DFW Airport — Most people who travel by air simply get on a plane, read a book, have a drink and trust the plane will land safely. But there a great deal involved behind the scenes that passengers rarely see.
Reverend Greg McBrayer, a chief flight dispatcher with American Airlines (AA), a chaplain and the director of Dallas/Fort Worth Airport’s (DFW) Interfaith Chaplaincy provided a sneak peek into American Airlines’ Flight Control, which is housed in the Robert W. Baker Integrated Operations Center (IOC) on the AA Headquarters Campus in Euless.
McBrayer has worked at AA for 40 years (35 years as a flight controller) and is very familiar with the ins and outs of making air travel as safe as possible for passengers.
“The building is divided into two levels. This bottom floor is mainly admin stuff, support roles for all of the different departments that make this airline work,” McBrayer said. “This is where the ‘nine to five’ work goes on. These hundreds of folks support the hundreds of people that work upstairs where the Flight Control level is.”
Several glass offices lined the room, one of which is the ‘prayer room.’
“This is an extremely high stress job we’re in, so we need a quiet place we can go. This room becomes that sanctuary,” McBrayer said. “People have to surrender when they come to work, and [humans] are not good at doing that. It’s out of your hands.”
McBrayer offers ministry in a conference room every Monday.
The other rooms are used primarily for training and classes. Flight controllers have to take part in training every month to keep their certificates active and valid with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
“We have a whole class of guys going through training right now. We have the largest class I’ve ever seen in my 40-year tenure,” McBrayer said. “This is an extremely long process, and it takes about a year. They’re hired and are in [the training rooms] for several months, and then they train with an experienced flight controller until they’re ‘checked out.’
The upper floor houses the Flight Control Room, which is really the heart of the IOC.
Inside the room are workstations, each with two or three large-screen computer monitors that display all of the AA planes in the air at the moment. Some of the employees were in charge of keeping track of the weather. Others were monitoring national and international air traffic.
Should a crisis break out, whether due to weather, terrorism or any other situation that risks the safety of AA passengers, there is a ‘Command Center,’ housed in the IOC. The required staff convene in this room to formulate a plan of action to address the safety of passengers and ground control staff. The room contains maps of the world and has several clocks displaying the time across international time zones. Each workstation has a phone and a computer, so that all participants can stay current on the progress of each issue, whether it be foreign or domestic.
In his four decades of service, McBrayer has seen a few changes.
“Probably the biggest change during my tenure here has been the advancement in technology,” McBrayer said. “This a very, very technical job here, and it always has been, but it’s at a whole different level now. [Technology] changes weekly. It can be difficult to keep up with. It’s guided by a lot of things that we have no control over, like fuel prices and world events.”