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New simulator has NJ College Teaching Air Traffic Control.

MAYS LANDING, N.J. (AP) -- Imagine a video game that lets you control all the air traffic over 10 major American airports. Three people play simultaneously, one managing the planes on the ground, one managing takeoffs and landings, and a third monitoring weather and other flight data.

Sergio Gomez, Brandon Cooper and Elaina Watson recently got a taste of that game, but they were not in it to play. They are among the first 78 students enrolled in Atlantic Cape Community College's new Air Traffic Control associate degree program. They are taking introductory courses now, but by next year they should be ready to try their hand at the centerpiece of the program--the new $600,000 air-traffic control tower simulation system set up at the college.

ACCC developed the air-traffic control program to tie in with the new NextGen Aviation Research and Technology Park under construction in Egg Harbor Township, and to meet a projected need for air-traffic controllers due to retirements. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates about 3,400 new air-traffic controllers will be needed between 2008 and 2018.

The program is demanding. Students who get the associate degree must then take the Air Traffic Selection and Training, or AT-SAT, exam. Test scores determine whether they are eligible to be hired by the FAA and sent to the Air Traffic Training Academy in Oklahoma City for a 12-week pass/fail training program, which determines whether they get a job. A degree is not required to take the test, but virtually all recent job openings have required that students be graduates of an FAA Collegiate Training Institute (CTI). ACCC has applied for that certification.

The Adacel air-traffic control tower simulation system, funded by grants, arrived in December and faculty and staff have spent the past month setting it up. They will spend this year testing the system and developing their own simulation scenarios. The system can also add flight simulators so students can play the role of pilots interacting with the control tower.

"We're still learning the program, but it's very much like the real thing," said Marty Halldorson, a recently retired air-traffic controller at Atlantic City International Airport and now an instructor at ACCC.

"People have asked if it's a live shot of a real airport," Otto Hernandez, associate dean of aviation studies at ACCC, said of the photos shown on the five vertical panels designed to replicate the 180-degree view in a control tower.


It is not live, but the system purchased by the college includes simulations of major airports such as Philadelphia, Orlando, Boston and Dallas-Forth Worth. A simulation for Atlantic City International is in development and will be added when it becomes available.

"On the Philadelphia simulation, you can see the city skyline, the bridges and sports stadiums," Hernandez said.

The system includes a "teacher's station" where department Chairman James Taggart interacted with the simulator, working to get a Delta flight into the air. The three students listened in.

"I've always loved airplanes," said Gomez, 26, of Atlantic City, who currently works at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa. "I wanted to be a pilot, but that didn't happen, so this will let me still work around planes."

Watson, 26, of Egg Harbor Township, is a dental hygienist, but said she enrolled in the air-traffic program because it sounded like an interesting career. She said she loves it and doesn't mind that there are just a handful of women in the program.

"It's a great opportunity to be able to take the classes here," she said.

Cooper, 19, of Pleasantville, already works at the FANs William J. Hughes Technical Center, where he developed an interest in air-traffic control.

"I got to visit the Atlantic City control tower," he said. "I think I'd like doing ground control (managing planes on the ground). The most pressure is on local control (which manages takeoffs and landings)."

Getting a job can take time, and the FAA requirements say new air-traffic controllers must be hired before their 31st birthday. ACCC does not accept students older than 28 for the program, and Watson and Gomez said they know they are closing in on the age cutoff, but hope their training could also lead to other aviation-related jobs. Hughes Technical Center Director Wilson Felder told students at an open house in December that he believes the park will generate many jobs in the aviation field.

Students will begin using the simulator in the second year of their course work. Hernandez said the scenarios are pretty realistic, including the accidents. He knows this firsthand, as the staff has already crashed a couple of planes into each other during practice runs.

"They blow up," he said.

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Author:D'Amico, Diane
Publication:Community College Week
Date:Feb 21, 2011
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