Ejo #13 – My Life As An Air Traffic Controller at Al Maktoum International Airport and Introducing You To Dangerous Doug

OK, I’ve had writer’s block.  To be honest, I’ve never really been able to write very easily when I’m employed as an Air Traffic Controller.  Perhaps that’s just an excuse, or maybe it has something to do with how I need to use the different sides of my brain.  Let’s go with the latter (though we all know it’s almost definitely the former).  There’s nothing like a bit of self-denial to get the ball rolling anyway.  But at least it’s rolling.

So, most of you know that I’m employed as an ATC at Al Maktoum International, the new airport in Dubai.  Some of you are aware that the airport has had a most unillustrious beginning.  Meaning that so far there’s been virtually no air traffic.  Before the airport actually opened we were warned of (and dismayed at the prospect of dealing with) only 60 movements a day.  And no, a movement (in this case anyway) has nothing to do with going to the toilet.  It refers to the number of times an aircraft uses the runway.  So an aircraft that lands at midday and then takes off two hours later counts as two movements.  So 60 is not very many considering that when I left Melbourne Tower we were handling 500-600 a day.  And it’s absolute peanuts compared to what David handles at Dubai International Airport – over 900 a day and creeping towards a grand.

So sure, the thought of 60 movements a day was somewhat disheartening.  But the reality has eventuated as even more depressing.  Honestly, the most movements I’ve ‘controlled’ in a single shift has been about eight.  Which is why (you may have noticed) I’ve not once referred to myself as ‘working’ as an ATC but rather as being ’employed’ as one.  There’s a vast difference.

Still, I am employed.  And the fact is that one day Al Maktoum International is slated to be the largest airport in the world (of course!).  It will have five parallel runways and be capable of processing 160,000,000 passengers a year.  That’s a lot.  But really, that reality is a long way off, and so I have been confronted with the question of, “What should I do with my time?”.  I started off whiling the hours at work away by playing solitaire on the computer.  Not very productive and it got very boring, very quickly.  So I decided to do a little bit of self-education (and make a bit of money hopefully) by studying investing.  You know, so that I could be more informed about dabbling in the stockmarket.  Well, what I learned is that I shouldn’t dabble in the stockmarket.  I also managed to learn a few other valuable bits of info though; enough to actually feel comfortable investing in equities for the first time in my life.  I am now the proud owner of a (very) small percentage of a few banks and a mining company.  Thrilling.  Now I just have to hold onto the shares that I’ve bought and in about 30 years I’ll have made my fortune.  But that still doesn’t answer my question of what to do in the meantime???

I decided, dear friends, that rather than do a course by correspondence (which is an idea I seriously flirted with), what I would do is snuggle up to my other dear old friends, words.  And I would, once more, make a serious attempt at writing something fit for publication.  So now, what I have is an idea to work on, plenty of opportunity (with the added bonus of being paid to do it), the equipment (a desk has finally arrived in the tower break room), a New Year’s Resolution to have the first draft of a book finished by the end of 2011, and absolutely NO MORE EXCUSES.

Wish me luck (again) please.

Oh, before I bid you all adieu, I have been reminded that in my last ejo I promised you all a funny story.  OK then, here it is:

I work with a wonderfully weird (and simply lovely) guy called Doug.  I want you all to get acquainted with Doug because he is the protagonist at the centre of countless strange and bizarre experiences and stories, which I would like to share with you over time.

Anyway, Doug is a never-married (but twice-engaged) gentleman in his fifties, though he doesn’t look that old as he takes very good care of himself.  Saying that though, I must also point out that Doug has absolutely no ego whatsoever.  He’ll always be the first to laugh at himself in any situation (and trust me, there are many, many situations).  I want to be as frank as possible here: the man is a poo magnet.  If anything can go wrong, it will go wrong when Doug is around, and furthermore it will go wrong in spectacular fashion.

To wit:  One day, several years ago, Doug was in his apartment (in Sharjah, a UAE emirate) making a late night cheese and tomato sauce sandwich (gross, right?).  Anyway, while making his midnight snack he was watching a show on TV, something related to surgery (possibly Dr. 90210 – I don’t really know).  Now, I’m not sure if Doug already knew that he had a tendency to faint at the sight of blood, or if it was a trait that he discovered that very night.  Suffice to say, he saw some blood on the TV show and fainted at the sight of it, and in doing so he dropped the knife to the kitchen floor.  Also on his way down, he banged his head on the kitchen bench knocking himself out cold for the next fifteen minutes.

What happened in that fifteen minutes reads like some kind of screwball comedy but I promise you all of it is true.  His downstairs neighbour (who’d been taking a bath when she heard the thump as he hit the floor like a sack of spuds), jumped out of the bath, into a robe and ran upstairs to see what the matter was.  She knocked frantically on the door and after getting no response she flung the door open, only to find Doug on the floor in the kitchen, unconscious, with blood pouring out of the wound in his head where he’d struck it on the bench.  She immediately rang for an ambulance, which turned up a short time later with a couple of police officers in tow.

The cops took one look at the scene: an apparently dead man on the floor with blood gushing out of his head, a red spattered butcher’s knife flung across the kitchen floor and a badly shaken, half naked, female neighbour in hysterics.  They quickly concluded the obvious.  The neighbour had murdered Doug.  She was promptly arrested.

Then, to shake things up a bit, Doug started regaining consciousness and protesting his neighbour’s innocence.  This, contrary to what you might imagine, did not actually help things.  What it did was lead the cops to wonder why this lady had tried (albeit failing in the attempt) to kill Doug and they came up with the only logical solution.  He must have tried to rape her.  It makes sense.  She was scantily clad, he tried to rape her, she defended herself by stabbing him in the head with a knife.  The case was all wrapped up.  And so, they arrested him too.

The two of them were then taken to the police station to be booked with their respective charges amid increasingly hysterical declarations of innocence that were only heeded once a senior police officer took the time to examine the knife more closely and discovered that the red stuff was indeed just tomato sauce and not Doug’s blood after all.  Both were let off with a warning (oh yes!): they should not have been alone in the house together as they were neither married nor related by blood.

Sharjah Police: 1, Doug: 0.

Next time I’ll relate how Doug managed to even-steven the score.  Til then, I wish you all a fabulous Xmas and I hope 2011 brings you all abundant joy, health and happiness.



PS David says hi!


  1. Hey Chryss,

    Good read and mostly factual. When I have related this to friends, their only comment is: “Well what was she like in bed, and why did you try to rape her”? These are my friends!! Niiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiice!!


  2. Really enjoy your blog! good luck with the book! waiting for it to arrive!
    greetings from cold and snowy Poland 🙂

    1. Hi Meg, wow I’m so amazed that someone in Poland would be interested in reading what I have to say about life in Dubai. How cool! Thanks so much for taking the time to read it (and also to let me know how much you like it – it’s always nice to hear and I really do thrive on compliments). The book is coming along (slowly, slowly). Thanks for subscribing!

  3. Hi there, totaly love reading your blog, and keep bumping to your blog as i search on ways i can make it through and start a career in ATC, finding right courses to study and train as ATC is very difficult with either jobs/training positions being offered only to locals. Relocating to Australia soon and been researching studying ATC there but Waggawagga seems to be the best way to go but so far from my new-in law family and husband in Sunshine Coast. Any tips or advise on how to start up a career in ATC with 4years cabin crew experience and Diploma in Business Management.

    1. Hi Fajila, thank you so much for reading my ramblings! Yes, only locals can train as ATCs here in the UAE. But moving to Australia affords you a much greater opportunity to train. I did my training in 1999 so I’m pretty sure things have changed a lot since then – here is a link to the Airservices Australia website recruitment page: http://www.airservicesaustralia.com/careers/air-traffic-controller. I’m not sure exactly what the requirements are but if you want to know more you can always get in touch with them and I’m sure they’d be happy to guide you on the best course of action. When I was recruited, the only requirements were a high school qualification with maths or physics, good English skills and an age requirement. Things may have changed since then though, so it’s best that you ask them directly.

      I hope that helps?? If you have any more questions, I’d be happy to try to answer them.
      Good luck

  4. Thanks, fun to read your blog and I also look forward to seeing the developments around DWC… will be interesting. What an hilarious story at the end, matches with some (obviously not equally) strange things I’ve experienced here and illustrates just how narrow-minded and unjust these kind of “authorities” are acting at times. Dubai still has a long way to go, but they are doing well… All the best here!

    1. Thanks Jack. Yep, Doug is as hilarious as ever. In fact, I think it’s time for another Dangerous Doug story!!

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