Life of an Air Traffic Controller at Essendon Fields

I knew I wanted to be an Air Traffic Controller from the moment I took my first look inside a Control Tower.

I wanted to be a pilot, and started on that journey by taking some flying lessons.

One day I was lucky enough to visit the Control Tower after one of my flight lessons.

I stepped in and saw the team at work, and was sold on that for my career.

Christine Campbell, Airservices Australia Unit Tower Supervisor and Check and Standards Supervisor at Essendon Field Airport’s Tower, loves what she does.

“I started in 2001 and have worked in Melbourne Tower, Moorabbin Tower, Maroochydore Tower, Avalon Tower and now Essendon Tower. I have also had periods of time as an air traffic controller (ATC) instructor at Airservices Training Academy in Melbourne. When I think about all the places I have worked, Essendon Tower has by far been my favourite. I love the variety each day brings, I love the unexpected, I love the people I work with and I love the location.’’

Essendon Tower is the oldest operating control tower in Australia and was designed in 1953, a formative time for aviation advancement in Australia. It was completed by the Department of Civil Aviation in 1956, becoming operational just in time for the Olympic Games in Melbourne. It’s three-storey square steel-framed building is surmounted by an octagonal Control Room. The roof is flat and it’s glazed on all sides, and the angled frameless glass windows slope inward toward the base.

Colin Fort, GM Aviation at Essendon Fields, marvels over the tower every time he drives into work.

“Essendon Tower really is a landmark feature within our precinct landscaping. Architecturally, it’s very similar to other Australia airport control towers of similar age, but it utilises different materials. Its atypical constriction materials suggest that construction was fast tracked in anticipation of the Melbourne Olympic Games in October 1956,” said Mr Fort.

Picture above supplied by Civil Aviation Historical Society, from the Airport Control Tower in 1970. Not much has changed!

Christine’s daily routine as an air traffic controller begins with an assessment of the weather and then determining the subsequent best runway configuration.

“As an air traffic controller you have to be constantly vigilant and have full situational awareness and that’s what makes the job so interesting and motivating. Everything can be going on swimmingly and out of nowhere something unexpected might happen and you have to be all over it,” Christine says.

“You have to know exactly what to do and work through it to resolve any issues. There’s no time for panic. You just press on and do what needs to be done. The great thing about Airservices Australia is that we remember our training, use our checklists and work together as a team,’’ she said.

Picture above supplied by Civil Aviation Historical Society, from the Airport Control Tower in 1964. Not much has changed!

Christine encourages others to consider a career in air traffic control – a fast-paced, dynamic and rewarding career for the future. She says the best candidates display spatial awareness, quick mathematical skills, and have the ability to demonstrate logical, quick thinking and to problem solve, while being able to multi-task and work well under pressure.

“Christine and the Airservices Australia team work very closely with Essendon Airport to oversee airport operations and ensure the safety of everyone using the airport. There’s a lot of long careers that come out of our tower!” said Mr Fort.

Airservices Australia recently welcomed 65 new recruits to its team of 900 highly skilled controllers at 28 control towers across Australia’s busiest international and regional airports.

Airservices is always on the lookout for top talent to recruit – exceptional people from diverse backgrounds, from all walks of life, with no aviation experience required.

Airservices provides all training you need, so if you’re over 18, and you want to be a guardian of the Australian sky and you’re interested in learning more about the air traffic controller trainee program, register your interest here.