The ATC assistant (also referred to as "flight data", "flight data assistant", "assistant controller" or simply "assistant") is a person that helps air traffic controllers by performing certain tasks that make their job smoother. These include routine duties but also relatively complex and time consuming ones which are not considered appropriate for active controller positions.
Depending on local circumstances (e.g. level of automation), assistants may be assigned to a single sector (i.e. one per sector), or, they can be stationed at a separate workplace, assisting all controllers in the ops room.
As the job of the ATC assistant is not defined in ICAO documents, their functions may vary greatly between states and between different ATS units within the same state. Some of the tasks that can be assigned to the assistant include:
- Exchange of flight data (e.g. flight plans, estimates and revisions) with neighbouring ATS units
- Fixing issues with flight data, e.g. adjusting it so that it is correctly handled by the automated ATS system
- Manual entry of flight data (e.g. flight plans that have not been received automatically)
- Exchange of AFTN messages
- Collection and dissemination of aeronautical data (e.g. NOTAMs, special use airspace activation and deactivation, etc.)
- Exchange of other pertinent information (e.g. changes of sector configuration or operating frequencies)
- Coordination with neighbouring sectors or units (to the extent described in local instructions)
- Preparation and dissemination of flight progress strips (either as a routine task or as a backup solution in case of automation failure)
Assistants are very distinct from air traffic controllers as they do not provide air traffic service, and, in general, they only communicate with ground staff, not with pilots. Nevertheless, they need to have extensive knowledge in some of the fields that controllers do (e.g. ATC procedures and terminology, air law, aircraft performance, ATM equipment, etc.) and be proficient in the use of radiotelephony phraseology.