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High flyers join the team guiding aircraft to a safe touchdown

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New air traffic controllers: Oral Barnett, left, Malik Robinson and Omar Dill on top of the airport control tower in St David’s (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)

Three new air traffic controllers were welcomed to the job this week as the veteran who guided them through training watched.

Oral Barnett, Omar Dill and Malik Robinson joined instructor Patricia Peets at the airport as they prepared to start their careers.

Guiding light: Patricia Peets, the air traffic control training supervisor at the airport (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)

Mr Dill said his interest in the job was sparked by five years working with the fire service and airport operations, where he listened in on communications with the controllers.

Mr Dill said: “There’s never a dull moment.”

He added he welcomed the responsibility of being in “the hot seat” and overseeing a steady flow of private and commercial flights.

Mr Dill, Mr Robinson and Mr Barnett made up the largest group of Bermudians trained in the high-stakes role since two people were licensed in 2007.

The welcome ceremony was held on Monday outside the air traffic control tower that overlooks the airport runways from a hilltop in St David’s.

The controllers were trained to keep cool and anticipate the unexpected as they track flights by radar and liaise with the weather service.

The three new controllers were licensed on July 22 after classroom and on-the-job training.

They had their instruction pushed from March to August last year after the Covid-19 pandemic struck.

They trained for seven months with Ms Peets after 14 weeks at Global Aviation Training Services at Gloucestershire Airport in the UK.

Mr Robinson said his father was a ship’s pilot for Marine & Ports, but that aviation had been his dream “since I was a kid”.

He added: “I am the only one in the family into aeroplanes.

“I just always wanted to work down here. I saw the ad, I applied, and here we are today.

“The experience has been great. The biggest thing for us is preparing for the unknown – always being ready.”

The three were selected from a list of more than 100 applicants.

Mr Barnett said he dreamt of an aviation career from primary school and loved watching aircraft coasting down the runways at the airport.

He added: “With this job, you don’t have second chances.

“Every transmission, every bit of communication, you have people’s lives in your hands.

“It’s really nice work, but there’s a great sense of responsibility.

“Bermuda is in the middle of the Atlantic from, say, New York to Europe. We’re the only place when something goes wrong – the alternate destination.”

Ms Peets said: “Watching the three of them grow, being able to pass on my knowledge, was really an honour.

“As I always say to them in class, they are the group that’s going to take air traffic control forward in Bermuda.”

Ms Peets was Bermuda’s first civilian in the role 26 years ago.

She welcomed USAir Flight 599 on June 5, 1995 as the airport was handed over to Bermuda by the US Navy.

Hitting the heights: New air traffic controllers Oral Barnett, left, Malik Robinson and Omar Dill (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)

Ms Peets, who worked for 13 years in air traffic control in Barbados before she moved to Bermuda, said: “It is intense. The thing is, you have to remain calm, be strong as a person, be flexible and change with different situations.

“It’s in the training. You are prepared in the event that something happens.”

Lester Nelson, the CEO of the Bermuda Airport Authority, welcomed the new staff.

Lovitta Foggo, the chairwoman of the BAA, told the gathering: “We are here to let Bermuda know that when we take to the air, we are in safe hands.”

Lawrence Scott, the transport minister, congratulated the three on their “stellar performance” overseas and at home, despite the problems caused by the pandemic.

He added: “It is nothing less than extraordinary, amazing and awesome.

“Welcome on board.”

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Published September 01, 2021 at 7:59 am (Updated September 01, 2021 at 7:59 am)

High flyers join the team guiding aircraft to a safe touchdown

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