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Lennonjohtaja Osmo Liimatainen

Air traffic controllers ensure that air traffic is safe and smooth

Published on 20.10.2021

In recent years (before the coronavirus pandemic), there have been 1,000–2,000 applicants for the approximately ten places available in air traffic controller training each year. It is probably one of the most challenging fields to get into, both in Finland and the rest of the world.

Air traffic controller Osmo Liimatainen tells us what his work is like in practice and what makes it so interesting.

Osmo Liimatainen’s career has already enabled him to see the sector from a number of different perspectives. In addition to being an air traffic controller, he has also spent more than 15 years working in a variety of positions in air navigation services. It was a desire to challenge himself that motivated Osmo to become an air traffic controller.

The biggest challenges for an air traffic controller are posed by exceptional circumstances, the majority of which are caused by bad weather. Air routes are thrown into disarray by thunderstorms in the summer, and fog and blizzards in the winter: runways have to be closed, planes can’t take off or land on time, and some flights have to be diverted.

“ An air traffic controller’s professional skills are put to the test in exceptional circumstances and emergencies. For example, air traffic controllers must be able to quickly reorganise air traffic and landing slots when there’s a medical emergency on board an aircraft – and none of these changes can affect the safety of flights or passengers. Making quick decisions in changing circumstances is a fundamental aspect of this job,” says Liimatainen.

Safety is always a priority in air traffic control, and delays can quickly mount up if the skies are busy.

“Avoiding delays is an essential part of my work, as delays are costly for our customers, that is, airlines. In Finland, there have been few delays attributable to air traffic control in recent years (including the years before the coronavirus pandemic). We have really competent and professional personnel, and everyone knows what to do in the various situations we encounter,” says Liimatainen.

Air traffic control services are provided by area control centres, approach control offices and aerodrome control towers. Area control centres provide services to flights while they are cruising, and are also responsible for airspace management and regulating traffic flows in Finland. An approach control office’s area of responsibility extends about 50–70 kilometres from the airport and, as most people know, control towers handle traffic at the airport.

At larger airports, such as Helsinki Airport, air traffic controllers work in three shifts, while at network airports, their shifts will depend on the flights allocated to them. 

The basic tools used at all workstations are computer monitors that display a situational picture generated by a variety of sensors. In practice, each flight appears on the screen as a similar-looking symbol attached to a number of different performance figures.

Our goal is to be the most environmentally friendly airspace in the world

Fintraffic Air Navigation Services seeks to run not only the smoothest and safest airspace in the world, but also the most environmentally friendly.

“Everyday, we do a lot of work to make air traffic as environmentally friendly as possible. We reduce emissions with the aid of route optimisation, continuous descent approaches, and close international cooperation. And when it comes to aircraft noise management, we also take the requirements of our environmental permit into account,” says Liimatainen.

In addition to the aforementioned measures, Air Navigation Services has launched a unique collaboration project with the airline Finnair, in which data integration is being used to develop analyses that will further improve environmental efficiency. More information about this will be made available as the project progresses.

Today, 20 October, is the International Day of the Air Traffic Controller. You can follow it with the hashtag #ATCDay.