SUNY Schenectady offers rare air traffic control software

GLENVILLE – Do you want to become an air traffic controller? There are only two colleges in the country that offer this certification, and SUNY Schenectady County Community College is one of them.

While many colleges offer aviation programs, it is very difficult to offer an air traffic control program because it requires a real control tower. Schenectady County has one.

Students first learn in a classroom and then spend up to a year working in the tower at Schenectady County Airport. They get a watchtower operator degree and certification, which is all they need to work on a private tower. With a year of experience, they can also apply to the Federal Aviation Agency and work in a federal tower, such as the one at Albany International Airport.

The FAA is training controllers at an academy in Oklahoma. Having high competition, those with a technical director have an advantage.
That’s why Brendan Conway moved from Needham, Massachusetts to attend SUNY Schenectady.
“I had never heard of Schenectady, it took me a few weeks to learn how to spell it. I would never have come here without this program.” “I’ve been trying to become a watcher since I was 18”
For nine years, he applied to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which got 20,000 to 40,000 applicants for fewer than 1,000 places. He never entered, despite having an aviation degree and pilot’s license.
“After not getting into the eighth (try), I thought to myself there had to be a better way to do it,” he said. “You are also 31 years old and I am no longer a little chicken.”
Conway, 28, considered the other college program. But he said that it is in Georgia and it costs three times as much. So he came to Schenectady and, within months, was directing his first planes in the sky.
“I still remember her because I waited 10 years for her,” he said.
Conway was a little nervous. But after daily work in the tower, he is now confident.
“It’s a mind game, it’s cool, it’s like playing 3D chess in your head. You do three things at once — it’s really rewarding.”
Conway’s love of the sky began when he was given a flight simulator for Christmas at the age of twelve.
He obtained his pilot’s license, attended college, and majored in airport management. But that wasn’t good enough to get into the FAA and do what he really wanted: direct all the planes.
Conway will finish Schenectady in March. He then plans to work in a private tower until he has a year’s experience before applying to the FAA again, this time through a separate program for those with experience. Whatever the outcome, he will work in the control towers.

“I wish I had done that 10 years ago,” he said.
Air traffic control employment is not expected to increase, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, but there are thousands of job openings each year due to mandatory retirement at age 56. The median wage is $129,750.
Although air traffic control is widely considered to be an extremely stressful job, Brock Manley, assistant professor at SUNY Schenectady and air traffic controller at Albany International Airport, doesn’t feel that way.
“I’ve been doing this for a while now. There’s no pressure,” she said.
She graduated from the Schenectady program in 2018, applied to the FAA while she was still in school, and was accepted right away.
But this was just the beginning of further study: At the FAA Academy, trainees spend four to ten months learning before they are sent to the control tower. She said the FAA decides where each trainee will go, based on job openings, though they were given two choices.
“I was very lucky to get Albany,” she said.

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