Topic Author
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ATC Work Schedule

Fri Dec 10, 2004 11:52 am

I'm curious about a typical work day for an ATC at a major airport. How long at a time are you in front of the screen? When you're replaced, how long is your break? What do you do during the break to unstress your brain?

Finally, how different is your work day if you are assigned to, say, Abilene, TX instead of DFW?
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RE: ATC Work Schedule

Fri Dec 10, 2004 3:29 pm

I know that you specifically asked about towers, but I'll give you a rundown of the typical workday at Indy center.

First off, we work rotating schedules. Most controllers at ZID work either a 2-night, 3-day schedule, or a 2-night, 2-day, 1-mid schedule, or a 3-night, 2-day schedule.

I have a 2-3 schedule. I'm off on Mondays and Tuesdays, I then work a 3 pm to 11 pm shift on Wednesday, a 2 pm to 10 pm shift on Thursday, an 8 am to 4 pm shift on Friday, a 7 am to 3 pm shift on Saturday, and a 6 am to 2 pm shift on Sunday.

While at work we usually work for an hour and a half on position during each session, then we take a forty minute break before going back to the area and starting again. They try to get us a break before we hit two hours since the brain starts to get a little mushy and prone to mistakes after two hours of continuous intense concentration.

While on break, some controllers read in the break room, others watch TV in the cafeteria, while others watch movies on portable DVD players, and some just walk around the center's grounds.
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Topic Author
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RE: ATC Work Schedule

Sat Dec 11, 2004 1:31 am

Great info. Does the FAA require controllers at less-busy airports to limit their "on" time as well?
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RE: ATC Work Schedule

Sat Dec 11, 2004 1:43 am


How are controller changes handled? Does the controller off duty stand over the guy on-duty to watch the screens for a few minutes to see what is going on? Does the controller have to get briefed on the current situation?

Normally when I'm flying and there is a controller change, the new guy always seems to know exactly what is going on.
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RE: ATC Work Schedule

Sat Dec 11, 2004 2:34 am

When I worked in MAN ATC last year, the controllers would usually work a six hour shift a day. Although the one's I were working on started from 0600 and finished at 1400. Usually each controller would start on one frequency (let's say the ground frequency) then after 60 minutes, they'd take a 15-30 minute break (watch TV or read a non-aviation magazine) to take their mind off the job. After the break they'd come back fresh and then work on a completely different frequency, such as approach control for another 60 minutes, etc etc...

Hope that helps.

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RE: ATC Work Schedule

Sat Dec 11, 2004 2:43 am

Does the controller have to get briefed on the current situation?

They have a change over check list that they run down during every controller replacement, that gives the new controller an idea of what's going on, and what he was trying to do with the traffic.

At least that's what my friends in the ATC told me when I asked during college.
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RE: ATC Work Schedule

Sat Dec 11, 2004 5:15 am

Position handovers cover the following things:
  • status of the military units surrounding us

  • evtl. TRA (temporary reserved airspace) activity

  • connected to that evtl. flight level restrictions

  • status of danger and restricted areas in and around our airspace

  • sector configuration of the ATC sectors around us

  • active runway for airports where that means different descent routes or profiles

  • sections of airspace delegated to another sector

  • unsolved conflicts

  • who has descent (evtl. rate or restriction)

  • who needs descent

  • who's on headings (why)

  • any tactical thing about the traffic picture

  • direct routings you have that day

  • which sector around you is in a good mood and with who you should be careful

  • any coordination that is still pending

  • evtl. turbulence

  • anything special concerning a flight (can range from "don't touch that one, you can't understand him" to some little problem a pilot reported about his aircraft - he might call for diversion or emergency the next minute)

    We don't have something like a written list, it's just the one mentioned above in your head. Basically you tell everything that's important. While you do, your colleague looks on the screen, gets the picture and in he goes. If it's busy we ask like "You have the picture?" or "You want me to stay?" and then you stay for a minute or two until he's really in. The handovers on the radar position are usually more tactical than those on the planner one.

    That's how it goes in our upper airspace center. I'm sure that the handovers of other units look a bit different.

    Hope this helps!
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    RE: ATC Work Schedule

    Sat Dec 11, 2004 4:20 pm

    What about really busy airports? A few times I landed in Chicago listening to Channel 9 on United and those controllers seem to almost loose their breath... Can they really do that for an entire hour or are their shifts shorter? Or their brakes longer?
    What about changeovers in such busy airspaces?
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