ATC Student Explores the Other Side of the Radio

Connor Cook (’22) learned to fly when he was 15. But after arriving at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, he found out there was something he enjoyed even more than being on the flight deck.

Cook started his aviation career in Palm Springs, California before being drawn to Embry-Riddle's renowned reputation as the top educator of aviators. (Photo: Embry-Riddle / Connor McShane)
Connor Cook ('22) started his aviation career in Palm Springs, California before being drawn to Embry-Riddle's renowned reputation as the top educator of aviators. (Photo: Embry-Riddle / Connor McShane)

Cook’s true aviation passion is air traffic control. And Embry-Riddle’s Bachelor of Science in Air Traffic Management is how Cook is turning that passion into a profession.

“I am in the hiring process with the [Federal Aviation Administration],” Cook said. “I'll get a class date soon and then an actual track, whether I'm going to be learning radar or terminal, which is working in the tower.”

Cook started his aviation career in Palm Springs, California, building up hours as a pilot at the airport there. Embry-Riddle’s renowned reputation as the top educator of aviators originally drew him to the Prescott Campus.

“Halfway through my first semester…I switched over to [Air Traffic Management],” he said. And I enjoyed that a lot more. I'm learning the other side of the radio, the things I'm not seeing.”

Cook said the main appeal initially was how much fun he was having in the program, especially when it came time to learn in Embry-Riddle’s leading-edge simulation labs.

“The teachers, the students and the lab assistants, they're all connected,” he said. “It's very easy for each one to talk with each other. There are no barriers really. It's like, ‘You want to talk to me one on one, go ahead. Do it.’ And it's just a lot of learning from each other.”

The technology used in the labs enables students like Cook to get a real-life look at how the ATC system works and the key role that controllers play in helping it function efficiently and safely.

“[The software] gives us the 360 view of any airport that we can bring up,” he said. “At first, it was kind of a shocking really, because I had never been in a simulated tower before. I was surprised at the magnitude of the tower cab and the detail it had. And we could go to LaGuardia. We could go to LAX. We could go to Chicago. So just a lot of switching back and forth and seeing how it looked from the towers was really cool.”

Besides just being cool, the state-of-the-art labs and simulators are the best way to prepare future air traffic controllers for the realities they will face, whether they work in a tower, a TRACON or an Air Route Traffic Control Center.

“It went beyond what I expected for it, which was really fun,” Cook said. “But it also helps tremendously because you’re prepared and know what to expect. And you're learning a lot about how to manage. I think it puts you a step ahead of everyone else.”

Beyond the technology advantages, Cook says there is another vital aspect of attending Embry-Riddle: the skill, experience and expertise of its faculty.

“I think a big portion of why I enjoy it here are the professors and our program chair,” he said. “It's where the fun, the creativity, the community actually lie.”

Cook, who is now working as a lab assistant as he prepares to graduate in the fall, says coming upgrades in simulation technology, such as using virtual or extended reality training tools, will make the Embry-Riddle program even more effective.

“I think it's a great program. I mean, we're excelling,” he said. “We're trying to get it more technologically advanced, to have a lot more opportunities to actually control the simulations and give more opportunities to other people, like pilots.”