Prior Columbus AFB air traffic controller now manages 1 of busiest control centers in US

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Hannah Bean
  • 14th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs
A prior Columbus Air Force Base air traffic controller now manages one of the busiest ATC centers in the United States, handling an average of 2.3 million aircraft operations annually.

Dino S. Hall was recently appointed to the position of Air Traffic Manager in July 2019 at Chicago Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) in Aurora, Illinois.

The Chicago ARTCC (ZUA) is one of 22 ARTCCs operated by the Federal Aviation Administration and is the fifth-busiest ARTCC in the United States. Their primary responsibility is sequencing and separation of over-flights, arrivals and departures at airports inside its airspace, that include Chicago O’Hare and Midway International Airports in order to provide safe, orderly, and expeditious flow of aircraft.

"I am very thankful to the men and women of the Air Force that I worked with at Columbus and owe them a sincere debt of gratitude although I didn't see it that way at the time," he said with a chuckle.

In a phone interview with Hall, he was quick to point out his Air Force and ATC training at Columbus AFB as the bedrock to his ascension within the Federal Aviation Administration over the years.

Growing up, Hall -- an African American male from Chicago -- had a love for aviation. He had dreamed of being an Air Force pilot, but at the time he did not have a college degree, which is a requirement for any commissioned Air Force officer. Hall was able to pursue aviation through another route – enlisting into the Air Force as an air traffic controller.

"I started my career at Columbus Air Force Base in 1981 and was trained in the busy Radar Approach Control, (RAPCON)" he said. "I remember when I first walked into the RAPCON how highly charged the environment was and how scared and intimidated I was. Columbus AFB was my first and only base, and I remember how intensive the training was. In the four years that I was there it shaped my entire career and prepared me for the FAA."

Hall arrived at Columbus AFB after an intensive training program at Cody Hall on Keesler AFB in Biloxi, Mississippi, where all Air Force ATC training is conducted.

According to Hall, upon successfully completing the ATC training at Keesler AFB, he went into an even more intensive and realistic training program at Columbus AFB.

"We were training pilots and controllers simultaneously in a [very busy] air traffic environment,” he said. “When I was there we had over 200 T-37 Tweet and T-38 Talon aircraft that crowded the skies and radar scopes. It was a challenge to the air traffic controllers on a daily basis.”

The mentality it takes to be successful in this line of work such as ATC can be challenging, yet rewarding for some.

"Columbus was considered a Level III facility when I was there and the word was if you could become a fully certified/rated ATC at the Columbus Air Force Base RAPCON, you could get rated anywhere,” Hall said.

This proved true for him, noting that when he left Columbus AFB, he was well prepared for the FAA.

After separating from the Air Force in 1985, Hall applied to and enrolled in college at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois. In May 1989, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in science with a major in aviation management.

Then in August 1989 he began his career in the FAA at Chicago ARTCC. Over the years, Hall worked at various locations, to include the Great Lakes Regional Air Traffic Division Office in Des Plaines, Illinois, the Albuquerque ARTCC in New Mexico, and even the Chicago O’Hare Terminal TRACON, and was selected for a detail as the Acting Air Traffic Manager at O’Hare Air Traffic Control Tower. After 30 years in the air traffic control business, Hall returned to the Chicago ARTCC where his FAA career started, now working as the air traffic manager.

Chief Master Sgt. Jeffrey Vogel, the current chief controller of the 14th Operations Support Squadron RAPCON at Columbus AFB, was quick to congratulate Hall and wish him continued success in the ATC profession.

“We groom all our controllers for success, and Dino is one of many who’ve benefited from that effort,” Vogel said. “He’s clearly done well, and we are very proud to have him in the heritage of Columbus AFB success stories. Air traffic control training here is unquestionably the Ph.D. level of complexity, knowledge and practical application, and just sheer difficulty ... and Dino can easily attest to that.”

Being responsible for the safe, expeditious flow of air traffic can produce a high level of job-related stress, which the career field is known for.

“Yet we still inherit the greenest, just-out-of-tech-school trainees, most of them still teenagers,” Vogel said. “All the while investing a tremendous amount of resources into building that unassailable, enduring foundation of knowledge and proficiency.

“One could say that in our mission to create the world’s greatest pilots, we’re also creating the world’s greatest controllers in the process, and Dino was certainly a benefactor of that effort,” he continued

Hall said working in the world of aviation has been a rewarding challenge that has brought success throughout his 30-plus-year career in ATC.

“It’s been a great career,” he said. I’ve enjoyed it. There’s a lot of people I’ve met and became friends with. I really enjoyed my time in the military, it was a great time being in the military. I enjoyed it a great deal, along with my time in Columbus. I feel I have a responsibility to introduce students to careers in the aviation industry. Therefore, I have volunteered throughout my FAA ATC career and provided scholarships to students to attend summer Aviation Career Education (ACE) Camps.”