A Day In The Life of an FAA Air Traffic Controller

Derek Vento- Experience A Day In The Life Podcast

Derek Vento

Air Traffic Control Specialist
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)

We’re taking a trip to the busiest airport IN THE WORLD, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, to experience a day in the life of Derek Vento, who sits in the tower as an Air Traffic Control Specialist. He’s also the host of the best aviation podcast out there, The Traffic Pattern!

Derek: (00:01)
Even though there’s times where the weather’s bad and you’re working your butt off. There’s a, there’s a sense of pride that’s still comes into play and I really value that because I know that whether there was turbulence, whatever it may be, all those people on those planes don’t know that I’m the guy behind the scenes making this happen. Even though it’s a team effort. It’s nice knowing that someone today got from origin to destination in one piece.

Krista: (00:39)
People go to work every single day. There was the nine to fivers, the work from Homer’s, the doers, the dreamers. The list goes on, but what does it take day in and day out to succeed in these careers? This is the experience a day in the life podcast. We’re your hosts, Krista Bo.

Mat: (00:56)
and Mat Po. The concept is simple. Each episode we take you through a day in the life of a different job, hour by hour. We call this and a good old spelled ADITL which stands for a day in the life.

Mat: (01:13)
We have a really interesting job to cover today. We are going to travel all the way down to the busiest airport in the world in Georgia because we are going to experience a day in the life of Derek Vento. Derek is an air traffic controller out of Atlanta. Trey con and Trey con, they handle the departing and arriving flights coming in and out of the airport and if you can imagine he’s up in that tower, that tower that you see. If you take an airplane, go watch an airport?

Krista: (01:42)
hahaha Derek’s also the host of the traffic pattern podcast where he interviews a bunch of people in different sectors of the aviation space. So definitely go check that out. We’ll talk about that in this episode. And he’s also working towards getting his private pilot’s license. So he’s truly an aviation nerd. So strap in because we’re going to jump right in right now.

Mat: (02:25)
It’s 6:00 AM and we’re in the Atlanta area. Derek is just waking up and he’s immediately checking the weather. He uses an app called ForeFlight and does this every morning to get a clear picture of what conditions the pilots will be experiencing. Basically, you check the weather to determine if you need a jacket or an umbrella. Derek checks the weather to determine how intense his upcoming Workday’s going to be.

Krista: (02:47)
He got up, got ready, and was out of the door by 6:30 AM for a 40 minute commute hitting up Starbucks along the way for a signature order. Caramel macchiato, iced coffee. If he doesn’t have his coffee, he gets pretty irritable like most. He arrived at work at seven 15 ready to tackle the day ahead. So let’s meet Derek and learn more about what he does and how he got to where he is today.

Derek: (03:08)
My name is Derek Vento I’m an air traffic controller at Alaina Trey con in Peachtree city, Georgia. We serve the world’s busiest airport, Atlanta Hartsfield, where we work about 3,600 airplanes a day and about 136 airplanes an hour. I’ve been doing it for about let’s say five years now and here I am. I live in life. I’m living the life man. I love it man. It’s fun. It’s like never a dull moment. And it’s kind of funny because every time I go to work I actually wonder, I wonder if we’re going to be busy today. I don’t know why I asked myself that question because of course we always are, but we have a blast. We have a blast.

Mat: (03:43)
Great. So the first thing I wanted to ask was about how the federal government plays a role in regulating what you guys do. Cause I know that there is a lot of regulation around that, right?

Derek: (03:55)
Right. So essentially the government pretty much controls the air space just to keep things simple. I think the best way to put it would be our goal as federal employees is to serve the flying public and provide a safe and expeditious service to those that are in the airspace. So there’s a thing called demand and capacity. Obviously if everybody could fly at the same time, we would definitely do that. But when weather comes into play, for example, the federal government pretty much says, Hey listen, there are so many planes that want to fly, let’s say into one airport, but the system can’t accommodate all those airplanes at one time. So we have things like what we call traffic management initiatives, the TMS. So 5,000 airplanes will want to fly to one airport, but the system realizes it can accommodate 5,000 airplanes in one airport with to say live within two hours.

Mat: (04:45)
So it spits out what they call traffic management initiatives and it dictates, Hey, this airplane may take off at this time. And that’s how we sequence airplanes into the air traffic control system. So just as a whole, like I said, they’re responsible obviously for most control airports and uncontrolled airports to an extent. There are so many specifics we would get into. We’d be here for promise hours talking about that. But just to keep things simple, they’re responsible for the airspace. Most of the control airports are major airports and other Charlotte’s the Atlanta is, you know, the Las and things like that. The Miamis and our goal as controllers is to essentially provide that service whether we’re in a tower or an aid terminal, radar approach, control facility, which pretty much means we’re sitting at a radar scope and our job is to look at a radar scope and we’re responsible for the airplanes, let’s say at 12,000 feet and our goal is to separate them and provide that good service.

Krista: (05:36)
So now it’s seven 15 and Derek is getting into his groove. He grabbed his headset and reviewed the pre weather brief. Again, knowing the weather conditions helps paint a picture of what the pilots will be experiencing in the sky and therefore helps inform Derek on how to mitigate risk. Safety is the number one concern. The weather conditions can be described by terms VMC, which means gorgeous weather and IMC, which means…

Derek: (05:58)
it’s raining. There are snow clouds overcast, we’re all miserable. It’s just the way it is. The reason being is typically we can’t accommodate as many of your planes to the airport. The other part about it too is pilots can’t see each other out the window. So they’re relying on the instruments in the cockpit. When it’s overcast, you’re in, you’re in, you know you’re in the clouds and you can’t see, I can tell you what altitude you’re at from looking at my radar scope, but that doesn’t help you because you’re just kind of like flying blind now. Don’t know what’s happening. So the weather, it gives us a clear picture of the day. It’s very important that we know what we’re walking into before we even get into work and what we are walking into when we get there.

Derek: (06:41)
So for example, I’m a nerd, so I’m a little bit different about it. I like using ForeFlight, so I’ll use ForeFlight. I’ll open up the app and I go like, okay, today it’s going to be GFSI out in the Northwest. Visibility is going to be really, really good. A few clouds of 5,000 feet shouldn’t be terrible day. And I translate that to if I’m working the final and I’m working your plans on the final, getting them sequenced and lined up a couple of miles apart. I know that I’m going to have a strong talent out of the Northwest, which means that my baseline traffic is going to be fast. I’m using crazy terms right now. I know, but what I’m talking about is that my downwind and base, I may have to be a little bit more conservative on one. I’m turning an airplane either too soon or too late because now they’re going to have a tailwind, which means that if there is wind pushing the airplane at the tail and I go to turn the airplane, they’re going to have a wide turn.

Derek: (07:28)
Okay. If it’s coming from the Northeast, I know that if I turn them too soon, they may pinch on an airplane that’s already established on the final. I don’t want to turn too early because I don’t want them to get too close because the one’s going to be out of Northeast, which we just going to push him. So a southbound heading, like a heading of a one eight zero may look more like a 200 because it’s all about where the wind is coming from. So I’m thinking about generic small little things and how’s granular with it? Like it’s like physics. Yeah, it’s like a little bit different. Yeah. So like knowing that is important. So it’s not like I just go like, okay, like I’m just gonna walk into work today and just like, Oh cool. It’s cloudy. It’s cloudy tonight. Yeah. Sometimes what we call the wind aloft, the wind, that altitude change the way you make work [inaudible] that you may work the airplanes. I might slow to tutor and 10 knots a little bit sooner than I’d do yesterday and yesterday I’m like, it’s kind of funny. I’ll just say this real quick. The weather is so big on how you’re working the airplanes, because you may walk in on Tuesday and you’re like, I’m crushing it. You walk in Wednesday morning and you’re like, what is happening? I did this yesterday. Something’s not working. You have to adjust, so you’re doing the same thing, providing the same service. You may just do a couple things a little bit different.

Mat: (08:41)
Derek’s passion for aviation began young. His mother was a flight attendant and his dad’s a helicopter pilot and when it came time to seriously think about his career path, aviation was a natural choice.

Derek: (08:51)
Fast forward, fast forward,

Krista: (08:53)
his first helicopter ride was in 2000 and from there fell in love. A few years later out of Morristown New Jersey, Derek took his first airplane ride in a small diamond two seater plane. Mind you, this happened when Derek was in high school who sometimes literally sat in the back of class, headphones on listening to live atc.net

Derek: (09:22)
the whole concept behind it is for people all around the world to to listen to air traffic controllers, control airplanes. Sounds absolutely terrible. Sounds like the dumbest idea. People love it. I’m sure. So I’m listening to it and teacher goes, Derek, yeah, what are you doing? Hold on. What? Put the headphones back in, right? Excuse me. Listen, in the live, etc. We’ve got work to do, right? I’m like, okay, no big deal. My buddies to my right and left, look at me, they go, listen to live, etc. I said, yeah. I said, let me hear that. I pulled the headphones out. I play it out loud.

Derek: (10:02)
listening to Philly departure pretty much the department, short work, all the airplanes leaving Philly, climbing out North and South and the guy next to me goes, that’s my dad. I’m like, wait, what? He goes, yeah, so the guy next to me, his name is Chris Buckley, his dad, Brian Buckley is a controller in Philadelphia. He goes, I’ll get up with my dad. I’m like, cool, sounds good. It gives me the phone number and all the information blahzay blahzay and come to find out another kid and I’m, I’m in class with Steve Brown. His dad is an air traffic controller at Philly. And one other girl I knew at the time, her name is McKayla, her dad got me the internship at Philadelphia. Uh, Trey Khan in tower hanging out with the guys and girls on the tower and the Treycon like learning about the radar, learning about the aerospace, everything.

Derek: (10:45)
And no joke. I was in the tower, it was like one of my last few days I was there and I was getting ready to walk downstairs and the sky looks at me. He goes, Hey kid. I said, yeah. He goes, you’re gonna be doing this job someday. I was like, okay, so you mean you guys never thought I would be, you know, people like they tell like a story and it sounds like, Oh, that’s so cool. I was kind of like, sure, whatever. Right. I didn’t want to go to college. I just didn’t want to go to school. And I went to school for like two semesters and I hated it. I couldn’t cause couldn’t stand a noose wasn’t for me. And in 2014 the FAA came out and said, Hey, we’re hiring, you know, thousands of air traffic controllers. Please apply if you’re not over the age of 31 and you’ve got three years of work experience. Well let’s go back. I worked at Buffalo wild wings and I hated that show.

Derek: (11:32)
And sure enough I had the internship experience and I thought that was so amazing seeing that. And I put my name in the hat and I was one of 28,000 people that applied and was one of 20 a hundred that got selected and Oh my God, we had a blast out there. Three months of fun. But you know, all expenses paid just a great experience that kind of humbles you at the same time. I mean, you’re out there in a class of 18 people, they pay for everything, but you know, you’re going through that training every single day. That’s simulator labs. There’s a lot of bookwork. And I noticed though, people that did very well out there were the ones that sort of kind of had some experience prior to kind of going in. It didn’t mean that you were a pilot or a previous air traffic controller, but you had some knowledge about maybe airplanes or kind of the process and maybe just around that environment.

Derek: (12:16)
But they put you in an environment where you can learn and it’s on the job training and that’s what this career is all about. Really for the most part is being flexible and on the job training and having someone stand behind you plug in and say you’re doing it wrong. And that’s hard for someone that doesn’t take criticism. Someone that doesn’t like being told what to do. Oh man, this job isn’t for you then. And even though everyone can kind of do it a little bit differently in air traffic control, there’s pretty much a way to typically do it. And to see people walk out of there and just not make, it was just tough, you know, cause everyone like left their jobs.

Derek: (12:50)
Yeah, you take a risk on this, what are you going to say? Hey, I’ll be back in three months just in case I don’t pass?Oh we’ve got to, we’ve got to replace you. So if I don’t make it, Hey Randy can have my job back. It’s almost like don’t we don’t have a spot for you. What do you do? Yeah, Buffalo wild wings again, I’m not going back!!

Mat: (13:07)
It’s since changed. But the ATC placing process when Derek was there when a little like this, you chose a region that you wanted to be in East central or West and based on your performance on the exam you’d get placed at an airport in your selected region.

Derek: (13:21)
So it kind of puts that motivation into your brain because they give it to you the week prior to finals. So you’re looking at this like, I better perform cause I really want to maybe go there. The reason being is because even though there’s 18 in the class, 10 or East, let’s say five are central and three are West, I’m really competing with only 10 people. Does that make sense?

Mat: (13:39)
Yeah, absolutely.

Derek: (13:40)
So then I look at the Eastern facilities and I go like, Ooh, okay, Jacksonville’s all in there. Montgomery, Alabama. And I see a couple of others, let’s say like Wilksbear, Pennsylvania. Well, I don’t want to go to Birmingham, Alabama. So I better perform. They look at that critical list of facilities and go, this one,

Derek: (13:54)
these bodies is one, these bodies, this when these bodies. Sure enough, I think I placed five out of that, eight of us in the Eastern facilities cause a couple of people just didn’t pass. And when I say I was in fifth place, I don’t mean like I did terrible. It was like the person that was in fourth like had 0.2 more points than I did because they count academics, they count everything. So the person that was in first place scored like a total of 89.21 I’m like an 88.06 wow. So we’re all competitive. So we knew that ahead going in. So then when you’re like getting ready to pretty much knock us out the park, you’re like, all right, I gotta go in there and be humble and do, do this cause I don’t want to go here. I want to maybe go here. Sure enough didn’t get Jacksonville, Florida and got Columbia South Carolina. But I knew at that time it was going to be a building facility. It was a great place to learn and I was so thankful for that. But my first shift, I was nervous. It’s, it’s, it’s a lot of bookwork to start off with like a lot of airspace map study, frequencies like that.

Derek: (14:52)
But when you first sit down and hit the floor, well you go up to the tower. The first airplane I ever talked to was a us airways CRJ or whatever it was back then and they were going to Philadelphia. So it calls for a taxi and I’m like, yeah, I’m like a Wisconsin seven 42 alpha Columbia ground when we won one taxi V alpha first transmission ever. So the one thing I liked about Columbia the most, and this was pretty cool, he got to develop a relationship with the local pilots. So you’re talking to some guy on frequency and then 30 minutes later you’re like, yeah man, I get off work in 30 minutes. I’ll, I’ll see ya at, you know, wherever

Mat: (15:33)
Derek enjoyed his time at Columbia airport. But one of the opportunity to advance his career. So he jumped at the chance to work at Hartsfield Jackson, Atlanta international airport, the busiest airport in the world back to the day.

Krista: (15:46)
It’s about 8:30 AM and Derek is sitting at the radar scope, which is basically a map of everything coming in and out of their designated airspace before he can truly get started. He’s asking a pilot for his P I R E P or a pilot report on the weather conditions from the sky. Real big emphasis on the weather if you couldn’t tell.

Krista: (16:05)
So just as a passenger who goes on a plane, we’re also concerned about the weather, right? Like we want our pilots to be able to see what’s going on. What does it, what type of weather does it take for a flight to be canceled?

Derek: (16:19)
Oh, we can talk about that forever. You know, I joke about the airlines and the way they treat passengers sometimes, you know, I am a huge fan of, of, of our flying, um, subsidiaries and in their minds that the definitely transport us. You know, I’m not really biased to one. They all do a great job. But it’s funny seeing the, the, the gripes that people have from like a flying public standpoint. And I’m like, if they only knew, right? So what I always say is that

Speaker 6: (16:44)
our goal in ATC is to obviously be safe, right? And accommodate as many or points as we can. But sometimes things just happen where delays occur. Again, the national airspace system, there’s a difference between demand and capacity and capacity. So let’s say for example, there is a delay going into LaGuardia, really, really windy and maybe let’s say there’s like a federal showroom overhead. It’s been just looming around, right? American airlines or Delta or spirit pretty much say, Hey, these flights were delayed or we get to a point where you’re like, okay, this was a little looking like it’s going to get canceled. So they may tell you, okay, your flights canceled for ATC delays with there may be not telling you. Is that because the system obviously is trying to accommodate airplanes. Your flight time gets pushed back naturally. You were supposed to depart at four.

Speaker 6: (17:34)
Now it’s looking like 10, 10 o’clock comes around. And what happened is, is your airline realizes that crew that’s supposed to fly you is gonna time out. They’ve got to have crew rest. So what happens is, is this, they say for example, delay flights canceled. What they probably don’t have is another crew to fly that airplane and they’re not going to bring someone in because they have to pay them what things are like. That’s where, and they probably can’t get a crew to come in at that late at night. It’s not gonna happen sometimes. So they’ll say ATC delay flights canceled, so don’t have to put you up in a hotel because if they cancel it for them, let’s say mechanical or something of that sort where they got to do vouchers accommodate. Does that make sense? So there’s like a little bit of a little system.

Krista: (18:19)
sounds like you guys are the scapegoats!

Derek: (18:25)
Exactly! And that’s why we as controllers always talk about that. Like that’s not right. We didn’t do anything! haha

Derek: (18:32)
We’re trying to, we’re trying to play catch up. Right? And that’s why I like the next day you have like this airplane and that’s like full, everyone’s trying to ride standby and they’re trying to like get people swapped it in like different crews moved around because for example that crew, let’s say you’re supposed to fly from Atlanta to LaGuardia, that’s like I canceled. Technically that crew is supposed to be in LaGuardia. They’re not that next morning, so what happens is they got to get a crew to be at LaGuardia, so it’s like, here we go. Yeah, it’s like a whole… it’s a mess. It’s a mess.

Mat: (19:03)
t’s 10:00 AM and Derek checks in with the operations manager. Derek will be the first to tell you that he has the utmost respect for his managers and the entire team for that matter. From my own experience, I can tell you that if you find yourself in a work environment that you really vibing, don’t take that for granted.

Krista: (19:21)
with his headset on and coffee beside him and Derek and his coworkers are ready. Let’s set the scene on any given shift. Derek is in the radar room with 30 other air traffic controllers. The goal to ensure the flying public safety, the logistics, each air traffic controller is responsible for chunks of airspace. The vibe, let’s just say it’s never a dull moment,

Derek: (19:48)
You might be talking to the airplanes by yourself, but you’re never really alone. But you always have complete control, you know, so it’s your sector, you’re responsible for, your, part of your airspace essentially is we’re in a room together. And your goal, let’s say for example, is to receive the airplanes at 12 and 13,000 feet. You kind of like slowed down to send them, get them in a line and you ship them to Krista and then Krista gets them. And then your goal was like, to me, descend, whatever it may be. And then you’re like, all right, who you’re, they come to me and like I get them and like I’m the last guy. So like I pretty much, yeah, pretty much everyone has like their own little outs, who it’s like you might own four to 6,000 feet. I owned seven to 12,000 feet, you, Oh nine to 12 whatever, whatever. You may work on the other side of the room, but you’re never really too far away. I’ve got this little thing that we call yeah. And our DVS essentially, I can pretty much click a button and I can talk to you immediately. So it’s what we call a drop line. So I can immediately like get right in your ear and I’m like, Hey, I’ve got a question for it. Or blahzay blahzay can I do this? So communication is pretty much the most important aspect of our job

Mat: (20:48)
So you, you went on and you talked a little bit about it just now, but like the chunks of airspace that you guys or is it based on altitude or is it like you guys have different

Speaker 6: (21:02)
Pretty much, we own a certain amount of airspace, for Atlanta. And our goal is to separate them from departing aircraft, other arriving aircraft. I mean there’s always an, it’s kind of funny. So in air travel, you always say there’s always an airplane somewhere. You know, we call it a big open sky, but that’s typically some airplanes going to be there, but our goal is to either keep airplanes separated by a thousand feet or three miles. So there’s some exceptions to that rule as well, depending on if for the airplanes, IFR, VFR, but typically like on a [inaudible] regular basis, let’s say commercial airliners, things like that, either separated three miles laterally at the same altitude or any distance, but a thousand feet vertically. Got it. The only time that rule really kind of like breaks itself up as if I say, Hey, you’re, we’re putting that traffic in sight, and they are like, yeah, we got them, we got the traffic in sight, and then they’re responsible for the separation.

Derek: (21:50)
So the pilot physically is looking out the window and goes, there’s Delta. Okay, we’re going to fall on blahzay. Blahzay so like you don’t know this, but when you’re flying in that planet at 14,000 feet, either I’m keeping you separated or obviously the pilots see the airplane ahead and they’re obviously maintaining their own separation because we also can see the speeds of the airplane. Like a pilot. It would be so hard for that plane, the pilot of the plane and go, I wonder what speed that guy’s doing. Like you can’t tell if he’s doing two 50 or doing 189 and 180 knots. So we’re never gonna let anyone like run over everyone else. You know, we’re always gonna like kind of still be in control in a sense, you know? But it’s interesting when you see how the national airspace airspace system comes in together as a whole.

Derek: (22:28)
And we take airplanes from all areas of the country and we get them into this little small pocket, I guess a little small, like 50 a hundred mile piece of airspace that we own. And we all like bring them together and that’s all I do. Yeah, I they come in at like 15,000 feet doing 410 mile an hour. And our goal is what we call is [inaudible]. We’re like pretty much the off-ramps into the parking garage. So our goal is like 15,000 feet come in fast, five FFS slow descent. And our goal is to get them like lined up three miles apart, three miles apart, three miles apart for the most part and get them to see each other and get them lined up like Rockettes again

Mat: (23:02)
after taking a 30 minute break, it’s now 1230 and Derek’s working on the satellite sector where he encountered a potential emergency. A pilot indicated that they didn’t want to climb to a higher altitude because they stressed the engine.

Derek: (23:18)
So um, takes off out of this airport and flies South bounds and a twin engine airplane. So that’s a nice thing. It’s got to end right. So it, God forbid it was just one, you got a backup. Right. But again, that does sound like things are okay. Yeah. So twin engine, two engines, but it’s almost like, Hey listen, the airplane is supposed to work with too. So the engine’s not working left or right. We need to go ahead and fix this issue. So the kid, so you know the airplanes at 4,000 feet, I told the airplane of Columbia 5,000

Derek: (23:46)
feet and he didn’t want to climb. And you have to understand like even NES, when I was training to become a pilot, pilots love altitude for that specific reason. It was more altitude. You have, you can make an airport, you know we call making an airport as and like you’re able to get to a point of gliding, gliding, gliding, and then you’re like, you know, you’ve made the airport no matter what happens at this point in time, I know I can get there and get down. So the, the goal always though, we talk about an aviation is to can you make the airport, can you make it so can you have sufficient outlets? You were like, okay, you pretty much, you’ve made it. I can pretty much get down now. I’m good cause you’re trying to, you’re trying to pretty much conserve your altitude for as long as possible.

Derek: (24:25)
So as what we call a glide lift ratio. So for example, in the Cessna I five the best speed the glide at, it’s about 60 to 64 knots. So if I can glide at 62 knots, I’m pretty much conserving my altitude as best as I can. If I’m faster than that, that means I’m obviously descending too fast. If I’m slower than that, it means all I could potentially get ready for a stall. I don’t want to sell the airplane. I want to kind of get that nose back down to a point where there’s still sufficient air coming over the wings. So the whole point of this is the pilot doesn’t want to come to five and that was kind of a hidden cause. I wanna stay at 4,000 for just a little bit longer. I know probably maintain 4,000 great. Doesn’t really throw me off.

Derek: (25:01)
Not a big deal, but still again, doesn’t want it to decline. A couple of minutes later, call my maintain nine or a thousand and the pilot comes on the frequency and says, well let’s go to five. It’s weird. Again, Paul was like, altitude 9,000 is the Alto you’re requesting and you’re going to Florida. So like 9,000 is a pretty comparable to for this airplane is not a big deal, but it doesn’t want to come in line. Weird. Sure enough I say call it a maintain, not a thousand he goes approach, we’re just gonna make 5,000 as our final. And I’m thinking, okay, a maintain 5,000 I’ll show it as a final.

Derek: (25:37)
And I ask him, I’m like, Hey, quick question for you. Like why don’t you want nine? We’re having some trouble with the left engine. You know what I’m saying? Yup. So in air traffic, I’ll tell you one thing, one of two things happens when it comes to emergencies. Either we can declare one for them or they declare an emergency verbally and say we’re declaring an emergency. And then everybody in the building knows, and obviously we get people involved, things like that. The one thing I’ll say is that if this goes back to the whole like aviation personalities and like ego thing where the pilot won’t tell you that cause see does think like, well if I don’t want to tell him emergency, that would either take up resources or buy. It’s like, no, you’re having a problem. Keep me in the loop. Yep. So as soon as he told me that, I said, Roger, turtle off hitting zero nine zero there’s an airport right there.

Derek: (26:30)
So what I realize is if he loses the left engine, no big deal. Here’s an airport he can get to within a couple miles. Like I’m almost thinking myself again, excuse my French, but why take my shit and throw it around another that’s going to take this hand off in the next 10 miles. Why also have them pass an airport? God forbid something happens, he can hang out right here. And that was my first thing I did. I just told him, I said, Hey listen. I said, uh, are you losing it? You’re that. But I hear that. Yeah. It’s kind of like a half. Yes, pretty much. Yeah. Cool. No big deal. So luckily didn’t wind up losing it, but I almost would treat that airplane the same way as I would a single engine because if he loses it, it’s like he’s right here because you know these things get reviewed, you know, for quality assurance and things like that. QA. Right. So they don’t want us to look bad. I don’t want to look bad and have this airplane like continue on to Florida. Oh, you knew that was happening and it doesn’t mean that I have to do that. But when I communicated that to him, he was cool. He was, yeah, no problem. Any, yep. That works for us. Almost like now he’s like, Oh, okay. So he’s okay with it.

Derek: (27:38)
It’s like, dude, like just talk to me man. Like that would’ve been cool if he would’ve been like, think about this though. But remember like this, this doesn’t like happen within two minutes. So I’m telling you the story within three. This has played out for how long you think now? Like 20 minutes. Because he was back there and I said, come in five. He goes, no, stay. I will stay at four so that it was happening back there like 20 minutes ago, 20 miles ago. But we didn’t figure out till 20 minutes later. Does that make sense? So this issue could have been solved back here and I could’ve said, do you want to return to the airport instead? Now we’ve passed two, three, four or five airports. And it’s like, because I find decided to ask a question or he’ll reveal to me, Hey, we don’t want to comment it on because we don’t want to stress the engine now what’s like, Oh, okay. So this was right. So this was occurring a while ago. But because we fall, use context clues and realize what’s going on, it’s almost like I’m just getting to the issue now.

Krista: (28:31)
Oh,

Krista: (28:34)
so as you just heard, working with pilots in this situation is a delicate dance. There are however scenarios where Derek as the air traffic controller advises the pilot to do one thing. And for whatever reason the pilot does the opposite.

Derek: (28:48)
Everyone’s goal is to maintain the professionalism. That’s the whole part. So there are pilots I think out there where in certain cases we may sort of have a friendly chatter back and forth on the frequency for a couple of transmissions, but we have to understand that people can be listening to us, whether it’s people from the flying public, someone obviously else on frequency. You don’t want to put yourself in a position as a controller where someone could say, Hey, on this date and time is controller’s unprofessional. They’re calling the facility and then your boss is talking to you saying, Hey man, you can’t be doing stuff like that.

Derek: (29:20)
And we know better. So even though we have type a personalities for the most part and we’d like to be the controller, we also have to understand that there’s a pilot up there that has the ability to make sound decisions and they have what we call final authority as in pilot and command. We would call pic if it’s, if there’s an unsafe. That pilot pretty much obviously has a sole authority of that airplane. We’re not up there with them to take whatever action they may need. It doesn’t mean that we’ve done something wrong. It just means that at that moment as a pilot up there, you know what’s happening and I may not for whatever reason, and you’re going to do what you need to do. The difference in that is when you get a pilot that for example, may want to push the limits and it never gets to a point where I’ve ever had a pilot, you know, in my five years of only doing this, put me in a bad spot.

Krista: (30:13)
But I think that’s where we take the human element of this and we say, [inaudible], how can we be humans and communicate my part without being argumentative or confrontational? So if a pilot says, for example, um, yeah, we see that weather up there, we’re going to go ahead and continue on. I may just be like, okay, well without, you know me saying, my name is Derek Vento and I’m an air traffic controller. It may just be, Hey sir, the Weatherhead doesn’t look too good. Can you, would you consider any other options? Like maybe just landing somewhere else right now. Maybe just waiting for the storm to pass. So we try to like just not be so confrontational and like get into like an argument or frequency. That’s not cool. We don’t do that. It’s more like can we be human beings and just talk professionally and sort of mitigate the issue without putting more risk into the national airspace system. Got it. So just to kind of, for my understanding, you guys are like guides in a sense Zetland but at the end of the day they’re calling the shots to an extent to an extent. I mean I’m talking about when you override their decision, it’s not really an override thing. I think them there would be kind of like farfetched. Well we try to do from the bigger standpoint here is to never put pilots in a position

Derek: (31:21)
where they feel like what we’re doing is unsafe. They trust us and we trust them. The only time you’re really going to see a situation where let’s say a pilot may not like something is if maybe something has happened up there that we weren’t expecting and they say, Hey approach, we’re turning away from this, this target. Now a lot of times we may be providing a service, there can be a flock of birds out there we don’t know. And the pilot goes, Hey, we just saw flock of birds. It’s like, you know, one o’clock and a half mile where we’re turning left immediately. Am I gonna tell them no? Do what you need to do.

Krista: (31:57)
It’s now one 30 and Derek’s working the final sector, which means he’s taking the lined up planes and sequencing them onto the runway for a safe landing.

Derek: (32:07)
The final controllers, sometimes it’s under pressure because you might get what we call a heavy push, like a big push. So typically there’s always your plane landing at Hartsfield, right? So you might get a push though where like the international push comes at a certain time and you’re getting like all the heavy jets coming over from like, you know, Asia and Europe and stuff. So like around let’s say either early morning or late in the afternoon, late at night, there’s always like a couple of different pushes. So there’s time just sitting there. You’re just kind of like two, six Ryan flooding two fives, right? And there’s times you’re like, it’s almost on one. Do you want Israel to be when Israel,

Derek: (32:40)
it’s like [inaudible]. It’s like, Oh shit, we’re busy. You know? So it’s like, and it’s fun though, cause you’re actually working your ass off

Derek: (32:46)
and you’re making things happen. I liked it a lot, but there’s times you can kind of like, you know, we never lolly gab, but there’s times we can kind of just take it easy, run what we call conservative spacing, kind of just a couple of airplanes, every few minutes, no big deal. And there’s times where like, you’re like, time flies and you’re sitting there and you’re like,

Derek: (33:04)
wow, that was a fast 45 minutes. Yeah, that was a big push. Right? That was a long push. You know, this is our last push of the night.

Derek: (33:10)
And it’s nice when you get that camaraderie and you walk into work and you’re like, [inaudible] let’s get this over. This is the last shift of the shift. This is like, this is gonna be like what we call the last hit of the night. You’re like, last year of the night, let’s go in there and crush this and we do it, you know? And we do it. We walk away or like,

Derek: (33:26)
all right man, I’ll see y’all later. Be good man. See you tomorrow. ACU at seven, you know, I’ll see you tonight. You know, he might go out and get a couple of drinks after that or something like that. And we can kind of talk about work every now and then. Sometimes we don’t talk about where we’re like, dude, I don’t even want, I don’t really wanna know what I’m actually calling out tomorrow. I’ll plan hooky now. Just kidding it. You know? So things like that.

Krista: (33:49)
I also want to ask, obviously, you know so much about aviation. What is your experience flying when you fly on an aircraft? Like, tell us about your flight coming here.

Derek: (33:59)
I look at flying a little bit different I think because I know what’s going on and in a weird way I’ll say this too. I’m probably actually a little bit more nervous to fly. I bet. Because I know what happens behind the scenes. I totally, so I trust the system, but I know what happens to behind closed doors. But the great thing is that the flying public trust us so much that they don’t need to listen to what’s happening. I mean you have tools like live ATC to listen, but I think the flying public just expects to get on the plane and just get there. But upfront you don’t know this. There might’ve been a situation that got mitigated and you don’t even know it.

Derek: (34:40)
You don’t realize the flops probably didn’t work for them. Maybe 10 minutes or so. They got it fixed, but you didn’t know that. It’s not like that happens every single day. But that’s the cool part about the professionals in aviation is that we make things happen and we’re trained very, very well and I love that. But I think when I fly, like for example, last night, one of the things I realized as I’m sitting there is how many people sometimes just don’t enjoy flying. And I always recognize this because when we taxi out, the pilot comes on the PA and they’ll say something like last night for example.

Derek: (35:12)
Yeah. You know, ladies and gentlemen, welcome on board Delta planning, uh, you know, 1886 nonstop service do LaGuardia when at a LaGuardia. Let’s see here. It’s a three, 10 to 20:00 AM 20 guests of the 25.

Derek: (35:22)
I’m like, that’s pretty gusty. And they’ll say,

Derek: (35:25)
Oh, you know, in the [inaudible] clear skies and uh, you know, it should be pretty smooth graph for the most part,

Derek: (35:30)
for the most part, I listen to every single thing. I take things in a different manner. So I, yesterday

Derek: (35:38)
I knew the wind, well, it was gusty some already telling myself on departure. I see bus probably gonna be a little bit tighter than usual because I expect us to get a little bit [inaudible]. How do I say this? I expect us to get rocked around a little bit naturally. So I hear the wind at LaGuardia taxi out and your plane takes off. Sure. Jude, you have to understand these airplanes. Okay. Are very, very big. The pilots when they’re going down the runway have to steer that airplane to keep it on center line prior to lift off when you’re in the rear of the airplane and I’m in 35 C and there’s only 10 more rows behind me, you typically feel most of the movement in the rear of the airplane. So with the wind being gusty, what do you think? We fell in the back, you feel like a little bit going in the roaming lights.

Derek: (36:30)
So they accelerate is 69 79 is 80 knots a hundred dots and it’s like the fast we go, you feel more of it? Sure enough we rotate and guess what? That left wing kind of like dips because that initial wind, Gus are trying to feel it. So sort of like, Hey rotate. And they’re pulling the airplane up and it just kind of like a quick little dip and you’re like, yup, but I’m expecting that. Yeah, half the planes losing their mind though. People like, you know, and I’m like, but I’m expecting a little bit of that. It’s not like I’m like, okay, okay, hold on. It’s almost like I’m kind of sitting there and I’m like, here we go, rotate and you know it. And sure enough the airplane kind of gets stabilized and I expect we’re going to climb out and eventually as we get higher in the Altitude’s we’ll catch him smooth there. But sure enough, again, we get closer to the [inaudible] and I remember the pilot said

Derek: (37:22)
at one three 21 three 10 to 25 Gus in a 30 it’s going to be a bumpy one. Now you have to understand, I’ll tell you some that’s kind of fork fun, kind of funny. At LaGuardia, the runway is only 7,000 feet long as two Romas. Typically they’ll enter my two to three, one, one three. If they have two, and I’m only four, so the land for different ways, but when the wind is out of the Northwest, they land are my three ones like right down the pipe. Okay. So the runway at LaGuardia is only 7,000 feet. I have to understand as a plane comes into land, it doesn’t mean that you get all 7,000 feet of runway. Does that make sense? Yeah. You kind of come over the runway initially what we call the threshold. Okay, so there it always starts and ends here.

Derek: (38:02)
You don’t like just touch the wheels down here and go to the end. The goal is to not go to the end and the goal is to not land at the beginning because that’s not where the your point’s supposed to be. There’s touchdown zone markers. So your goal is to put the airplane down. Let me ask you a question of you don’t get the airplane down LaGuardia, what’s on the other end of the runway? There’s a lot of water out there, so you can always typically expect a rough landing at LaGuardia. So we always joke around in the back. We always say like as controllers, if we’re ever flying with our friends, we always say it’s either a bad landing or a Navy pilot because they land on carriers. So the goal is you have to get the airplane down and those breaks out and sure enough, what happens. It’s bumpy coming in. I expected that because it’s windy in the airplane. It’s a big, it’s an Airbus three 21 and they put that airplane down and it’s spoilers, route thrust, reversers breaking. And when does this leans forward? Wow. I’m expecting that though because I know things from another perspective. Whereas the passengers go, okay, kind of bumpy on take up, I’ll be rival. Oh my God, why did we land like that? hahaha

Derek: (39:09)
Does that make sense? No clue. No clue. No clue. So when you meet pilots and talk to them, they’ll tell you things like that when you meet a controller. It was pretty cool at the end of the flight element at the front of the cockpit and you know, we’re all kind of deep planning at this point in time. And I met the captain and I just said, Hey, I said, my name’s Derek van. So controller on a tray count. I just want to say whoever was landing, by the way, you guys did a phenomenal job coming on the express way through and approach and his eyes lit up and he realized, wow, this is the one that knows exactly what we did cause by looking out the window

Krista: (39:40)
it’s three 30 and Derek can breathe a big sigh of relief because well he’s done for the day. If he couldn’t tell, his job has pretty high stakes. So to end the day with nothing drastic happening is a win. On his way home, he grabbed some Chipotle for dinner and called his parents to talk about each other’s days. His parents are in the industry as we mentioned, so he cherishes the fact that they can swap perspectives and have meaningful conversations about aviation.

Mat: (40:04)
He also achieves this with his podcast called the traffic pattern podcast. He started it purely to share his passion for aviation with the world.

Derek: (40:12)
and it’s grown to be so much more than that. So I pretty much get to a point where I produce them weekly, I edit them myself and whatnot, and I decided to record ahead of time. So my big thing I always do for those listening about maybe, Oh thinking about, you know, making their own podcast is I call the whole process. Getting them in the can. There are so many times I might be on vacation or doing something and I’m thinking myself, imagine if I didn’t have a guest this week, I’ve already got 12 episodes prerecorded, ready to just dish out. So I have them in the can. If I was searching for a guest every single week, Oh, I’d be lost. I’d be scrambling. And it’s tough. It’s tough.

Derek: (40:57)
So like the whole planning and process thing is kind of my little bit of a challenge, but it’s fun for me. I really enjoy that. I’m actually trying to get my private pilot’s license right now too. So I feel like I never have time for anything anymore. But it’s nice having that experience. On the other side of the mic, I know what I’m asking someone to do from the controller’s standpoint. And it’s cool because a lot of the times I talked to an airplane and I know who’s flying it because I have a relationship with them or because I’m out in the community and people know like, Oh I, you know, you just get more school and talk the other day for some event and now I’m talking to them on the frequency. And you know, a lot of times I’ll get

Derek: (41:31)
is that Derek, you’re like, yeah, it’s me, what’s going on dude.

Krista: (41:34)
So yeah, exactly. And I’ve had that before too, but it’s cool that you have a relationship with people and you know what life is like on the other side of the mic. So you know, for example, I just soloed two, three weeks ago and that was a big step for me for my pilot’s license because not everybody solos an airplane. I mean, being able to fly an airplane by yourself. You’re up there at 2300 feet. You’re like actually had a land, this thing, you know, like my dad always jokes around, he’s like, as long as you have as many landings as you do take off. It’s always a good day. And I’m like, wait, that makes sense.

Mat: (42:06)
So we asked this question to most people we interview, but to wrap up, what would you say defines your best work and what does that best work bring? What value does that bring to the world?

Derek: (42:19)
Even though there’s times where the weather’s bad and you’re working your butt off, there’s a, there’s a sense of pride that’s still comes into play and I really value that because I know that whether there was turbulence, whatever it may be, all those people on those planes don’t know that I’m the guy behind the scenes making this happen. Even though it’s a team effort. It’s nice knowing that someone today got from origin to destination in one piece. Like that’s really rewarding when you see that Virgin Atlantic or Korean air or American seven 67 whatever it may be, and they’re flying into Atlanta and you’re like, we made that happen. It’s pretty crazy how I’m one person in the national airspace system. I take all the pilots into account and I take all the other air traffic controllers. Like it’s so weird how you go to work and you think like, okay, well this is Atlanta.

Derek: (43:16)
So like this airplane has popped up, popped on a scope and just kind of came in the air space like no, like this plane originated somewhere else. So they talked to a controller at Philadelphia on the ground, local departure center center center center. I’m probably the 14th air traffic controller in two hours they’ve talked to, but I feel like I’ve accomplished something and at the end of the day it’s almost like [inaudible]. If I’m working them in, I’m almost technically that last controller that got to speak to them before they land and they go, Hey man, that guy was pretty friendly. That’s cool. Yeah. I always tell myself without going on a rant, if I can make the experience good for the people I’m working with and those that I’m serving, they’ll come back.

Krista: (44:06)
So you just experience a day in the life of Derek Vento, an air traffic controller at Atlanta airport, and if you want to follow along Derek’s journey, you can follow him on Instagram. That’s @vennntiii and venti is spelled V, E. N, N, N, T. I, tripleN , triple I. And if you want to follow along his podcast, his podcast name again is the traffic pattern podcast can find the links and his Instagram handle and all of relevant resources at ADITL.jobs. That’s ADITL dot. J O. B. S.

Mat: (44:41)
if you liked this episode, please take some time to rate, review, subscribe and share with a friend. Also find us on Instagram at a couple with a podcast and DMS. What job and career you want to experience next?

Krista: (44:54)
Till next time.

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