What Does a Navy Air Traffic Controller Do?

K. Kinsella

A navy air traffic controller is responsible for directing and controlling air traffic within the vicinity of an aircraft carrier or naval base. Typically, a navy air traffic controller only establishes radio contact with military pilots, although controllers may attempt to make contact with civilian pilots who stray into naval airspace. Like civilian controllers, a military controller must complete a college degree and undergo extensive on-the-job training.

A Navy air traffic controller directs and and controls air traffic within the vicinity of an aircraft carrier.
A Navy air traffic controller directs and and controls air traffic within the vicinity of an aircraft carrier.

Naval forces in many nations use aircraft carriers to ferry military jets and other airplanes to various locations around the globe. Pilots operate these crafts and these individuals are responsible for intercepting enemy fighters and conducting reconnaissance missions. Since naval pilots often conduct missions in remote ocean areas, on-board air traffic controllers are needed to direct the flow of air traffic and to ensure that no mid-air collisions occur. Additionally, many naval operations are top secret in which case the military tend to use naval air traffic controllers rather than civilian controllers even if naval pilots are operating within commercial airspace.

Aircraft carriers are constantly on the move which means that pilots rely on air traffic controllers to guide them to these ships after missions have been completed. Compared with airfields, naval frigates have relatively little room for maneuver which means that the controllers have to ensure that decks are clear before pilots can be given permission to land. As with civilian controllers, a navy air traffic controller must also take the weather conditions into account before given pilots clearance to take off or land naval aircraft.

During conflict situations, a navy air traffic controller will monitor the airspace around a ship or naval base to keep track of enemy fighters that may pose a threat to naval forces. The controller must alert naval pilots to any such threats. Typically, one controller is assigned to each aircraft carrier; controllers on ships operating in the same waters must liaise with one another to ensure that the planes from their ships do not collide. In some circumstances, navy controllers may also make contact with air force pilots if other military units are providing air cover to naval frigates.

Generally, a navy air traffic controller must complete a four-year degree in aerospace engineering or a similar topic. As with other members of the armed services, controllers must successfully pass basic training and in many instances, these individuals must spend several months or years at naval training academies before applying for controller jobs. Normally, only officers are able to apply for controller positions.

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