People probably don’t think about it at the time, but when taking off or landing at DIA, someone outside the plane is watching out for them.
The office of the Air Traffic Controllers in the FAA Tower sits high over Colorado.
“We say the most powerful words in aviation, which are cleared to land and cleared for takeoff,” Air Traffic Manager Michael Valencia said.
More than one million people a week go through DIA, and Valencia says the workers in the control tower believe that the passengers lives are in their hands.
The tower is staffed 24/7, with highly trained controllers.
“It’s always go to be calm, it’s always go to be smooth, and it’s always got to be consistent, because that is the calm presence when things aren’t great,” FAA Manager Neil Hommerding said.
When you are in the tower, you hear them talking to the pilots, but it’s never loud, never upsetting – no matter what’s going on.
Controller Michelle Hager said a good controller is always listening to the pilots with one ear, and their co-workers with the other.
“We might hear talking about changing runway configuration, there might be an emergency inbound, those things that need to catch your ear so you get a little heads-up on it before you’re actually told,” Valencia said.
As you can imagine, managing the landing and takeoffs of 80 or more planes an hour can be very stressful.
Each plane has to clear the runway before the next one lands or takes off.
It’s a balancing act, especially if the weather is bad or something else is going on.
Hommerding says it’s what they thrive on.
“Like most people, I got into this job because I like to bring order to chaos, and I like to be the person who can be relied upon when things go bad.”
The controllers believe every plane they are talking to is the most important one, and they really do think about the people onboard.
“There’s also humanity in that,” Hommerding said. “Like you’re doing a good job for those people on that plane”.
Flight after flight, day after day, the men and women in the control tower are watching out for us, from their perch, high above Colorado.