April 30, 2017

Keeping Canada Safe: NAV CANADA on the small screen

NAV CANADA was recently featured on Keeping Canada Safe, a four-part CBC documentary series about the people who keep our country secure. Cameras followed Air Traffic Controller Tom Cooper during a full day at Toronto Pearson Airport (CYYZ). In this blog we learn more about Tom, his work, and what it was like being followed around by a camera crew.

What are your responsibilities?

I’m responsible for arriving and departing aircraft within seven miles of CYYZ. I separate the aircraft in the air and on the ground and assign the route they must fly after departure. I’m also responsible for all the aircraft, vehicles, and aircraft under tow that are moving around on the apron, to and from the runways, parking gates, cargo facilities and maintenance hangars.

Take us through a typical day at work.

After arriving at work, I sign in and read and acknowledge any new procedures or changes that could affect my shift. I then proceed to the control tower cab and relieve the next controller due to end their shift. I work in one of three types of control positions: ground control, tower control, or clearance delivery. The controller ending their shift will inform me of the airport configuration for the day and what I can expect. Then, they will inform me of all their current traffic and then watch me work to ensure I understood everything I was told and that the transfer was seamless. At CYYZ, our specialty is volume. We work about 1,600 aircraft per day. I typically do an eight-and-a-half hour shift, usually with four breaks of 30 to 50 minutes. At the end of the day, I provide all the information to the controller starting a new shift. That cycle continues 24 hours a day.

Why did you choose this career path?

I knew I wanted to work in aviation. But when I did some flight training, I had a tendency to get sick – not a great quality in a pilot. My father worked in air traffic control and it seemed like a great job that he loved. I managed to get hired by Transport Canada as an air traffic controller’s assistant, a job that has since been replaced by technology. After four years in a support role, I was accepted into ATC.

What was the experience like of having a camera crew follow you around? How long were they with you?

Having seen ‘Keeping Canada Alive’ (an earlier CBC series that documented a day in the life of Canada’s health care system) and really liking the series, I was looking forward to seeing how the process works. The camera person/producer and sound person stayed with me for about 10 hours. It was a real challenge to not use technical language while answering questions so people would understand. In the tower environment, we all work so closely and joke around with each other to let off steam. We really notice when strangers are in the tower – especially when they have a giant camera and microphone on a large boom. We tried to be as natural as we could. I had a great coffee break sequence, I thought, but found out it wouldn’t get used because of my Star Wars mug. (They didn’t want to have to pay Disney.) It all being filmed in one day was a challenge. It took a while to get used to speaking with a camera in your face. We ended up with an emergency landing that evening while the crew was there. They don’t happen every day and with this format, it had to be on that day.

The title of the show is pretty powerful. When you are working are you thinking about the fact that you are “keeping Canada safe”, or is it just another day at the office for you?

It’s definitely business as usual for us. Safety is our first priority. When something impacts safety we, as a group, don’t hold our tongues. We act.

How did your colleagues react to the cameras in the tower?

My co-workers were great. Everyone knew they may be on TV, and that helped keep the ribbing down. When I was interviewed in our hallway, one co-worker kept peering around the corner at me. That was a reminder of the ribbing to come.

If you missed Tom on Keeping Canada Safe, you can watch his episode here: http://www.cbc.ca/keepingcanadasafe/episodes/episode-2



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