Katrin Schnellmann not only has demanding duties as a Skyguide Air Traffic Controller, but also she regularly takes part in triathlons in her free time.

Source: Universum, Top 100, 2018

Had you long dreamt of being an Air Traffic Controller?

Well, I did start seriously considering it when I was about 15. But after I finished high school, I decided to study social sciences . Then, after a few terms of that, I realised it wasn’t for me. And through all that time I’d still had aviation in the back of my mind. So when by chance I reconsidered the possibility of becoming an Air Traffic Controller, everything seemed to fit into place, and I applied for the training.

And how did that go?

Really well: I even enjoyed the selection tests! It’s a multi-step process that really examines your cognitive and communications skills. Once you’ve been accepted, the actual training is very comprehensive, too. There’s a lot of theoretical material to acquire in the first training year. But you also take part in group simulations. And you learn a lot by just working together, and through the coaching you get from your instructors.

“Keep your eyes and ears open for out-of-the-ordinary jobs!”


Every job has its ups and downs. What are the “ups” for an Air Traffic Controller?

What I like most about my job is that I keep other people safe and can develop personally at the same time. Also, no two days are alike: the aircraft fly such a range of routes, and the weather conditions are a big variable, too. So it never gets boring! And whenever I come back from a further training course that’s kept me away from my regular workstation for a while, I really look forward to sitting at the radar screens again. There is another aspect of the job that I really like, too: as a full-time air traffic controller, I work around 35 hours a week. And that means I can do a job which is truly useful and still find time for my sports.

You take part in competitive triathlons. How much dedication does that involve?

I train for about 15 hours a week, and then I need time for the competitions, too. But since my skyguide duty roster is fixed about three months in advance, it is no problem fitting in the big races, like the Ironman in Chattanooga in the USA. Deciding at the last minute to attend a weekend race is trickier. But I still have other options. If I am on early shift, I can be done and at the swimming pool by two in the afternoon – and at that time of the day, I pretty much have a whole lane to myself!