Some people innately want to help others succeed: managers help employees, editors help writers, coaches help athletes. But who helps pilots?
Flight Service Specialists (FSS), employed by NAV Canada, help pilots in remote locations in a variety of ways: via air traffic control, ensuring separation between aircraft and vehicles both in the air and on land; via flight information services, including weather briefings, flight planning, and navigational aids; and in many other ways as well.
"It's primarily a safety role for people in the sky and people in the airport," says Carrie Latka, FSS at the Inuvik Flight Service Station in the Northwest Territories. "It is weather information, information on vehicles that might be operating on the runway or in the vicinity of where this aircraft intends to go once they're in the airport. It is giving them any other pertinent information: airport conditions, runway conditions."
Latka first heard about NAV Canada through a Facebook ad. While looking for work in the travel industry, she was stuck, and took a chance on NAV. Because the work they do is so unique, there isn't preliminary experience that's necessary to become a FSS. They are the only provider of this service in the entire country so you really don't have relevant experience. Although fields like travel, piloting, and engineering would surely come in handy, it's not at all mandatory.
"You definitely want someone who is calm and collected," she says. "It's not always a fast-paced position but it can be unexpected at times—someone who is good at retaining their sense of surroundings even if nothing is going on, because at any given time, anything can start happening."
Jeff Burke, FSS as the Fort St. John Flight Service Station in BC, started out in the skies before landing this job. "In my case, I started out as a pilot and got to see the job from the other side of the radio," he says. With his background as a pilot, he was able to see the many jobs available for people in this field. "I found NAV Canada to be a very stable employer, offering good pay and benefits, something that can be hard to find in the industry."
On a typical day, Burke and Latka perform a wide array of tasks to ensure the safety or efficiency of the pilots. "In general," says Latka, "we provide traffic information to support aircrafts as they're coming and going from any aerodrome service by flight service station, and that is position and intentions of any other aircraft in the vicinity. It is weather information, information on vehicles that might be operating on the runway or in the vicinity of where aircraft intends to go once they're in the airport." She also says that different shits offer different roles. Night shift, for example, is slower, monitoring weather changes, but midnight FSS have to be vigilant, since a med-evac aircraft or other night pilots could need attention.
Both say the biggest misconception is that this is a stressful job. "We don't serve drinks on the plane and we're not out on the ramp guiding planes to the gate," says Burke. "And no, I don't find it to be a stressful job. Proper procedures and preparation take a lot of the stress away from the work."
As for living remotely, Latka says it's quite the unique experience. "You get this opportunity to see not necessarily the Northwest Territories, but a smaller community that maybe you wouldn't go to otherwise. The north itself is a new frontier and definitely northern aviation is something altogether new as an experience for me."
If others are considering working as a FSS with NAV Canada, both highly recommend it.
"This is a great job for a person with the right skill set," says Burke. "You need a great attitude to reach your goals but, at the end of the day, this job provides a good sense of accomplishment."
"Honestly, just apply," adds Latka. "Go for it because this is an amazing, amazing opportunity. The people in the training department are excellent. The people in management are awesome. The coworkers you'll meet are great. And this kind of opportunity ... the calibre of job is not readily available in other sectors. It's a very unique opportunity and it's so rewarding."
Visit NAV Canada's website to learn more.