Air traffic controllers pave way for pilots

by Airman 1st Class Michael Stuart
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

What would happen if pilots flew without knowing where other aircraft were in the sky? There would be confusion. To eliminate the doubt from the minds of flyers, air traffic controllers are there to ensure mission success.

Air traffic controllers are the eyes that help pilots maneuver through the air space around them. They ensure safe air traffic flow by informing aircraft of their whereabouts in relation to other aircraft.

“It is understood pilots are generally quite occupied with the task at hand,” said Staff Sgt. Levi Rodney, 86th Operations Support Squadron air traffic controller. “Although they may be very skilled in their field, they do not have the means or the capability to monitor all the conditions of the airfield and all relevant air traffic.”

The 86th OSS communicates with all aircraft up to a few thousand feet high and within a few miles in all directions. They are an important piece of the puzzle in the U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa mission, which provides combat airlift, enables strategic capabilities and directs air operations in a theater spanning three continents.

“They’re essential because they control the airspace, have great situational awareness and, through communication, ensure safe operations,” said Capt. Matthew Miller, 37th Airlift Squadron C-130J Super Hercules pilot. “Without them, it would be impossible for all the operations that come through Ramstein to occur because we have so much air traffic.”

Military controllers are slightly different than civilian controllers. The qualifications and certifications are the same, but military controllers conduct a lot of specialized training, are required to conduct tactical aircraft movement and may have to perform their tasks under fire.

“When I retrained into this career field, I was impressed by seeing Airmen with the ability to manage extremely difficult tasks, work hard and ensure the mission of our command is conducted safely every day,” Rodney said.

Air traffic controllers provide pilots with a clear picture and remove the uncertainty of the circumstances a pilot might endure.