Air traffic controller Susie McGough reflects on the challenges, opportunities and joys of working in a regional tower.
After spending nearly a decade as an air traffic controller in Melbourne, Susie McGough was ready for her next challenge, leaving the city behind and journeying to the outback.
“I was encouraged by a colleague to try a new adventure in the northwest and I still vividly recall being excited and nervous at the same time to embark on a whole new adventure,”
In 2013, Susie moved to Broome to manage the airport’s air traffic control (ATC) tower, where she was also responsible for Karratha and Port Hedland towers. For Susie, there’s nothing like regional hospitality and laid-back lifestyle.
“When my family and I first arrived in Broome, it was like a big hug from the community, everyone was welcoming and we made friends instantly. The town is small, beaches are only five minutes away so there was a lot of time relaxing at the beach and camping in remote areas,”
Susie began her career as a social worker and has always been an aviation enthusiast, destined for the skies.
When not on shift in the tower, Susie, who also holds a private pilot license, spends time in her garage with her pilot husband building their own two-seater aircraft, which is set to take flight early next year.
Unique set of challenges
Her new role in Broome also meant that she had to be trained as a tower controller, which posed its own set of challenges.
“I have been lucky in my career to always have new challenges to take on and master. The tower control training program was a complete mind shift for me, having spent most of my time managing the airspace from a control centre. Looking after aircraft in the vicinity of the airport from the tower is a different ball game. However, the robust training program was designed to support trainees’ skill and development,”
Although every aerodrome is different in terrain, techniques and procedures, controllers normally find themselves in an immersive and unique experience.
“The environment in regional areas is very close, you get to know the operators on the field and meet pilots in the town. The towers in the regions are smaller and generally closer to the runway and taxiways, so you get to see the aircraft and passenger movements up-close and even get to wave to the pilots,”
Operating in a regional community also presents unusual career opportunities.
“Broome is also known as a passage for migratory birds. As a result, our team worked with the Bird Observatory volunteers and the helicopter pilots who fly to the oil rigs to ensure helicopters avoid the area that the birds frequent. It was an interesting mix of community members, chief pilots and volunteers from the observatory with a positive outcome for all involved,” said Susie.
The regional path appealed to Susie as she was attracted to a smaller team environment, a great contrast to teams of 20-35 in ATC towers and control rooms in major cities.
“Regional has so much to offer if you are a flexible team player who enjoys working in small teams and looking for a new challenge and environment.”
As a manager in a remote area, away from the major centres, developing a support network provides an opportunity for personal and professional growth.
“I am grateful to all the women who have paved the way for me and future generations of women in aviation. The close team environment allowed me to pass on skills, knowledge and guidance. Mentoring controllers with aspirations for supervisory positions was a great opportunity in the regional tower with several of the controllers I mentored now in supervisory positions,” Susie lived in Broome for five years before returning to a new home base in Perth. She fondly recalls her time there and how her passion for aviation has opened doors to connect with others.
“Growing my career in Broome was a life-changing experience and I returned with a new appreciation for the industry and spirit of the people I’ve met along the way.” said Susie.