Sky’s the Limit

Four aviation specialists keep pace with industry changes at incredible heights

Renee Chatman
Air Traffic Controller
Atlanta Air Route Traffic Control Center, Hampton, GA

Emergencies are rare and can stem from a cracked windshield, blown tire, engine failure, or severely sick passenger, according to 20-year veteran Renee Chatman, who was in air traffic control training when she first handled an adrenaline-racing emergency, eventually ushering in a safe landing for a Learjet pilot who pushed his aircraft beyond an altitude that would ensure enough oxygen in the plane.

“People often ask if it’s a stressful job. My answer is yes, it can be if you are not prepared,” Chatman confides. Originally from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Chatman discovered air traffic control in the Navy. She completed four months of screening at the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center in Oklahoma City, then two and a half years of on-the-job training at Atlanta Air Route Traffic Control Center in Hampton, Georgia—her current base. Aside from handling emergencies, air traffic controllers facilitate the safe and orderly flow of aircrafts through airspace and must read weather symbols, describe weather on a radar display, and have a general knowledge of thunderstorms. “You also learn the characteristics of airplanes,” adds Chatman, who is 46.

Nationally, there are 21 air traffic control centers like Chatman’s. The airspace she manages includes Charlotte, North Carolina; Knoxville, Tennessee; and Birmingham, Alabama.

Controllers earn $30,000 to $150,000, depending on the region. Chatman is a member of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and National Black Coalition of Federal Aviation Employees.

When she entered the field, Chatman was the fifth black woman at her center. Overall, there were roughly 25 black men out of 450 controllers, she recalls. Eighteen years later, there are about 50 black controllers. “Things have gotten better because of organizations like NBCFAE, but the numbers aren’t where we would like them to be.”

David L. Campbell
Senior Vice President,
Technical Operations & Chief Operating Officer
American Eagle • Dallas/Fort Worth

Dave, this is your crew,” is how a manager introduced David L. Campbell to his first supervisory position six months after Campbell joined the airline. “Hope you’ll be happy together.” Campbell recalls a big mechanic sitting in the back of the room challenging him with, “What qualifies you to be my supervisor?”

Today, after 19 years Campbell, 48, manages about 1,400 mechanics and engineers and has 2,398 pilots on his roster. He also oversees mechanical and technical operations at American Eagle, a subsidiary of American Airlines, with an operations budget of $1 billion for aircraft maintenance and serves as the chief operations officer.

Originally from Sardis, Mississippi, Campbell wasn’t allowed to fly while in the Air Force because he wore corrective lenses. But by the end of his tour of duty he’d earned FAA certification, a bachelor’s of science degree in business management, and practical experience repairing airplanes. Engineering is one of the important aspects of the job and plays a critical role in our daily operations.” Engineers in aviation must have a college degree and technical training.

Campbell is enthusiastic about the commercial airline industry because “it is challenging, and engaging.” But success at this level, for Campbell, comes back to the people factor. “Simply listening to team members, and empowering them to do their jobs.”

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