Week Four: Up in the Tower

The weekend brought quite a bit of wild weather over South East Queensland, and many other parts of the country for that matter. It took a few days to clear up and as such there was Severe Turbulence on Monday which meant our little Cessna 172’s were grounded and flights scrubbed. Our ground school instructor Cameron organised a visit up to the Air Traffic Control Tower at the Gold Coast instead to learn more about how they do their job.

We made our way through the security checkpoints and up to the tower, a very modern and sophisticated space, reminiscent of those scenes in movies where you see commanders scrambling fighter jets, or the control deck from Avatar. There are several large control stations with multiple large format touch screen displays and the 360 degree panoramic outlook has motorised tinting screens to cut the harsh sunlight out. The controllers told us that Gold Coast Airport was one of only a handful in the country to receive the Saab Sensis Integrated Tower Automation Suite (INTAS), part of Airservices Australia move toward OneSKY, a monster overhaul of Australia’s Civil and Military air traffic control system.

It was really good to chat with the controllers, they were very accommodating and happy to answer any question we had, all the while running a fully operational tower which was also really interesting to observe. They explained how they structure their airspace and deal with all the different traffic coming in and out of the Gold Coast, particularly how they slot us in around all the regular public transport (RPT) jet traffic like Virgin and JetStar. Talking to them face to face was also good to remove some of the stress and pressure around radio calls, it helped to realise they are human too. We’re all on the same team at the end of the day.

The rest of the week had more briefs, with a particular focus on navigation and circuits. I had my Stalling flight with Jack on Wednesday out in the Training Area, most people I talk to seem to be pretty scared at the thought of stalls, but I like it. Those more extreme maneuvers and emergency situations don’t really rattle me at all, I guess my time in the Rural Fire Service has probably gotten me used to adverse situations to some degree.

Later that afternoon we had Tony Nikolaou, a Captain on the 777 from Virgin Australia join us for an informal discussion and general Q&A. He shared some interesting stories that really highlighted the importance of Take Off and Landing performance and took questions from all the students. A valuable experience to hear from someone working in the industry and also ask questions. It was the first time since I’ve been at AWA that all the students were together in one space, he asked what we all hoped to be in aviation and many said Airlines, I think I was the only one in the room who said Private Jets.

I had a Navigation Exercise booked in for Friday, but once again mother nature decided otherwise with more Severe Turbulence. I did however get my first session of Circuits in at the Gold Coast with Jarryd, one of the other great Instructors from AWA. There was a lot to take in and unlike say a car where you can practice using the clutch till you really nail it and have it down, flying is much more expensive of course and time is a premium so the progression is steeper. Between asking the other students and instructors what they find is the best way to consolidate the knowledge and prepare for a flight, I think I have enough tips to try out myself and find a way which works for me, which I will report back on.

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