Sunday, October 23, 2016

International Day of the Air Traffic Controller

During the 2016 Bloggers forum here in Douala, I was honoured to be one of the panelists. Towards the end of the event, someone met me and introduced himself as Touembou. He told me he works at the control tower at the Douala airport as an air traffic controller. He said he’d been impressed by my Question and answer session with the event moderator, Carol and to find an aviation blogger who'd just won Ethiopian Airlines' award at the event. His colleagues were working on starting Africa's first air traffic control website soon. I said I was impressed and would write about it. We exchanged contacts and started communicating. I was keen on learning about what they do at the control tower, since that’s a part of the airport I’ve never been to and know very little about. (I'm usually glued to the check in desks, boarding gates, arrival hall.) He then invited me to their fitness walk around Douala on Saturday, October 15th 2016 to mark the beginning of activities for the International Day of the Air traffic controller on October 20th. So they’ve also got their own day too! Okay, Touembou explained to me that, the purpose of their day and new website is to throw more light on their profession and share aviation opportunities, so that soceity will have greater awareness about them. Aviation is growing rapidly in Africa and more and more aviation workers will be needed in all sectors in the next couple of years but people aren't getting into it very much.

Key points: The control tower is that tall ice cream cone shaped part of an airfield from which air traffic is controlled and observed physically and by radar. Only well trained air traffic controllers (ATCs) control and observe air traffic at the control tower here at the Douala airport and generally around the world. However, the ATCs also receive technical support from other professionals like meteorologists who provide accurate weather forecasts and technicians of the electronic department. Have you ever landed at any airport at night and seen the runway all lit up in a line like glow, such that the darkness doesn’t impede the pilots from landing safely? Yes, that’s just part of the electronic department's job. The ATCs are all trained at an aviation school in Niger called ASECNA. The school also trains meteorologists and technicians of the electronic department. Schooling at ASECNA is quite an expensive affair, just like any other aviation training.

But due to the fact that aviation organisations around the world want to encourage talented young Africans to benefit from free training and a subsequent career in aviation, schools like ASECNA launch competitive examinations from time to time, where they choose the best candidates who travel to Niger and study for three years on a scholarship. The minimum educational background required to write the exam is two years of university experience, preferably with an empasis on Mathematics. Candidates are tested in Maths, Physics, English and French in the ASECNA competitive exam. Successful candidates then go on to study in Niger and are employed immediately upon graduation. Their exam dates are not fixed, so interested persons need some inside updates from an ATC working on the field. There's some good news because they just launched that much needed Africa's first ATC website to update the world about their activities. Check it out below, together with a pic of a few of the Douala ATCs and other aviation professionals, before our fitness walk around Douala some days ago.