OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA – As silly string and confetti flew through the air like inexperienced VFR traffic on a lazy Sunday afternoon in June, laughter and clinking glasses could be heard for many blocks surrounding the Oakland ARTCC last week.
“I just can’t believe it, it’s taken so many decades, but we finally did it,” said Derek McFadden, the head of the National Wand Wavers Controllers Association.
Earlier this year, Oakland ARTCC, also known as ZOA, was on a mission to finally cross a never-before-held goal: Reach 50,000 total training failures since the construction of the facility. Two weeks ago, that goal was finally accomplished.
“I mean, the celebration, the cheer; it’s just unreal,” said Jacob Swift, a certified controller with over 18 years of experience. “Finally, I can get back my overtime, so I can afford that studio apartment that costs $23,000 a month in the Mission District, and pay off those 3 alimony checks each month,” he added, as he furiously mixed a concoction of Four-Loko and Fireball as the thundering beat of The Offspring’s ‘Come Out and Play’ rattled the room.
The trainees were also at the celebration last week, though they kept to themselves at a corner table, wearing dark colored hoodies and slouched over their phones sharing pictures on Instagram and Snapchat.
“I mean, it is what it is,” said one trainee, who wished to remain anonymous for the safety of his life. “I want to say I am mad, but in reality, I am not. I am happy to be part of the ancient tradition of washing people out of Oakland Center.”
One trainee was actually quite proud of the accomplishment. “You know, they said to me, ‘you’re going to be the 800th Mike I’m going to wash out’. And as I took that handoff that was in direct conflict with a flight of two F-16s, I thought to myself, my CTI school would be so proud.”
The controllers were not the only ones who were in celebration of such an achievement, either.
“What these guys have done, despite huge adversity, is something that I feel is unparalleled,” said Dave Dickson, facility manager. “It’s just hugely inspiring on every level.”
Since 1991, it has long been theorized that washing out more than 25,000 people at a given facility would cause it to become completely unusable, but that is simply not the case. Numerous studies throughout the years have demonstrated that despite the hugely inefficient and downright terrifying numbers of unsuccessful trainees, many go on to have successful careers as baggage handlers, strippers, and web designers for terrible websites that make fun of airlines.
Oakland was the first to meet the actual goal of 50,000 wash-outs, but they were not alone in the competition. The New York ARTCC and TRACON facilities on Long Island, New York, came in a close second. We attempted to call them both for comment, but the voicemails said that due to staffing, nobody could answer the phones, and that the voicemail box was full.