Two Years ago, Peter Nesbitt, an air traffic controller at Memphis International Airport, was watching a departing plane under his jurisdiction. With a glance at the radar scope, he noticed that an incoming aircraft seemed to be descending on the same flight path. "Suddenly, I realized that the two planes were heading right toward each other,"he says. "I told my pilot to stop his climb and turn away. It was a case of instantly seeing it and doing something."
Quick thinking is vital to shepherding planes, Nesbitt says. "We look at a scope with 40 airplanes—each on a different route, at a different altitude, a different speed—and intuitively understand whether things are going well or badly. Someone may later ask, 'Why did you tell that guy to turn?' and I might have to think about it for a minute."
In fact, professionals who make life-and-death decisions, including air traffic controllers, almost always use a blend of intuition and analysis, says Gary Klein, a psychologist and the author of The Power of Intuition: How to Use Your Gut Feelings to Make Better Decisions at Work.