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Directing traffic in the big city

Mari Nado works as an air traffic controller in San Francisco


by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Mari Nado is working as an air traffic controller in San Francisco, but is also known to rent a single-engine aircraft for pleasure trips along the West Coast.A perfect evening for Mari Nado includes a walk through the city blocks with her 2-year-old Swiss Mountain Dog named Hans, a shimmering sunset over the San Francisco Bay and a quiet dinner at one of the downtown restaurants. Quiet being the key for Nado, who spends her workday as an air traffic controller in a major market directing the movements of as many as 1,400 aircraft in a single day.

“When it’s busy we can be talking to 100 different airplanes in an hour,” she says. “By the time I get home, I’m ready to enjoy some silence, and I don’t really want to make any more decisions.”

Nado was determined that aeronautics would be a part of her future when she graduated from Reynolds High and enrolled at Embry-Riddle University in Daytona, Fla., where she was a scholar athlete in volleyball and golf while also chasing the clouds.

Nado’s quest to become a pilot hit some turbulence in her sophomore year when the 9-11 terrorist attacks reshaped the airline industry.

“It had always been a romantic job, but things changed quite drastically,” Nado says. “You had to wonder if a job would be waiting after you spent all that money getting trained. I had friends waiting tables waiting to get in somewhere. There weren’t a lot of flying jobs.”

Still, Nado found herself in a good place for a slight change in course, as Embry-Riddle was one of only about a dozen colleges with an air traffic program. After a brief side trip to Houston, Tex., she found herself in the tower at San Francisco where she has spent the last eight years.

“I love my job,” she says. “I have this great view of the bay, and I get to watch planes take off and land every day.”

Nado did get her commercial pilot’s license and will rent a single-engine plane for the occasional trip up and down the West Coast.

“It’s an expensive hobby, so I don’t do it as much as I would like,” Nado says. “It’s something I’ve checked off my bucket list, and having that pilots’ background has been helpful in air traffic.”

She remembers taking her test with a five-hour solo flight from Daytona to the Florida Keys and back.

“It was pretty cool to fly down to the Keys and be able to call it a school assignment,” Nado laughs.

Nado has always been athletic often going on evening runs after playing a round of golf as a high schooler. But it was last summer when she began tackling half-marathon, coming to Portland to run the Rock-N-Roll race with her siblings Scott and Stephanie. Before the year was over, she had completed six more events in the 13.1-mile circuit.

She has also maintained her golfing touch, highlighted with a birdie on the 18th hole at Pebble Beach after treating her dad Greg to a round at the showcase course for Father’s Day a couple years ago.

“We were golfing with another group so we didn’t get too crazy, but we did put up a cheer,” she says.



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