third monitoring weather and other flight data.

Sergio Gomez, Brandon Cooper and Elaina Watson got a taste of that game Tuesday, but they were not in it to play. They are among the first 78 students enrolled in Atlantic Cape Community College's new Air Traffic Control associate degree program. They are taking introductory courses now, but by next year they should be ready to try their hand at the centerpiece of the program — the new $600,000 air-traffic control tower simulation system set up at the college.

ACCC developed the air-traffic control program to tie in with the new NextGen Aviation Research and Technology Park under construction in Egg Harbor Township, and to meet a projected need for air-traffic controllers due to retirements. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates about 3,400 new air-traffic controllers will be needed between 2008 and 2018.

The program is demanding. Students who get the associate degree must then take the Air Traffic Selection and Training, or AT-SAT, exam. Test scores determine whether they are eligible to be hired by the FAA and sent to the Air Traffic Training Academy in Oklahoma City for a 12-week pass/fail training program, which determines whether they get a job. A degree is not required to take the test, but virtually all recent job openings have required that students be graduates of an FAA Collegiate Training Institute or CTI. ACCC has applied for that certification.

The Adacel air-traffic control tower simulation system, funded by grants, arrived in December and faculty and staff have spent the past month setting it up. They will spend this year testing the system and developing their own simulation scenarios. The system can also add flight simulators so students can play the role of pilots interacting with the control tower.

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