Catriona Wheeler

How long have you been in your current role?

I have been a Senior Air Traffic Control Officer (SATCO) in Sumburgh since 2013.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

I always wanted to work in Air Traffic as it combined my interests in both aviation and meteorology. A couple of years after I left school HIAL were recruiting for an Air Traffic Services Assistant (ATSOA) and Aerodrome Flight Information Services Officer (AFISO) who would be interested in training as an Air Traffic Control Officer (ATCO) in the future and my application was successful!

After almost 2 years gaining experience as an ATSOA and AFISO (providing a Flight Information Service to Air Ambulance and Search and Rescue flights outwith normal airport opening hours) I successfully passed the aptitude tests to become an ATCO. The training was intensive but my previous experience as an AFISO was beneficial and I really enjoyed my time at college. I then completed the local training at Sumburgh and was assessed by the CAA and finally allowed to control on my own (you never forget that day as you have spent so many months with an instructor sat next to you!). I love being an ATCO, every day is different as both the traffic patterns as well as weather in the Highlands and Islands can be so varied! We are Aerodrome Controllers at Sumburgh so we control aircraft within roughly a 10 mile radius of the airport. We handle a variety of traffic, integrating helicopters in support of Oil and Gas Industry inbound from a variety of directions with scheduled fixed wing flights from mainland.

Tell us more about your role as Senior Air Traffic Control Officer…

My role as SATCO is also extremely varied! I work several shifts as an ATCO in the Tower to maintain my own currency along with being a Training Instructor and Competency Assessor, as well as all aspects of unit management including Rostering, Change Management, Risk Management, Incident Investigation, Staff Development and Project Management. Like an

ATCO being a SATCO also involves constant re-assessing and prioritising! I can have a day planned out but this can soon change if there is equipment that needs sorting out (requiring consultation with engineers) or staff sickness which means amending rosters or covering shifts myself – the operation always comes first. Recruitment and Training is also an important part of my role, it is really satisfying to see colleagues go right through from application/interview, college, local training then validation in whichever role they are in!

What would you say to someone who wanted to work in your role?

I would thoroughly recommend a career in Air Traffic, it is not as stressful as people think. It is a dynamic environment, where every day is different and you are constantly learning. You can be working under pressure at the time you are controlling, but one of the benefits of being an ATCO is that when you unplug your headset at the end of your shift, that is your part done!

How do you spend your time outside of work?

Outside work I enjoy walking and am lucky to have several beaches on the doorstep! I also enjoy gardening, cooking, reading and catching up with friends both on the island and on the mainland.