Answer by Deepak Pradeep:
Being a Tower Controller at the Mumbai Airport, i can tell you my share of experiences about the job.
This is Mumbai ATC Tower. This is where we sit, at the topmost floor (22nd floor)
About work, it is a lot of fun if you enjoy air traffic control. It is like playing a video game where you cannot afford to make mistakes. Even if you make it, you should be fast in correcting them. You have to make quick decisions and situations are very dynamic. No two days are the same. Work begins and ends at your office. You are free for yourselves after work. We work in shift patterns with 3 days work and 2 days off : Morning (7.30am-1pm), Afternoon (1pm-8pm), Night (8pm-7.30am), Night off, Clear off. During duty, every controller works for 1 hour and gets relieved for 1 hour. So the maximum you would work on a week day would be 4 hours. Its not very stressful always but when it gets tough, it can get really tough. Nevertheless the satisfaction it gives is tremendous. It does make me feel like a superhuman often. Air traffic controllers are nearly invisible outside, nobody recognises or appreciates the hard work we do. Once we are out of our office, we remove our SuperMan suits and be the Clark Kent to get ill treated. Air traffic control appears on news only if something goes wrong. Bad days are unforgiven. I go to sleep with the realisation that if anything goes wrong, the whole world will be against me and i have to stay strong.
Air traffic controllers are among the highest paid across the globe. But in India, we are underpaid compared to the responsibility and risk involved. There is manpower shortage, and therefore we have to do extra duties often. Our living conditions are pathetic. A controller posted in Mumbai has to wait nearly 3-4 years to get an individual quarters allocated to him which is half the tenure of his posting. Until then we have to live like college goers (4-5 in a 2 bhk quarters) packed in an unhealthy environment. A lot of promises and hopes circulate, regarding better pay, better accommodation but everyday goes as it is. Like every other Indian, we adjust and live accordingly.
Air traffic controllers and pilots form a special kind of relation. We hardly know any each other. Even though we work in the same sector, we don't get to interact with each other. But we do get recognised by our voice and if i mention during my air travel (which is not free as everybody thinks), they do treat me with respect. One of the few feel good factors of our job.
I end this answer with a quote i love about my job
"A profession in which person of definable intestinal fortitude; unlimited ability to correlate masses of confusing numbers, figures, rules and statistics, both defined and infinite in their change; the calibre and character associated with the most demanding discipline and integrity and resolve to their job, unmatched by the vast majority, daily accepts with enthusiasm normally associated with pleasure rather than work; the responsibility of ensuring the safe passage through unfriendly and crowded skies, the immeasurable assets represented by multi-million dollar aircraft and the multitude of lives contained in these fragile ships of skies. To be an Air Traffic controller is to be proud, arrogant, bold and may be a little foolish…But I would not be anything else."