Paula Quinn left the legal world to train as a radio officer with the Irish Aviation Authority's radio communications centre, linking aircraft in the North Atlantic with air traffic control at Prestwick

What is the role of a radio officer in Ireland's air traffic management system?

We provide the communications link between aircraft operating in the eastern half of the North Atlantic and the air traffic control centre in Prestwick in Scotland. Voice communication, using HF radio, is the primary means of communication on the North Atlantic (supported by satellite datalinking) and we provide the service on a 24h basis.

Of course, safety is critical, so we must ensure that all messages are passed and received correctly. The types of messages passed between pilot and ATC include oceanic clearances for aircraft, position reports and requests. Of course we also handle unusual occurrences and emergencies.

Is it suited to a particular sort of personality?

Well, it's an advantage to have an interest in aviation. While I wouldn't say there's a particular personality type that's well suited to the job, I do think it's important that people have good spatial awareness and have an ability to stay calm under pressure. Teamwork brings with it a variety of personalities, which I enjoy.

Describe a typical day

I'm still in training, so at the moment I'm enjoying a nice balance between the classroom and observing in the live environment. Subjects include air law, air traffic management, meteorology, aircraft and human factors. We also spend time in the operations room observing and learning in the live environment. In time we will move on to full on-the-job-training when our work will be overseen by a trained instructor for several weeks before we qualify to work on our own.

Tell us about your background and what attracted you to the job

I worked as a legal secretary for two years - certainly a far cry from what I'm doing now.

It was time for a change, however, and when I saw the advertisement for the trainee radio officer position it appealed to me because it offered the chance to work in a challenging and dynamic environment. I believe the Irish Aviation Authority is a company where I can progress both professionally and personally over the course of my career.

How much is your job threatened by new technology and how do you expect it to change as a result of developments such as datalinking?

Datalinking has only strengthened the need for voice communications, in my opinion. While datalinking is in use by airlines on the North Atlantic, its use has maxed at 40% over the past few years. And while datalinking is a good system, what happens if something goes wrong with it? Voice communications are the only contingency in that instance. Also, datalinking is best suited to the routine messages that are passed between pilots and ATC. Voice communications comes into its own in emergency and non-routine situations.

Where do you expect your career to take you?

I believe there's lots of diversity available to employees in the IAA, but I would like to think that once I have gained a few years experience as a radio officer I would progress to watch manager and then hopefully into management positions.

Do you have to be an Irish citizen or is a career with the IAA open to applicants from outside the country? And what qualifications do you need?

You don't have to be an Irish citizen, but non-Irish applicants must be legally entitled to work in Ireland. Also, proficiency in English is essential. The entry qualifications are a pass (Irish) Leaving Certificate that includes Maths and also two honours in higher level papers. An equivalent qualification is acceptable, however.

Source: Flight International