Mastering the airspace

What career would you expect to find someone pursuing nine years after graduating with a Bachelor of Science/Law degree? A solicitor? A cancer researcher? Not if you’re Jessica Walton.

Upon graduating from La Trobe University in 2012, Jessica began postgraduate law studies but part way through she took an entirely different path.

‘I first heard of the Trainee Air Traffic Controller program during a physics lecture at university,’ said Jessica but it wasn’t until 2015 that she applied for the Airservices Australia training program. And she hasn’t looked back since.

A day in her life as an air traffic controller…

‘I arrive at work and enter the secure compound. Once inside the Operations Room I check for critical rule changes then receive a handover for a particular airspace. Upon accepting the airspace I am responsible for the safe and expeditious flow of air traffic. On a typical day I control the airspace for 60-90 minute sessions. At the end of a session I handover the airspace to another air traffic controller and have a 30 minute break to recharge my mental batteries before resuming control.'

‘I am licensed to control several different airspaces. It could be airspace west of Sydney, or north and west of Melbourne, or south of Melbourne. At the end of my shift I handover to the next team, unplug (literally and figuratively) and head home.’

Jessica applies the skills learnt during her studies at La Trobe University. Her legal studies help her to accurately recall the rules and procedures. And her science studies help her build a mental picture of the airspace and the aircraft operating within it.

Jessica’s time at La Trobe

‘Attending physics lab classes are my fondest memories of my time at La Trobe. I loved being surrounded by people like Professor Paul Pigram who were so passionate about physics. Completing labs where we would repeat some of the most noted experiments in history remains an absolute highlight.’

If you’d asked Jessica ten years ago what career she intends on pursuing, you would have received an answer along the lines of science or law. But as Jessica says,

‘Life often doesn’t go in the direction you planned. And that’s why I’d recommend building and broadening your professional network. Having a professional network is a great way to hear of opportunities that you may not have considered.’

Studying science opens up a world of career opportunities. Not all of them conventional. For more information on the science courses available at La Trobe University.

Take a look at Jessica Walton starring in an ad for Airservices Australia (Jessica is the first person in the video).

Airservices Australia runs two recruitment drives for Trainee Air Traffic Controllers annually. Trainee Air Traffic Controllers complete a Diploma of Aviation (Air Traffic Control) and are paid during their training. Read more