Air traffic control lab guides students’ path to aviation jobs

Lindsay Ridinger

Ribbon-cutting ceremony to take place this afternoon

The College of Technology, in conjunction with President Lester Lefton and Provost Robert Frank, will host a grand opening event for Van Deusen Hall’s air traffic control center this afternoon.

Not only is the Air Traffic Control Collegiate Training Initiative the only program of its kind in Ohio, but now Kent State is the only university in the country with a laboratory such as the air traffic control center.

Verna Fitzsimmons, the interim dean of the College of Technology, said the entire project, from planning and construction to finishing the facility, was completed this summer.

“The architect’s office did a phenomenal job in getting the space ready for us,” Fitzsimmons said.

The facility, located on the second floor of Van Deusen, includes several large computer screen displays that offer a static 240-degree view of the simulated landscape. The software, however, allows students to gain a 360-degree view of the simulation, Fitzsimmons said.

“The hardware and the software that you see in this room is about $1.2 million,” Fitzsimmons said, “plus there was another substantial amount of money put into renovation of the room.”

Both heating and air conditioning units were installed to regulate the room temperature, because “with all the computers, it gets warm in there,” Fitzsimmons said.

Some training was also involved within the first few weeks of opening the facility.

“The keyboards are not standard keyboards,” Fitzsimmons said, “(and) the touch screens are obviously not standard touch screens. You have to learn the equipment before you come in here.”

The grand opening event, which will take place from 3 to 5 p.m., will include a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 3:30 p.m. as well as several air traffic control simulations. Some students organized these demonstrations to show attendees what they have been learning this semester and what they can do with the unique capabilities of the lab.

“The students are so excited about the demonstrations,” said Maureen McFarland, College of Technology academic program director of aeronautics. “They have spent a lot of time in (the lab) throughout the semester, and they want to show off their work.”

Fitzsimmons said all aviation students will use the facility eventually. Aeronautics students will use the room at least once, while air traffic control students will use the facility throughout their college career at Kent State.

Chris Bennett, sophomore air traffic control major, is the lab tech for the College of Technology. He often works with professors and other students, helping them with the simulation scenarios and answering questions.

“I’m in (the air traffic control room) just about every day,” he said.

Bennett has used every feature in the facility, and his prior air traffic control experience in the Navy helps him assist other students.

“The simulator will help the students know what to expect (in real life),” Bennett said.

Both Bennett and Fitzsimmons mentioned the idea of role playing within the facility, and Fitzsimmons stressed the importance of students gaining the perspective of the pilot and the air traffic controller. In addition to role playing, students must learn a variety of other concepts as well.

“There’s quite a bit of time and distance and vector theory that students have to learn first,” Fitzsimmons said, “then they come here and put it into practice.”

Students also must learn specific regulations, Fitzsimmons said, including the distance between aircraft, altitudes and traffic patterns.

“(The students) are going to become very proficient,” Fitzsimmons said, “and they will be excellent air traffic controllers. That’s what we want.”

Contact College of Technology reporter Lindsay Ridinger at [email protected]