Development of ATCO Loyalty

Development of ATCO Loyalty

The article describes the factors that may have influence on the controller’s loyalty to the profession and to the company he/she works for. The list of factors includes a number of organizational, financial, career development perspectives and possibilities.

Loyalty, what for?

For the purpose of this article loyalty can be considered as a combination between the determination to execute established responsibilities and the respect for the values of the profession or organization which people work for.

With regard to the above two main categories can be distinguished: “Loyalty to the profession” and “Loyalty to the organisation”.

Loyalty brings meaning which can retain people to the profession or organisation they work for in the world of opportunities in aviation and other industries. Important prerequisites for the success of an air navigation services provider (ANSP) are the skills, knowledge and commitment of its staff and their potential for learning in a constantly changing technological ATC environment with increasing complexity and dynamics.

One of the organisational ways to cope with these challenges is to establish friendly and attractive work environment, to implement processes for staff development and in particular career development plans. One of the key activities is to identify the potential of staff for further development.

Controllers and their representative bodies are also interested in work environment and staff development issues. For example, the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers’ Associations (International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers' Associations (IFATCA)) mission statement specifies that one of its objectives is ”to promote and uphold a high standard of knowledge and professional efficiency among ATCOs”.

Job ‘Culture’

A culture can be defined as “a system of beliefs, values, customs and institutions shared and transmitted by members of a particular society, from which people derive meaning for their work, love and leisure activities”. Many observers who visited an ATC Unit have noticed the existence of a certain (local) job culture. Controllers tend to develop behaviour appropriate to local job culture stereotypes. For example, they might adjust their sport interests, common leisure activities and sometimes even their attire. Colleagues normally share similar views and values with regard to their job, with regard to management etc.

This ‘role playing’, stimulated by the process of identification with one’s team and the job incumbents facilitates the sense of loyalty.

An adjustment to the local culture at the ATC Unit can be a determinant for success in unit training (especially in the On-the-Job-Training (OJT)) and later on the job and can affect any career advancement prospects for the future.

The behaviour and the related images of themselves are very powerful and should not be overlooked. They will also play a crucial role in team relationship, motivation and personal and career development of controllers.

Controller Career Development

Career management programmes are targeted not just at selecting, training and retaining staff. Such programmes represent that component of the Human Resources Management (HRM) that tries to meet changing organisational and business needs, and the development potential of the staff. The need to encourage the accomplishment of specific organisational learning and growth during periods of change demands new forms of intervention, leadership and support systems. Career management programmes are to be seen as a fundamental element in the recruitment, development, retention and motivation of staff to meet organisational needs and strategic objectives. If ANSPs integrate career management programmes within an integrated competency framework, the following points should be taken into consideration:

  • identification of the competencies required for job performance is a function of HR, present post holders and organisational needs, and should reflect not only the current requirements of the post/function but also future requirements;
  • staff should be trained and developed in competency frameworks’, understanding how specific behaviours relate to performance and what is required of them to perform effectively on the job;
  • development of a model linking the performance management process to define and assess both job results and competency behaviours may contribute to predicting performance on the job or in a specific function, and may contribute to increased organisational effectiveness.

Utilisation of Existing Controller Competencies

The specialisation of the ATC disciplines is now a common practice in many States and the continuing trend is for specialised training. This can mean that the controller is either an Aerodrome or Approach or Area controller, but seldom all three.

Identifying career development opportunities to address new specialisations outside of operations is a challenge for ANSPs.

More and more, mention of individual career planning and organisational career management is within the context of increasing employee achievement, commitment, and motivation in line with the business goals of the organisation, such as customer orientation, higher efficiency, safety, increased capacity and achieving benefits quicker from technological investments. It is becoming increasingly important to develop initiatives to attract, retain, develop and motivate staff.

Organisations will need employees who can work within and adapt to a more fluid and ambiguous work environment. Within ANSPs this could be reflected in new roles and responsibilities of controllers requiring a broader skill set and profile. Ensuring employability, retention of staff expertise and organisational growth has become an issue for ANSPs, which can be addressed through career management programmes that specifically address the utilisation of existing controllers’ competencies.

The development of employees and retention of knowledge and expertise presents an opportunity for ANSPs to take a proactive approach to future planning and growth of their organisations.

Organisational Tasks

  • Involve advisory and staff groups;
  • Establish Personal and Career Development (PCD) programme mission;
  • Establish success criteria for validation/evaluation;
  • Assess national cultures;
  • Publicise the PCD programme;
  • Identify organisational requirements and strategic targets;
  • Identify external impacts;
  • Assess resources and define competencies / skill areas;
  • Design interventions;
  • Provide training in PCD planning;
  • Provide competency and skills training;
  • Communicate career information;
  • Evaluate and refine the programme;

Workplace Learning in ATM

Learning is not static. Individual and organisational workplace learning has existed for many years. It is commonly accepted now that the focus is changing with a new emphasis on learning to learn, learning as a group and learning through reflection.

The rate of internal and external change being experienced by ANSPs and ATM organisations will require a ‘knowledge pool’ of employees, which can be harnessed during these periods. ATCOs possess the expertise, knowledge and experience that represent an important asset for the organisation (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: ATM career development learning process

Job Satisfaction and Motivation

It is widely recognized now that as a result of the changes in the economic and social environments in which ANSPs operate the nature of the employment relationship is undergoing fundamental changes. This relationship is the ‘psychological contract’ consisting of the individual’s beliefs and perceptions about the mutual expectations and obligations in the employer-employee relationship. Integral to this relationship are fairness, trust in management and the extent to which the ‘deal’ is delivered. This relationship has important consequences for organisational commitment, job satisfaction, organisational citizenship, intention to stay, and subsequently, employee and organisational performance. For the controller, internal and external impacts may have influenced this relationship to the extent that there are fewer opportunities for career progression either within and/or on top of their primary role in operations.

Changes in the employment relationship have important implications for the organisations’ human resource policies and practices. While there may be less agreement regarding the precise nature of those changes, there has been a movement away from pay/remuneration as the primary key motivator for job satisfaction and retention. The emphasis is now often on higher-level goals that can be related to job motivation and commitment:

  • finding meaning in the work;
  • using skills and competencies;
  • the ability of top management to set and communicate a clear and consistent organisational strategic direction;
  • improved work-life balance.

Career Motivation

The following are important questions related to career motivation and staff responsibility: Does the person:

  • want to be in a leadership position?
  • want to develop technical skills (e.g. for procedures development, safety area and incident investigation)?
  • want to be recognised for accomplishments?
  • look forward to working with new and different colleagues?
  • possess creativity in organisational networking?
  • maintain friendship with colleagues in different departments?
  • look for opportunities to interact with influential colleagues?
  • seek job assignments which will help obtain one’s career goal?
  • have the freedom from personal constraints, which might be necessary for career changes?
  • seek participation in workshops and courses in order to expand expertise?
  • have realistic expectations?

Factors like poor working conditions, workplace conflicts, unrealistic expectations, lack of information on the latest developments within the organization, fatigue, boredom, high workload, etc. may have a negative effect on motivation and therefore on the loyalty.

Career Motivation Concepts

The concept attempts to explain various career and work behaviours such as deciding to stay with an organisation, revising one’s career plans, seeking training and new experiences and setting career goals.

The career motivation theory includes three dimensions:

  1. Career Resilience - The ability to overcome career setbacks. This ability relates to self-efficacy, tolerance of uncertainty, risk-taking and dependency.
  2. Career Insight - The extent to which an individual has realistic career perceptions about oneself and the organisation. Career insight is related to one’s need for change, knowledge of one’s strengths and weaknesses, the goal clarity and the goal flexibility. Employees with a high level of career insight investigate potential career changes, gather information about career opportunities and identify realistic goals and action plans. Organisations can influence this by helping individuals to identify their potential for further development.
  3. Career Identity - The extent to which career is central to one’s identity. Factors reflecting career decisions and behaviours such as work involvement, job satisfaction, desire for upward mobility (i.e. need to be promoted) represent career identity. Retraining mid-career workers should aim at developing new career identities. For example, implementing organisational change objectives effectively and promoting sabbatical projects are ways of expanding career identity. These could in turn reduce a desire for upward mobility, which is less likely to be feasible for the majority of staff (e.g. due to lack of posts).

To Have in Mind

Maintaining loyalty to the profession will ensure the retaintion of values of the controller’s job during the different phases of personal and career development or changing company.

Creating job culture, facilitating job satisfaction, motivating people will strengthen loyalty to the profession and to the organization.

Why loyalty is needed?

The developed and well-established loyalty can help the organisation to retain its professionals in many challenging cases such as :

  • nowadays the existence of other attractive professions within aviation may be a strong defiance in front of controllers.
  • other aviation organisations can be attractive offering positions for controllers or better career development perspectives.
  • work opportunities provided by other industries can be attractive and could lead to change of profession.

ATCO Career Paths

There are four identifiable career paths that exist for ATCOs within the ATM environment:

  • changes within ATC environment;
  • changes to institutional training;
  • changes to research and development;
  • changes to managerial careers.


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