ON ANY given day, a flight takes off or lands at Singapore’s Changi Airport roughly once every 100 seconds. Imagine the pressure piling up in the airport’s air traffic control tower on days when visibility is low, like when the recent haze hit and the precautionary measures taken had to ensure there were no significant delays in aircraft departures and arrivals.

Mr Allan Alex Sim Yew Yen is responsible for ensuring a safe and smooth flow of air traffic over Changi and Seletar airports.

Apart from having strong communication skills and being able to multi-task, they must pass an aptitude test and voice test. More critically, they are expected to remain composed under pressure.

Mr Sim says: “My job involves coordinating and directing aircraft to ensure a safe and efficient flow of air traffic at Singapore Changi Airport. This involves seamless and close coordination and teamwork within the working group of air traffic controllers and with external agencies. We are required to multi-task, so decisions can be communicated and executed swiftly.”

Meeting challenges

An air traffic controller’s job does not start or end in the air. On the ground, there are things to be taken care of, such as the movement of vehicles within the aircraft parking area, also known as the “apron area”.

Changi Airport serves some 100 airlines flying to over 250 cities in about 60 countries and territories worldwide today.

On the job, the pace is fast and the environment dynamic. For anyone aspiring to be an air traffic controller, the work is rewarding with ample opportunities for career progression.

Controllers can look forward to specialist or managerial roles, which require experience and in-depth knowledge of the job.

Operational controllers can take up supervisory roles in the control tower and even instructional roles to teach the new trainees, while managerial positions handle air traffic management and planning work.

A passion for aviation

The work matches Mr Sim’s passion for a dynamic work environment, the opportunity to appreciate aircraft design, technologies in air navigation, control and communications and, in his words, “a stunning view of beautiful skies”.

Ever since his brother, who is an aircraft engineer, sparked his interest in aviation, he has been “intrigued by the tempo of the airport, where work goes round the clock”.

“I thought it would be awesome working in a fast-paced and dynamic environment, plus a great view of planes with sunrises and sunsets that linked my home to the world,” he says.

Mr Sim’s advice to those planning a career in aviation is to “persevere in the beginning and be ever keen on learning and working with others”.

“There is definitely the need for personal discipline to learn and an attitude to never give up,” he adds.

Progress report

The Bachelor of Arts graduate who majored in history and Japanese studies found it daunting at first as he had no experience in air traffic control. But he emphasised that the training programme was meticulously planned to ensure that learning was progressive and there was constant coaching from instructors to help him hone newly acquired technical skills.

“Managers and peers were always ready to provide the assurance and help, making the learning process much easier. Sometimes at the end of a tough day, we’d have a chat over coffee to unwind and discuss how we could do things better in the future,” he says.

After nearly two years on the job, Mr Sim enjoys the synergy of work between air traffic controllers, as well as being able to communicate effectively with the pilots of different nationalities.

Taking great satisfaction from knowing that air traffic moves safely and efficiently with little to zero delay, he says: “That’s when I know we have provided great service and put a smile on everyone’s faces.”