“It’s one of the best jobs there is.”
That’s how one air traffic controller based in Aberdeen’s Air Traffic Control Unit described the career path he took, as a drive gets under way to hire more controllers from the city.
Nats, which provides air traffic control services at the city’s airport and heliport, is on the hunt to recruit 700 new controllers across the UK over the next five years.
In Aberdeen there is a focus on doubling the number of air traffic controllers who hail from the city from six to around 12 in a bid to retain more staff.
There are currently around 60 air traffic controllers in the city.
Adam Buttercase, who lives in Kintore, has worked in the role since August 2011.
The 28-year-old first read about the job in a careers book at secondary school aged 16.
He said: “Initially I was looking at possibly becoming a pilot and then decided that was just a bit too costly for me.
“So I stumbled across air traffic control, read a bit about the job and thought it sounded quite interesting. I enjoy problem-solving and multi-tasking anyway.
“The benefits were good, the company trained you from day one and if you were successful you had a job with them.”
Most of Adam’s school teachers assumed he would be going to university but he instead chose to “take the risk” of pursuing his chosen career, applying the same month he left secondary school.
The air traffic controller, who is originally from Kirkcaldy, said: “I went through the selection process with Nats, which took about six months, before getting offered a position at their training college.
“I accepted the job knowing that I could be posted anywhere, so being less than two hours from home was quite nice.
“I don’t mind being away from home but it’s close enough I can still go and see family and friends without too much difficulty.”
In terms of the best aspects of the job, Adam thinks it is the “variety day to day”.
He said: “The fact you get immediate reward for doing a good job, you see the results there in front of you straight away.
“The fact it’s basically a never-ending problem-solving game means you’re always having to come up with solutions and new ideas all the time and it challenges you and keeps you mentally active, I enjoy that.
“You don’t find yourself getting very bored at work.”
An average day for Adam will see him control flights for about an hour, then have a break, perhaps some breakfast.
After he has had something to eat and drink, he will come back in to give his colleague a break and then control for another hour, with the days tending to rotate in this way.
Adam said: “We can work a maximum of two hours which sometimes we have to, but we try not make people work the maximum, just to keep fatigue to a minimum.
“In my breaks I can use them for what I want. I might relax, have something to eat. If I’ve got some other tasks to be doing such as organising visits to the tower or organising recruitment events then I can be involved in these other things as well.”
While visiting the air traffic control unit, The Evening Express was struck by how calm the atmosphere was.
Adam says as soon as you tell someone you’re an air traffic controller they remark that the role must be “stressful”.
But he disputes this, adding that he likes to differentiate between the word “stressful” and the word “pressured”.
He said: “At times you can have a level of pressure when you’re working but that’s when it’s at its busiest or there’s maybe an emergency you have to deal with.
“You’re aware of the responsibility you have to that plane or to the pilot and that you have a sense of pressure when it’s busy.
“But you never feel stressed and you don’t go home feeling stressed.
“I come into work, I do my job and then I hang my headset up at the end of my shift, go home and don’t have to think about work until I come in the next day.
“We’re so highly trained that you’re prepared to deal with pretty much any situation that comes your way.”
Adam also has a passion for cars and motorsports, which the flexibility of his job allows him to enjoy.
He said: “We work six days and then get four days off so it’s kind of like a long weekend.
“It’s a long enough time for me to go home and visit family for the weekend or go away for a few days if I want to without having to take a week off work.
“I love the job and I love the work environment and the number of people I’ve got to know through that and the friends that I’ve made.
“It’s quite nice to be able to say you enjoy coming into work each day and it doesn’t feel like a chore.
“I would say it’s one of the best jobs that there is. I genuinely think there’s not many downsides to the job that I can think of.”