Veteran air traffic controller shares secrets to success

Forging a career as an air traffic controller takes great self-discipline, confident decision making and the ability to perform under pressure – just ask razor-sharp 88-year-old veteran John Bowing – who still works out daily to keep in tip-top shape.

“I’m 25,” he quipped. “I’ve got an old wind-resistant exercise bike at home and do floor exercises every day – I don’t do it for anybody but myself.”

John, an Airservices Australia air traffic controller at the original Sydney tower from the 1960s, enjoyed a stellar 25-year aviation career following a 15-year stint in the Royal Navy.

Airservices Australia recently welcomed John back to his old stomping ground (pictured) to reminisce and boost his spirits after the devastating loss of his beloved wife of 66 years, Winsome, with whom he shared three adult children.

His aviation career began after he and his family embarked on an arduous six-week ship journey from England to Australia in 1965 in search of a better life, with John first becoming an air traffic controller aged 30.

Stoic and humble, John’s passionate about the rigours and excitement of sitting academic exams to become a controller. He also reflected on how aviation technologies have evolved over the years, enabling pilots and air traffic control to leverage new capabilities which underscore Australia’s reputation as a leader in aviation safety.

“Our air traffic technology in those days was practically third world compared to that used by today’s controllers,” he said. “We had no radar once you were at 160 miles out of Sydney, but you just learnt to bend with the breeze.

“I was always fascinated by aviation, particularly World War II aircraft. I absolutely loved my job and took great pride in it. One of my supervisors used to refer to me as the ‘doyen of the southern skies’.

“I got to work from the best office in Sydney with 360-degree views of the city.”

John had these pearls of wisdom for next-generation controllers about what they’ll need to perform at their best.

“You’ve got to really want to do it,” he said, “If you feel in your heart of hearts that you’re cut out for it, it can lead to such a satisfying job that you don’t have to take home with you.

“But you’ve got people’s lives in your hands, so you need to have a lot of focus and to do the job by the book.

“Being an air traffic controller gave me a great, happy life.”

Airservices Australia is responsible for the safe and efficient management of 11% of the world’s airspace and the provision of aviation rescue fire-fighting services at Australia’s busiest airports. We connect people with their world safely – linking family and friends, generating economic activity, creating jobs and facilitating trade and tourism.

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