Most people would shudder at the stress levels involved in Dave Adams’s job. Imagine being responsible for the flow of air traffic at an airport — one mistake or one distraction can quickly jeopardize the safety of hundreds of passengers traveling in airplanes. But for Adams, who has worked in air traffic control for more than three decades, stress is all relative.
“You make a slip with a transmission or a wrong altitude assessment and there’s potential to kill hundreds,” he says. “But you can’t think about that. You can’t think that you might be the last human the pilot talks to if something goes wrong. You can’t think that this is a 727 and there are people on the plane. … You’re just working airplanes and the airplanes become objects.”
Air traffic control is a mentally exhausting job, some say, one that requires workers to be highly organized and able to communicate effectively. The schedule can be equally demanding and hard on people with families and other responsibilities, says Adams. Controllers work in eight-hour shifts, but the times vary from day to day, he says.
Although air traffic control remains high on the list of the most stressful jobs, Adams has found a way to manage the pressure — both on the job and during his leisure time. In the summer, he relaxes by playing golf as often as three or four times a week. Being outside puts him in a good mood, he says, and a round of golf always calms him down.
The rest of the year, Adams plays basketball, rides his bike and tries to be as physically active as possible. In the past, he has also coached youth basketball as a way to get his mind off work, as well as give back to the community.
“Everyone gets stressed out,” says Adams, who supervises a team of about 35 air traffic controllers. “But you can’t internalize it so you have to find ways to deal with stress.”