Directing an orchestra in the sky

Tower controller Cole Hobson helps keep YFC aircraft traffic flowing safely

Cole Hobson was a daily newspaper reporter on assignment when he first learned what air traffic controllers do.

His editor had sent him to cover an announcement that NAV CANADA was hiring. The agency, which manages 18 million square kilometres of airspace, had a big recruiting push for its air area control centre in Moncton, one of seven nationwide.

“I went to the interview, and I was just fascinated,” Cole says from YFC, where he works as a tower controller. “It was a world I knew nothing about. Honestly, I thought air traffic controllers were the people on the ramps, guiding planes into the gate, which isn’t the case.”

He was so taken with what he’d discovered, he made a career change. Cole applied to the highly competitive program, was selected, and made it through a rigorous training program.

‘Anything coming and going’

As Cole learned, controllers “are the people who guide aircraft crossing Canada’s skies each and every day, ensuring that air travellers fly safely,” as the NAV CANADA website states.

Cole and his colleagues are responsible for controlling all airport traffic, both vehicles and aircraft, on the field at YFC and in a five-nautical-mile control zone around the airport.

“Basically, anything coming and going is our responsibility,” he says.

His industry measures aircraft movements: a plane taking off or landing would be one movement. On a busy day, YFC might have 500 to 700 movements.

Along with commercial airlines, the busy Moncton Flight College campus, and two helicopter hangars, there is Forest Protection Limited’s fleet.

“During forest fire season, it can be non-stop,” Cole says.

The CFB Gagetown military base is another traffic source, including helicopters on training exercises and other military aircraft.

Calm, cool in control

Up in the tower, with a direct view of the airport, aircraft and runways, Cole calmly communicates with pilots and other air control centres, maintaining a safe and orderly flow of air traffic.

The movies often depict air traffic control as a high-stress, white-knuckle job,” he says. “But if you watch an air traffic controller who is really good at the job, it’s calm. You might be talking non-stop, but you don’t break a sweat. Your voice doesn’t waver. I love the feeling of being in control like that.”

Take your career to new heights

Nav Canada are actively recruiting! Find out more about current career opportunities on their website.