U.S.-ROK air traffic control competition: Lessons learned, insight gained

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jackson Kent
  • 8th Operations Support Squadron

I recently attended the 2023 ROK-U.S. combined air traffic control competition at the ROK Air Force Education and Training Command in Jinju. The competition hosted U.S. Airmen and Soldiers from across the Korean peninsula and ROK service members from every branch.

This was the Wolf Pack's first time being invited to a combined competition and very little information could be provided prior to the event to set my expectations. My leadership within the 8th Operations Support Squadron worked diligently to provide what they were allowed to, to include airport diagrams, airspace boundaries, aircraft callsigns, aircraft types and airspace altitudes.

It was apparent that no more information could be made available as the intent of the competition was to test our ability to manage aircraft movement dynamically and with no coordinated preparation prior to the event.

The massive volume of aircraft we were given to work on a completely new system was definitely the most difficult part of the competition. Additionally, the system used was unlike anything I’ve used before as I’ve traditionally used the Federal Aviation Administration Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System. Mixing that with maybe up to 20 fast moving aircraft of varying types proved to be a difficult challenge that tested my ability to control safely and efficiently.

This competition was a great way to finish my one-year short tour at the Wolf Pack. By meeting in-person, I was able to gain insight into what Korean controllers across the peninsula go through and develop a stronger working relationship with controllers I’ve only ever communicated with through a headset.

Beyond the competition, I’ve learned through my experience over this past year that I cannot operate as if this were an air base in the states. It’s important to develop open and clear communication with my Korean counterparts. Although I may believe my way is better, that doesn't mean it is best in this environment. If both myself and the Korean air traffic controllers can agree on a safe way to move the aircraft, that’s all that matters. Seeing a completely different perspective on how to get the job done was very eye opening. At the end of the day, most of our controlling rules are the same, but their ways of making it work as simply as possible is something we can all learn from, both here at the 8th Fighter Wing and in our future assignments.

I’m looking forward to seeing the results of the competition in the coming weeks, but no matter who is crowned the winner, I’m grateful for the opportunity to show my skills, represent 8th OSS radar approach control team, as well as learn from U.S. and ROK controllers all across the peninsula.