It is fair to say that air traffic control (ATC) personnel are the lifeblood of an airport — without them, things would come to a standstill.
Mr Magnus Teo Tian Hong, an ATC manager at the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), is well aware of the responsibility that he carries on his shoulders. He is part of a team that ensures the safety of both travellers and planes flying in and out of Singapore’s airports.
A chance opportunity
But two decades ago, a job like this was not even on Mr Teo’s radar.
Although he loved travelling, it never occurred to him to look for a position at CAAS. Instead, he joined a travel agency right after graduating with a Bachelor of Business from Nanyang Technological University.
However, when things went south after certain world events affected the industry drastically in the early 2000s, he chanced upon a job posting for an ATC officer (ATCO) position.
He says: “The job description caught my attention. Also, being from the travel industry, air travel was something I was interested in and familiar with.”
Still stoked about his job, Mr Teo, 41, has been with CAAS for 17 years. Today, as an ATC manager at the Air Navigation Services Safety and Security Branch (ANS SSB), he is part of the team handling the ANS group’s safety management system, physical and cyber security, as well as emergency preparedness-related matters.
His responsibilities include conducting briefings on safety procedures plus sharing safety data analyses with the staff working at the various ATC units to disseminate safety information. He also attends safety-related meetings for projects such as the Changi East Development works. Mainly desk-bound, he shuttles between the office and the various ATC units — Singapore Air Traffic Control Centre, Seletar Control Tower and Changi Control Tower — from time to time.
Girded with knowledge
CAAS requires ATCOs to undergo a year’s training that involves theory, practical, simulator and on-the-job training. This helps the aviation authority to match the trainee’s strengths with the available roles.
There are continuous learning opportunities amid a career development structure, enabling staff to experience different aspects of the job.
Mr Teo quotes his career path as an example. After a year of intense training, he received his first licence and worked as an ATCO at Changi Control Tower for about six years. Deciding to explore other areas in air traffic control, Mr Teo pursued a second licence that took another year of rigorous training.
In 2011, he was involved in an exercise to reorganise a part of Singapore’s airspace to enhance efficiency and increase the operational capability to manage a higher traffic volume.
He says: “Working on this project opened my eyes to the magnitude of work and the vast opportunities there are within ATC.
“Having the opportunity to apply my operational experience to other areas of work within CAAS and to widen my horizons was priceless.”
As part of his job scope, Mr Teo represents CAAS overseas at global and regional forums held by the International Civil Aviation Organization and the Civil Air Navigation Services Organization.
He says: “Interacting with other safety professionals is always an eye-opening experience. Most experts I meet are keen to share their wealth of knowledge and experience with others. The world starts to feel very small when I realise that we share many similar experiences with other ATCOs around the world.”
The sky’s the limit
While some people find working shifts disruptive to family life, he finds it a boon. He says: “This is because I get many opportunities to do family activities during the weekdays without the weekend crowd.”
These days, according to Mr Teo, the job continues to provide learning opportunities amid the changing aviation landscape with more opportunities for ATCOs to go into other aspects of air traffic management (ATM) including airspace design and new ATM systems, to name a few.
The organisation structure is also being moulded to provide more opportunities for junior controllers to learn more about topical issues in the industry.
To those seeking employment, Mr Teo has this word of advice: “Every job in the world requires a certain level of commitment to excel. This job is no different. Once you get the required licence to do the job, it’s easy to forget the hard work you invested to get to that level. However, the real commitment lies in the ability to maintain that level for the next 20 to 30 years of your career.
“I consider joining CAAS as one of the best career decisions I made,” he says.
This story was first published in The Straits Time's Careers in Public Sector on September 25, 2017.