Controlling the Skies

  • April 9, 2010, 3:50 p.m.

The University of Oklahoma's Air Traffic Control Program (ATC) already far exceeds the requirements of the Federal Aviation Administration. But now, it's even better.

A new, state-of-the-art air traffic control simulation lab has been constructed to aid students in getting more hands-on experience without ever leaving campus. The lab features a number of high-definition monitors and a bevy of computers, all equipped with top-of-the-line simulation programs.

The new simulation lab was designed by Jim Hamm, director of the Air Traffic - College Training Initiative (AT-CTI) at OU, and built to the exact same specifications the FAA uses. And that was precisely the idea, Hamm said.

"This was intended so that when someone finishes our program, there won't have to be any re-learning once they move on," he said. "They'll have an upper hand because they are already familiar with all the equipment."

And there are still plans in the works ti improve the program even more. Along with the top-of-the-line simulation lab, future plans include adding a visual dynamic control tower simulation.

OU has provided aviation training since 1947, ATC training for the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City since 1981 and has delivered ATC courses at the department on North campus since 2005.

Currently, there are 60 students enrolled in six ATC courses at OU. The inaugural graduating class walked the stage last May. OU is one of 23 colleges in the United States accredited by the FAA, and the FAA added eight more last year.

"It's an excellent opportunity. It's a great career path," Hamm said. "You get all the government benefits, plus it's just a lot of fun."

Over the next decade, the FAA will hire and train more than 15,000 controllers. And it comes with great pay. A controller hired in 2007 made an average of $50,000 by the end of the first year and will make $94,000 by the end of the fifth year. And lucky for OU students, they get top-notch training to go into that cushy job. Hamm said last year the FAA did a feedback report on all the recently added colleges to the CTI program and OU was ranked No. 2.

"We are so close to the FAA Academy - we're down the road from them, so we have access to their resources ... The students that go through our program don't have to relocate from some other city to Oklahoma to go to the academy because it's here," Hamm said. "For our college compared to all the rest, that's a huge advantage."