And again, for something completely different…

Since I have finished my training, might as well start dreaming of bigger things, right? :)

And this car certainly fits the definition of “bigger”: the Audi A7. Got it for two days from Audi, which is certainly too short, but certainly long enough to decide that I want one.

(click on images to see full-size)

Done

No training anymore.

The reality of this is only slowly sinking in, with two days of working on my own behind me.
Last Sunday – almost exactly two years and three weeks after I started my OJT – I finally had my last checkout, at the feeder position.

Was it easy?
Feeder in itself is probably one of the easiest positions to learn, since most of it is a kind of line-work – it’s mostly repetition of the same few tasks, and you repeat those a lot. Make no mistake, you have to use your brains every once in a while (especially to efficiently use the parallel runway system), but due to the sheer volume of traffic, after four months, you really have seen quite a lot of what this position can throw at you.
Also, after two passed checkouts, a certain confidence on one’s own abilities is unavoidable, making the stress of dealing with an exam situation much easier to bear with.

The downside of this position for a checkout – as I said above, there are many airplanes. And they are very close to each other. So not only do you have many opportunities for mistakes, these mistakes are also much more likely to end in a loss of separation (thus, usually a failed checkout).
Luckily, that hasn’t happened to me so far during training, and that trend persisted throughout last Sunday.

The result? I’m on my own now, within the whole air traffic (control) team of course. And I can tell you, it’s a great feeling. My coaches taught me a lot, and I’m thankful but glad to be rid of them.
More than five years ago, I decided I want to become an air traffic controller. Last Sunday, I reached that goal.

I am now an Air Traffic Controller.

Team Change

Rumours of my untimely demise are greatly exaggerated… *cough*

After almost a year without an update, it’s time to say hello again to the remaining souls still visiting this place every other day.
Unfortunately, while I have learned a lot during the last year, progress in my training hasn’t been as smooth as one would hope. Thus, as an incentive to change for the better, I have now been assigned a different team (from 7 to 4).

For those not familiar, Air Traffic Control is shift work done by teams which rotate throughout the, well, shifts. At our place (and I think throughout DFS), those are eight. What makes changing them so interesting to a slower-than-expected (and demanded) ATC student is the fact that these teams all work somewhat different from each other. So if you haven’t been too successful adapting to the style of one team, another might fit you much better and finally yield the wished and hoped for results.

So that’s the situation I’m in now – a new team, two (well, de facto three) new coaches, a new working style and, err, “could you kindly get done within the next two or three months”. The bumpy start is that during the first shift, I have to play sick (no really, got the Doctor’s paper!). But starting next Monday, it’s on to a new (and probably last) chance.

What else is new? Primarily, a fiancée living with me, with all the associated things like knowing all local furniture dealers by heart (part of the reason this blog stayed silent for so long).
Besides that, the decision to use a new style for this blog, ditching the aforementioned Linux experience for Windows 7 (still on XP or Vista? If you can, move on), adding a few new blogs to the sidebar in case you get bored by this one, and comments activated for those who wish to express their feelings or ask for a way to send those donations in (fiancée needs a birthday present! ;).

I try to update again a bit more often, wish me luck. :)

“training in progress”

The excuse when something goes (hopefully not horribly) wrong while the new trainee is sitting in position, trying to vector airplanes around the skies of Munich or bargain with adjacent sectors about the best way to transfer airplanes.

It has been used only once during an actual radio transmission by my coach so far (when telling a pilot to disregard his descent instruction as another plane was relatively close and was – not known to me – released to another controller), though a few other situations would probably have provided enough justification.

That said, apologies to the Condor pilots who were put on a vector for a straight-in approach (i.e., without the usual weaving and turning to get into the normal traffic pattern), but were then not descended accordingly, as there was another airplane in the way.
It probably caused some puzzled reactions in the cockpit to have to level off, and then being told that “you are a little too high for straight-in, turn left heading 340”. You might have been wondering what my plan was, or if I even had one, and you would have been fully justified.

It was “one of those days” anyways, days I also had back in the Sim (thankfully not that often), but which appear much scarier in real life (hopefully not that often).
Turning a police helicopter while he was still in someone else’s control zone, scratching another sector with an inbound turned too early (“München Approach South apologizes”), handing an airplane over too the next controller while it was way too high, and too fast (of course) – the safety net built into the system works well enough to prevent chaos and mayhem, but it’s things which add up and make such a day one to be put into the category “learned a lot, achieved little”.

It’s indeed “training in progress” (and, in case of anyone wondering, still fun!)

Fast Forward To…Now

It’s been a long time since the last update, and quite a lot has happened since then.
For one, I just had my fourth day at Munich Approach, which of course is some change from the Academy simulator I – and you readers – were used to.

This is the result of some further months of training, one partly successful practical examination (you could also say partly failed, but now how would that sound), a fully successful second try five weeks later, some looking for a flat inbetween, buying a new car, convincing the powers-that-be that I really really should be doing Munich Approach (because I…err…would really like to…and stuff. Convincing arguments like that ;) and so on.

To make it short, on March 23rd at 9am six other hopeful trainees and I arrived at my new working place, Munich Centre, situated to the west of the Munich Airport terminals, between the two runways.
What followed was the to-be-expected theoretical introductions to our new airspace, some simulation to get used to it all, quick change of plans (“and btw Robert, you are not doing the Freising sector you learned for for the last three days, you are doing the München sector”), getting to know a lot of new people (“Damn, what was that guy’s name again…”) and general settling in to the new surroundings.

After a week of this, I had my first introduction to “the board” (a.k.a. actually sitting at the working position), at first as Planner which is pretty useful if you have an airspace test a few hours later, as it gives you the chance to see all those adjacent sectors, airspaces (temporary reserved or not), waypoints, navaids, frequencies, coordination procedures…the lot…in action.
It could be considered to be pretty natural that the new trainee is confused when receiving his first real coordination call ever and, instead of the proper phraseology (keyword, coordination point, call-sign, the rest) used at the Academy, only gets some seemingly random call-sign. That call-sign can be an arriving airplane, departing, crossing, flying somewhere near so we have to consider it, descending through our airspace or doing something completely different. Finding out is the challenge here for the new trainee, and admittedly taxes the patience of the other Planner quite a bit.
Thankfully, after some getting used to, that problem slowly disappears. Sometimes I even know what the matter could be as soon as I see which sector is calling us, but that remains the exception for now, of course. ;)

The first half hour as radar controller is pretty much uneventful due to a lack of actual traffic. Of course, the very first airplane I talk to in my OJT career is an Italian who doesn’t seem to get half of what I tell her. Figures…

The next few days continue along those lines, with the coaches being less and less merciful, resulting in radar controller hours with more and more traffic.
And yes, it is absolutely great fun.

Two days ago saw my first day with fog, resulting in reduced traffic (them airplanes can’t land as well when they don’t see anything), some holding and some more fun. Well, fun for us, not for the regional jet from the Balkans that has to stay in the hold for 2,5 hours. It’s amazing how much fuel he brought with him, although probably less if you see that only airplanes who need a visibility of 250m for landing were permitted to actually depart with destination Munich, and this guy came in needing 300m – when we actually had somewhere around 150m. It’s called pre-planning, I guess.

My personal highlight comes later when I accidentally want to clear a Lufthansa to some point when the coordination actually hadn’t been done yet.
“Lufthansa 123, proceed direct….disregard”
“Roger”
“I guess we should ask the other sector first…”
“No problem, we didn’t find Disregard in our database anyways”

I guess I should be thankful, one of these days there will actually be a point “Disregard” where airplanes can fly to, and I will really be screwed.

And the joys of this job? Clearing an Airbus 330 from Emirates Airlines almost all the way to his landing course, then going off shift, driving towards the airport and seeing that same A330 taxiing to its gate, having landed safely. Gives you some good feeling. :)