Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Guardians of the skies

WHEN told that about 2,500 aircraft fly through Peninsula Malaysia airspace in a single day, and having seen the multitude of blips on an air traffic controller’s computer radar screen, one can’t help but imagine the skies of Coruscant in the Star Wars movies, filled with flying objects.
But of course, in real life, outside of science fiction, flying craft do not fly so close together. That would be too dangerous. Even if one were a superpilot, the margin of error would be too narrow. In fact, in air traffic control, there is absolutely no margin for errors. Nothing is left to chance. Vertically, planes are 1,000 feet (305m) apart, while horizontally they are five miles (8km) away from each other.
“If you’re travelling in an aircraft and you see another aircraft very large and nearby, then an air traffic controller will soon be facing suspension!” said Balasubramaniam Muttaya, director of the Kuala Lumpur Air Traffic Control Centre in Subang. “We do not allow that.”
There is absolutely no margin for error in air traffic control.

On any given day, the air traffic control centre is a buzz of activity. On the day that I visited the KL centre, I thought there would be incredible tension in the room. An air traffic controller’s job is known to be one of the most stressful jobs on the planet. And having seen movies like Pushing Tin, one would expect air traffic controllers to be an eccentric, wild-eyed bunch.
Nope. There was a sense of urgency in the room, but hardly any tension. And air traffic controllers are a lovely bunch. Sorry, no Hollywood stereotypes here.
But there are indeed very strict rules to the job. In a recent case in the United States, an air traffic controller was immediately suspended after he was caught, of all things, watching a Samuel Jackson movie while on the job. There is no second chance because hundreds and even thousands of lives are in the hands of each controller.
As Balasubramaniam said: “The most important thing is safety. We cannot compromise on that, we cannot put anything in jeopardy.”
There are a total 968 air traffic controllers in the country, with 621 in the Peninsula, and 347 in Sabah and Sarawak. Those above the age of 40 have to go for medical exams every year, while it is once every two years for those under 40. Day shifts are six hours each, while night shifts are 12 hours. They are allowed a few breaks during shifts, and those who work the night shift get the next day off.
At the KL centre, there are about 35 to 38 controllers per shift.

The most important thing is safety. We cannot compromise on that; we cannot put anything in jeopardy,’ says Balasubramaniam Muttaya.

Controllers have to be on call at all times in case someone calls in sick.
“If everyone goes on sick leave, then we would have to close down our airspace!” Balasubramaniam laughed. “This is a very unique job,” he said.
“In fact, it is better than a doctor’s job. Once you’re appointed a controller, apart from your basic salary given by the Cabinet, you’re also given an incentive allowance to hold that job. But you must be medically fit, proficient in the English language, and you must be good.
“When you’re communicating with the pilot, and he or she has an emergency, if you’re going to take time to understand what he or she is saying and you cannot react quickly, then you are a hazard. Lives are involved, not just one but a few hundred.”
Controllers are trained to handle all sorts of emergencies. They have to constantly practise those procedures, and are given regular refresher courses to maintain a high standard.
When a person sits in the controller’s chair, she or he is the only one allowed to speak to the pilots. The pilots, in turn, have to follow the instructions of the controller who determines everything from the height of the aircraft to its speed.
“If (the pilot) does not do what we ask, we have all the right to withdraw his licence,” said Balasubramaniam, who first trained to become an air traffic controller in 1975 after he completed his Form Five. “But at the same time, if the controller doesn’t follow ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) standards, rules and regulations, then I have the right to withdraw the controller’s licence. He or she will be suspended, rating put on hold, and further investigation will be carried out.”
The air traffic control division itself is subject to audits by the Air Traffic Inspectorate.
Ooi Chuan Leong, principal assistant director of the Inspectorate, said it carries out safety oversight audits at all air traffic control units every year. Checks are also carried out on the simulators at training academies, on controllers who have been transferred to a new station and have completed their on-the-job training, and on controllers’ proficiency to ensure they maintain the required standard.
Balasubramaniam said there could be a number of reasons for an incident. Human error, equipment failure, stress, medication or family problems could be factors that can affect a controller’s performance.
“In the future, we plan to have something like a fish pond (at the centre) where people can relax,” he said. “In Singapore, it’s very nice because you go out and you can see the sea. People can relax before they go back to the job. But we don’t have the luxury of sufficient staff to do that yet.”

Chronology of events
> 1898: A balloonist jumps off the top of a government building in Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, Kuala Lumpur, and crashes at the edge of the Selangor Padang Club.
> 1911: G.P. Fuller makes the first recorded flight in Malaya and lands his Antoinette Monoplane at the race course in Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur.
> 1924: The first civil aircraft in Malaya, a Fokker FVII of KLM, lands on a bumpy grass strip in Alor Setar, Kedah.
> 1928: Alor Setar, Kedah, becomes the hub of aviation activities in Malaya as KLM carries out fortnightly services.
> 1929: Aviation comes to Kuala Lumpur with the inaugural meeting of the Malayan Aeroplane Club held in the Malay States Volunteer Reserve Mess.
> 1930: Commercial aviation begins in Malaya with the services of Imperial Airways and its “flying boat” operations in Penang.
> 1938: War breaks out and all civil aviation aircraft are requisitioned by the government.
> 1948 Kuala Lumpur Airport in Sungai Besi is expanded.
> 1956: Kuala Lumpur Airport in Sungai Besi is upgraded to international airport status with the first flight to Europe taking off there.
> 1965: Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Subang is officially opened by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Syed Putra ibni al-Marhum Syed Hassan Jamalullail.
> 1972: Malaysian Airlines System takes to the skies.
> 1992: Malaysia Airports Bhd is formed.
> 1998: Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang is officially opened by Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Ja’afar ibni al-Marhum Tuanku Abdul Rahman.
> 2001: AirAsia is bought by Tune Air Sdn Bhd for RM1.
> 2006: The LCCT-KLIA terminal opens to cater to low-cost carriers.
> 2007: AirAsia X, which provides high-frequency long-haul flights, begins operations.

Sumber dari The Star Online Monday June 13, 2011.

I loveeeeeee my job.... :)

1 comment:

  1. Assalamualaikum, ke hadapan Guardian of the Sky, hehe, lekat pulak nama tu dgn akak, seswai betul...

    Saya ni, kalau dah ada kat bhg komen ni, biasalaa, mesti ada soklan nak ditanyakan kat Kak Guardian of the Sky; if you would be so kind as to clear some things for me...

    1) ATCO = Aku tak campur orang ??
    Ada orang kata jadik ATCO ni boleh menjadikan kita tak dpt/ tak sempat nak campur dgn orang i.e.nak bersosial dgn kawan2/ famili... betulkah?

    2) Susah nak dapat cutii?? Ada la orang2 ni yg cuba takut2kan saya sbb bercita2 nak jadik Pegawai Kawalan Trafik Udara ni, kata "orang2" tersebut,cuti dlm setahun berapa kerat je boleh ambik, kalau nak ambik cuti pun takleh sesuka hati amik, kena ada valid reasons, i.e. kalau nak cuti sbb nak pi holiday ke, vacation, agaklah payah...betulkah kak??

    Sekian, di sini saja pertanyaan saya (for now...) ^ ^ Hope you can help clear the air...but of course, this doesnt mean I have given up on my ambition, no way, just wanna know what's it really to become ATCO, so that I can ready myself mentally (itupun kalau dapat peluang laa...)



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...