Could 'Sully' help America's air traffic controller shortage?

Do you have what it takes to find an emergency landing for an airplane that has lost both engines, while continuing to coordinate other airplanes taking off and landing?

If so, there may be a job for you. The number of certified air traffic controllers is at a 27-year low, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The new blockbuster movie Sully, starring Tom Hanks, celebrates the heroism of the real-life pilot who saved all 155 lives on board Flight 1549 by ditching it in the Hudson after geese hit and disabled both engines on Jan. 15, 2009. Less famous are the air traffic controllers who kept their calm as they desperately tried to clear and locate a runway to assist the troubled plane while simultaneously juggling other aircraft and hearing the captain say "we're gonna be in the Hudson."

Patrick Harten, the air traffic controller who communicated with Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger that day, testified in a congressional hearing a month after the accident that he thought he would be the last person to talk to anyone on Flight 1549 and that watching the plane disappear from his radar screen was "the lowest low" he'd ever felt.

"It has taken over a month for me to be able to see that I did a good job: I was flexible and responsive, I listened to what the pilot said and made sure to give him the tools he needed," Harten testified. "I stayed calm and in control."

Photos from the Miracle on Hudson:

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At those same hearings, others, including Sullenberger, testified that the economic downturn after the 9/11 terrorist attacks had hit the aviation industry especially hard, and some even predicted the staffing challenges it faces today.

The forced federal spending cuts known as the sequester in 2013 didn't help matters. The resulting hiring freeze is partly to blame for today's shortage of air traffic controllers. Because training new hires takes two to four years, the effects of that hiring freeze are hitting now, which happens to be when a wave of recent retirements is hitting, too. The president of the union representing controllers blamed the shortage on budgetary missteps and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration's red tape. Some members of Congress even say the FAA is not hiring enough.

But the FAA said it's addressing the problem. In early August, the agency announced it's hiring air traffic controllers.

Most newly hired air traffic controllers are trained at the FAA Academy, located in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and trainees who graduate from the academy must first work as developmental controllers and complete established requirements before becoming a certified air traffic controller, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But the effort could be well worth it. The median salary for an air traffic controller comes in at $84,000.

Photos of Capt. Sully:

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NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 15: Chesley 'Sully' Sullenberger, a retired airline captain famous for landing a commercial jet on the Hudson River, celebrates the five-year anniversary of 'The Miracle on the Hudson' on January 15, 2014 in New York City. On January 15, 2009, Sullenberger took off from La Guardia airport while piloting US Airways Flight 1549 with 150 passengers and five crew members. The plane hit a goose shortly after take off, forcing Sullenberger to land the plane in the Hudson River; no one was killed. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 15: Chesley 'Sully' Sullenberger (L), a retired airline captain famous for landing a commercial jet on the Hudson River and his first officer from the flight, Jeff Skiles, celebrate the five year anniversary of 'The Miracle on the Hudson' at a press conference and photo opportunity on January 15, 2014 in New York City. On January 15, 2009, Sullenberger took off from La Guardia airport while piloting US Airways Flight 1549 with 150 passengers and five crew members. The plane hit a goose shortly after take off, forcing Sullenberger to land the plane in the Hudson River; no one was killed. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 15: Chesley 'Sully' Sullenberger, a retired airline captain famous for landing a commercial jet on the Hudson River, celebrates the five year anniversary of 'The Miracle on the Hudson' on January 15, 2014 in New York City. On January 15, 2009, Sullenberger took off from La Guardia airport while piloting US Airways Flight 1549 with 150 passengers and five crew members. The plane hit a goose shortly after take off, forcing Sullenberger to land the plane in the Hudson River; no one was killed. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 15: Chesley 'Sully' Sullenberger (R), a retired airline captain famous for landing a commercial jet on the Hudson River, hugs a passenger from the flight at a press conference celebrating the five year anniversary of 'The Miracle on the Hudson' on January 15, 2014 in New York City. On January 15, 2009, Sullenberger took off from La Guardia airport while piloting US Airways Flight 1549 with 150 passengers and five crew members. The plane hit a goose shortly after take off, forcing Sullenberger to land the plane in the Hudson River; no one was killed. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
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And while some people might say that guiding multiple planes through thunderstorms or even good weather is too stressful to be their idea of a dream job, most air traffic controllers at the FAA are happy with their work, as reported in PayScale's survey.

New technology aims to ease some of the pressure. The FAA recently rolled out a new system called Data Comm that lets air traffic controllers and pilots exchange information electronically. Currently, they have to spell out their positions and destinations using the cumbersome foxtrot-lima-sierra-tango alphabet. The new system is part of the FAA's Next Gen program aimed at modernizing the nation's air traffic control system.

Even with promising technology, the job of air traffic controller isn't getting a publicity boost with the recent headlines that too few air traffic controllers are filling too many positions, resulting in tired and overworked employees.

Could Sully the movie elevate the often overlooked, behind-the-scenes job to one on par with pilots? It may be too soon to tell if pop culture will influence this particular job shortage, but if you want to get a head start, take the FAA self-assessment to gain a foundational knowledge about basic air traffic concepts.

Tell Us What You Think

Are you interested in becoming an air traffic controller? We want to hear from you. Tell us your thoughts in the comments, or join conversation on Twitter.

The post Could 'Sully' Help America's Air Traffic Controller Shortage? appeared first on Career News.

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WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - 1986: Two-time Academy Award-winning actor Tom Hanks poses during a 1986 West Hollywood, California studio photo session to promote his newest movie 'The Money Pit.' Hanks went on to become one of America's favorite actors, starring in such hits as 'Big,' 'Saving Private Ryan,' and 'Forest Gump.' (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)
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BURBANK, CA - JUNE 11: Actor Tom Hanks (L) appears on 'The Tonight Show with Jay Leno' at the NBC Studios on June 11, 2004 in Burbank, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 17: Actors Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks, attend 'The Da Vinci Code' World Premiere & Opening Gala at the Palais during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: Actress-Producer Rita Wilson and Actor-Producer Tom Hanks arrive at the 66th Annual Golden Globe Awards held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2009 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 14: Actor Tom Hanks arrives at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Inaugural Governors Awards held at the Grand Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland Center on November 14, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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CENTURY CITY, CA - JANUARY 25: Actor Tom Hanks speaks onstage at the 66th Annual Directors Guild Of America Awards held at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza on January 25, 2014 in Century City, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for DGA)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 18: Actors Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks attend the 20th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 18, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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US actor Tom Hanks poses during the photocall of the film ''Inferno'' in Florence on May 11, 2015. AFP PHOTO / TIZIANA FABI (Photo credit should read TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images)
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