Roberto Simona Jr., a recent graduate of the School of Aviation in the Davis College of Business & Technology (DCOBT) at Jacksonville University, is among the history makers at the national Federal Aviation Administration’s Air Traffic Control (ATC) Academy, landing a historical perfect score and top-of-his class honors.
Simona, who graduated from DCOBT in April 2023 with honors and a Bachelor of Science degree in Aviation Management, became only the 18th person in FAA Academy History to earn a perfect score on his “Local Control” performance evaluation.
“In terms of scoring my perfect score, I had no idea about it at first. The shock and awe that I was in left me speechless, and I instantly just felt a great honor and sense of relief at the same time that I had passed training,” he said. “Going into evaluations is actually the most stressful part of the entire training process at the Academy. After being beat down with extremely tough training, the evaluations were even harder, which made everyone’s anxiety spike.”
Local Control is a position in the ATC tower, where the controller is in charge of landing and departing planes safely, ensuring separation between them and managing the traffic pattern between airplanes in the air. In addition to his historic honor, Simona graduated top of his class, ranking second out of the 10 final people that passed the exam.
“I wasn’t surprised when I heard of Rob’s success in Oklahoma City, he was a great student here at JU. Based on the traits he displayed here, I had no doubt about his performance in that high-paced training program,” said DCOBT School of Aviation Director Capt. Matt Tuohy.
After graduation, Simona, a New York native, immediately took the Traffic Control Academy Basics Course, prior to traveling to the FAA Air Traffic Control Academy in Oklahoma City, where he spent four months. In addition to his high rankings, he was the youngest member of the Academy, at the age of only 22 — students typically skewing older. “Everyone, from my trainers to my colleagues, told me nobody at my age has an ATC career because of how young I am and how difficult it is to be selected,” he explained.
Since then, with his JU degree and training in hand, Simona was selected to be an Air Traffic Control Specialist at the White Plains/Westchester County Airport in New York, hired under the FAA, ultimately under the U.S. Department of Transportation. “Being from New York and being able to select this airport, with it being available on my class’s placement list, was the equivalent to hitting the lottery jackpot,” he exclaimed. Showing his sincere desire to pursue an ATC career, he applied and was accepted in his current role prior to actually receiving his JU degree.
While at JU, Simona was a part of the Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative Program (AT-CTI), which consists of courses and programs/training designed to help people with a degree become an air traffic controller, plus he was a leader of the JU Flight Team for three years.
“JU has been a proud member of the AT-CTI program for many years. The program is a great way to both prepare the students for a career with the FAA and also provides an opportunity to set themselves apart from other applicants,” said Tuohy.
“The School of Aviation and its classes/programs helped me with my technical knowledge of aviation. This technical knowledge then gave me a great advantage over others at the FAA Academy who had no prior knowledge or experience with aviation, allowing me to focus on my working technique with the newly learned knowledge about ATC specific topics,” said the JU alumnus.
While at JU, Simona also served on an OCEARCH research trip as a drone pilot in 2022. He, along with one of his aviation professors, a fellow aviation student and two JU marine science students, traveled to Nova Scotia to study seal behavior around great white sharks. Simona and his team later presented their findings at the National Conference for Undergraduate Research at the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire.
The School of Aviation educates and trains professional pilots, air traffic controllers and aviation executives. With one-of-a-kind industry partnerships, a world-class curriculum centered on a strong business foundation and direct paths to the career of your choice, JU Aviation gives students the skills and experience to achieve their dream of becoming an aviation professional. The School of Aviation’s degree programs have earned the “seal of approval” from the Aviation Accreditation Board International. For more information about the program, visit here.