ATCO Training Overview

ATCO Training Overview

Training Content

According to the standards and recommended practices set by the International Civil Aviation Organisation the air traffic controllers must meet a number of specific requirements with regard to age, knowledge, experience and medical fitness. Candidates must be at least 21 years of age (before being issued a licence). Minimum experience requirements and standards of medical fitness are detailed in ICAO Annex 1. All student controllers must demonstrate an appropriate level of knowledge in at least the following subjects: air law, air traffic control equipment, general knowledge of the principles of flight, human performance and limitations, language, meteorology, navigation and operational procedures.

ICAO indicates the minimum requirements but the actual content of any training plan and the time spent on every individual subject varies considerably depending on the requirements of the Air Traffic Services organizations (ATS) of any particular state. In Europe, the European Air Traffic Control Harmonisation and Integration Programme (EATCHIP) (later European Air Traffic Management Programme - EATMP) Task Force on Common Core Content (TFCCC) has produced “Eurocontrol’s ‘Specification for the ATCO Common Core Content Initial Training’ detailing the subjects, topics and sub-topics to be dealt with in basic controller training.

Air Traffic Controller Training

Over a period of two to three years the Ab Initio or student air traffic controllers undergo training at the training institute (theoretical and simulation training) and the operational unit (familiarisation and OJT). Typically, students follow an eight to twelve-weeks’ basic course that covers most of the theoretical subjects. The student (Ab Initio) air traffic controllers may then spend two or three months at an operational unit (supervised by the local training unit) familiarising themselves with the air traffic control environment and performing elementary tasks. On returning to the training institute the students commence specialised training for their chosen discipline (tower, approach radar or en-route control). At the end of approximately eight weeks of simulator training students return to the operational unit to start unit training. Ideally, there students would then spend time at the local training unit completing transition training and pre-OJT. The final period of OJT prior to licensing can last six months to a year. Minimum experience requirements are determined for each air traffic control unit.

Specialisation in Air Traffic Control

Specialisation in air traffic control is related with a more task-specific training which in turn leads to a reduction in the overall time for training (from three to two years for example). The programme for student air traffic controllers designed for the EUROCONTROL Maastricht Upper Area Control Centre (MUAC) can be used as an illustration. After selection the students commence nine weeks of basic - mostly theoretical - training. This may be followed by three weeks of familiarisation at Maastricht. Students then complete twenty-two weeks of basic and advanced radar training gaining 140 hours experience on the simulator. This completes the Institutional Phase of their training. The Operational Phase begins with approximately sixteen weeks of transition and pre-OJT at the Maastricht training unit. It will take about one year in the operational environment to complete the first checkout which is considered to be the end of student air traffic controller training. A further year will be spent in 'cross-over' training as experience is gained and checkouts are obtained on other sectors.

Phases of Air Traffic Controller Training

The training of air traffic controllers can be divided into a number of defined phases that cover both basic and advanced training.

  • A/ Initial training (called also Institutional training) is provided in an establishment designed or designated specifically for training and staffed for that purpose. It comprises 'basic training' and 'rating training'.
    • Basic training is designed to build fundamental knowledge and skills to enable the student air traffic controllers to progress to specialized air traffic control training.
    • Rating training is a specialized air traffic control training which provides the knowledge and skills related to a job category (for example Tower, Approach or Area control) and appropriate to the discipline to be pursued in the Air Traffic Services (ATS) environment.

In Europe, in accordance with the provisions of Regulation 2015/345 of 20 February 2015 the initial training shall ensure that student air traffic controllers satisfy at least the objectives for basic and rating training, as described in that Regulation, so that air traffic controllers are capable of handling air traffic in a safe, quick and efficient way.

Initial training shall cover the following subjects: aviation law, air traffic management, including procedures for civil - military cooperation, meteorology, navigation, aircraft and principles of flight, including an understanding between air traffic controller and pilot, human factors, equipment and systems, professional environment, safety and safety culture, safety management systems, unusual/emergency situations, degraded systems and linguistic knowledge, including radiotelephony phraseology.

  • B/ Operational training is delivered in an operational work situation and is following the institutional training. It comprises 'transition training', 'pre-OJT training' and 'OJT training'.
    • Transition Training is regarded as a phase following the rating training during which site-specific theoretical knowledge and understanding will be transferred to the trainees using a variety of methods and during which skills will be developed through the use of site-specific simulations.
    • Pre-On-the-Job Training (Pre-OJT) is a phase of locally-based training with extensive use of simulation with site-specific facilities. This enhances the evolution of previously acquired routines and abilities to an exceptionally high level of achievement.
    • On-the-Job Training (OJT) is 'Live training' where previously acquired skills and routines are further developed and consolidated under the supervision of a qualified coach in a live situation.
  • C/ Continuation Training is related to a job category in order to increase knowledge and skills and/or prepare for new technologies and includes the so called “conversion training” and “refresher training”. Conversion Training provides a set of knowledge and skills appropriate to change in jobs(for example change of controller rating or change of operational unit), environment and systems while Refresher Training is regarded as further training in the work currently performed in order to improve job performance. It is also provided in cases when the skills previously acquired by an individual may currently not be up to the standard. Additional guidance on developing ATCO refresher training is provided in the EUROCONTROL ATC Refresher Training Manual, issued in March 2015.

Modular Approach

The various training schemes for student air traffic controllers reflect the diversity of size and sophistication of the air traffic control units across Europe. At the institutional level basic courses may be reasonably standard but once specialisation starts training is tailored to the needs of the ATS units. A modular approach to training will allow for a higher degree of flexibility which can serve future staffing needs as well as changing customer requirements. Continuation, conversion and refresher training usually take place on a needs basis and may be conducted locally at the air traffic control unit or at a training institute.

The Future of Training Content

Training content may be affected by changes in the skills of thinking, acting, reacting and interacting. The ‘mental picture’ associated with today’s control tasks may differ substantially from that of the controllers working in future ATM systems. Teamwork will remain important but with a different emphasis.

Changes in cognitive skills (thinking) will occur in almost all tasks as the system becomes more complex due to the assistance of automated tools and the related change in work methods. For example:

- Extensive understanding and use of computer assisted tools;

- Being aware of the capabilities and limitations of the system;

- Increased scanning of displays and monitors;

Changes in psychomotor skills (acting) will be mostly due to the interaction with the system. Much information will be presented by the system and will be handled in different ways. For example:

- Correctly perceiving (reading/hearing) the (pre-processed) information the system gives (perceptual acuity);

- Handling input devices and Human Machine Interface (HMI);

- Being alert to system warnings.

There will be also an increase in the need for affective skills (attitudes/reacting) in terms of task sharing and the need for flexibility of responsibility that will lead to more emphasis on some affective skills. For example:

- Workload detection and prevention of overload (self-awareness);

- Awareness of the role of the controllers.

Changes in social/interactive skills will evolve through changes in the way communication is undertaken and the need for increasing teamwork. For example:

- a shift to data link procedures and message windows;

- more teamwork through distributing decision-making;

- collaborative decision-making (with the system, aircraft and other controllers).

In general, the controllers will be required to maintain the same level of knowledge as today but types of knowledge may be used less often. There will be more generic knowledge use as new fields of knowledge (related to the system and its associated tools) become necessary.

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