Air traffic controller
Overview
 
Air traffic controllers are the people who expedite and maintain a safe and orderly flow of air traffic
Aircraft
An aircraft is a vehicle that is able to fly by gaining support from the air, or, in general, the atmosphere of a planet. An aircraft counters the force of gravity by using either static lift or by using the dynamic lift of an airfoil, or in a few cases the downward thrust from jet engines.Although...

 in the global air traffic control
Air traffic control
Air traffic control is a service provided by ground-based controllers who direct aircraft on the ground and in the air. The primary purpose of ATC systems worldwide is to separate aircraft to prevent collisions, to organize and expedite the flow of traffic, and to provide information and other...

 system. The position of the air traffic controller is one that requires highly specialized skills. Controllers apply separation rules
Separation (air traffic control)
In air traffic control, separation is the name for the concept of keeping an aircraft outside a minimum distance from another aircraft to reduce the risk of those aircraft colliding, as well as prevent accidents due to wake turbulence....

 to keep aircraft apart from each other in their area of responsibility and move all aircraft safely and efficiently through their assigned sector of airspace.
Encyclopedia
Air traffic controllers are the people who expedite and maintain a safe and orderly flow of air traffic
Aircraft
An aircraft is a vehicle that is able to fly by gaining support from the air, or, in general, the atmosphere of a planet. An aircraft counters the force of gravity by using either static lift or by using the dynamic lift of an airfoil, or in a few cases the downward thrust from jet engines.Although...

 in the global air traffic control
Air traffic control
Air traffic control is a service provided by ground-based controllers who direct aircraft on the ground and in the air. The primary purpose of ATC systems worldwide is to separate aircraft to prevent collisions, to organize and expedite the flow of traffic, and to provide information and other...

 system. The position of the air traffic controller is one that requires highly specialized skills. Controllers apply separation rules
Separation (air traffic control)
In air traffic control, separation is the name for the concept of keeping an aircraft outside a minimum distance from another aircraft to reduce the risk of those aircraft colliding, as well as prevent accidents due to wake turbulence....

 to keep aircraft apart from each other in their area of responsibility and move all aircraft safely and efficiently through their assigned sector of airspace. Because controllers have an incredibly large responsibility while on duty, the ATC profession is regarded around the world as one of the most challenging careers, and can be notoriously stressful depending on many variables (equipment, configurations, weather, traffic volume, human factors, etc.). Having said this, many controllers would cite high salaries
Salary
A salary is a form of periodic payment from an employer to an employee, which may be specified in an employment contract. It is contrasted with piece wages, where each job, hour or other unit is paid separately, rather than on a periodic basis....

 and a very large degree of autonomy
Autonomy
Autonomy is a concept found in moral, political and bioethical philosophy. Within these contexts, it is the capacity of a rational individual to make an informed, un-coerced decision...

 as major advantages of their jobs.

Although the media in the United States frequently refers to them as air controllers, or flight controllers, most air traffic professionals use the term air traffic controllers. They are also called air traffic control officers (ATCOs), air traffic control specialists, or simply controllers. For a more detailed article on the job itself, please see air traffic control
Air traffic control
Air traffic control is a service provided by ground-based controllers who direct aircraft on the ground and in the air. The primary purpose of ATC systems worldwide is to separate aircraft to prevent collisions, to organize and expedite the flow of traffic, and to provide information and other...

.

Core skills of a controller

Air traffic controllers are generally individuals who are well organized, are quick with numeric computations and mathematics, have assertive and firm decision making
Decision making
Decision making can be regarded as the mental processes resulting in the selection of a course of action among several alternative scenarios. Every decision making process produces a final choice. The output can be an action or an opinion of choice.- Overview :Human performance in decision terms...

 skills, and possess excellent short-term memory
Short-term memory
Short-term memory is the capacity for holding a small amount of information in mind in an active, readily available state for a short period of time. The duration of short-term memory is believed to be in the order of seconds. A commonly cited capacity is 7 ± 2 elements...

 and visual memory
Visual memory
Visual memory describes the relationship between perceptual processing and the encoding, storage and retrieval of the resulting neural representations. Visual memory occurs over a broad time range spanning from eye movements to years in order to visually navigate to a previously visited location...

 abilities. In addition, studies have shown that air traffic controllers generally have a degree of situational awareness that is much higher than the average population. Excellent hearing and speaking skills
Diction
Diction , in its original, primary meaning, refers to the writer's or the speaker's distinctive vocabulary choices and style of expression in a poem or story...

 are a requirement, and trainees undergo rigid physical and psychological testing. In addition they are generally assertive but calm under pressure, and they are able to follow and apply rules yet be flexible when necessary. Air traffic controllers must maintain some of the strictest medical and mental requirements for professions; conditions such as diabetes, epilepsy
Epilepsy
Epilepsy is a common chronic neurological disorder characterized by seizures. These seizures are transient signs and/or symptoms of abnormal, excessive or hypersynchronous neuronal activity in the brain.About 50 million people worldwide have epilepsy, and nearly two out of every three new cases...

, heart disease
Heart disease
Heart disease, cardiac disease or cardiopathy is an umbrella term for a variety of diseases affecting the heart. , it is the leading cause of death in the United States, England, Canada and Wales, accounting for 25.4% of the total deaths in the United States.-Types:-Coronary heart disease:Coronary...

, and many mental disorders (e.g., bipolar disorder
Bipolar disorder
Bipolar disorder or bipolar affective disorder, historically known as manic–depressive disorder, is a psychiatric diagnosis that describes a category of mood disorders defined by the presence of one or more episodes of abnormally elevated energy levels, cognition, and mood with or without one or...

, a history of drug abuse
Drug abuse
Substance abuse, also known as drug abuse, refers to a maladaptive pattern of use of a substance that is not considered dependent. The term "drug abuse" does not exclude dependency, but is otherwise used in a similar manner in nonmedical contexts...

) typically disqualify people from obtaining certification. Conditions such as hypertension
Hypertension
Hypertension or high blood pressure is a cardiac chronic medical condition in which the systemic arterial blood pressure is elevated. What that means is that the heart is having to work harder than it should to pump the blood around the body. Blood pressure involves two measurements, systolic and...

, while not disqualifying, are taken seriously and must be monitored with medical examinations by certified doctors. Controllers must take precautions to remain healthy and avoid certain medications that are banned for them. Many drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) such as SSRI antidepressants are banned without specialized certification. Almost universally, trainee controllers begin work in their twenties and retire in their fifties.

Communication is a vital part of the job: controllers are trained to precisely focus on the exact words
Phraseology
In linguistics, phraseology is the study of set or fixed expressions, such as idioms, phrasal verbs, and other types of multi-word lexical units , in which the component parts of the expression take on a meaning more specific than or otherwise not predictable from the sum of their meanings when...

 pilots and other controllers speak, because a single misunderstanding about an altitude level or runway number for example can have tragic consequences. Controllers communicate with the pilots of aircraft using a push-to-talk radiotelephony
Radiotelephone
A radiotelephone is a communications system for transmission of speech over radio. Radiotelephone systems are not necessarily interconnected with the public "land line" telephone network. "Radiotelephone" is often used to describe the usage of radio spectrum where it is important to distinguish the...

 system, which has many attendant issues such as the fact only one transmission can be made on a frequency at a time, or transmissions will either merge together or block each other and become unreadable.

Although local languages are sometimes used in ATC communications, the default language of aviation worldwide is English. Controllers who do not speak this as a first language are generally expected to show a certain minimum level of competency with the language.

Teamwork
Teamwork
Teamwork is action performed by a team towards a common goal. A team consists of more than one person, each of whom typically has different responsibilities....

 plays a major role in a controller’s job, not only with other controllers and air traffic staff, but with pilots, engineers and managers.

Area or enroute

Area controllers are responsible for the safety of aircraft at higher altitudes, in the en route phase of their flight. In most nations they are known as "area" or "en route" controllers. Airspace under the control of Area controllers is split into sectors which are 3D blocks of airspace of defined dimensions. Each sector will be managed by at least one Area controller. This can be done either with or without the use of radar: radar allows a sector to handle much more traffic, however procedural control
Procedural control
Procedural control is a method of providing air traffic control services without the use of radar. It is used in regions of the world, specifically sparsely-populated land areas and oceans, where radar coverage is either prohibitively expensive or is simply not feasible...

 is used in many areas where traffic levels do not justify radar or the installation of radar is not feasible.
In the United States, En-Route controllers work at Air Route Traffic Control Centers or ARTCCs. In other countries, area controllers work in Area Control Center
Area Control Center
In air traffic control, an Area Control Center , also known as a Center, is a facility responsible for controlling instrument flight rules aircraft en route in a particular volume of airspace at high altitudes between airport approaches and departures...

s, controlling high-level en-route aircraft, or Terminal Control Center
Terminal Control Center
A terminal radar approach control is an air traffic control facility usually located within the vicinity of a large airport. Typically, the TRACON controls aircraft within a 20-50 nautical mile radius of the major airport and a number of "satellite airports" between surface and up to between and...

s, controlling aircraft at medium levels climbing and descending from major groups of the airports.

Aerodrome or Tower

Aerodrome or Tower controllers control aircraft within the immediate vicinity of the airport and use visual observation from the airport tower. The tower's airspace is often a 5 nautical miles (9.3 km) radius around the airport, but can vary greatly in size and shape depending on traffic configuration and volume.

The tower positions are typically split into many different positions such as Flight Data/Clearance Delivery, Ground Control, and Local Control (known as Tower by the pilots); at busier facilities, a limited radar approach control position may be needed.

The roles of the positions are;
  • Flight Data/Clearance Delivery: issues IFR flight plan clearances, usually prior to taxi. Unlike the other positions, FD/CD only involves departing aircraft.
  • Ground: issues taxi instructions and authorizes aircraft/vehicle movements on the airport except the active runway(s); controllers are not responsible for aircraft movement on ramps or other designated non-movement areas.
  • Local (Tower): issues takeoff and landing instructions/clearances and authorizes aircraft/vehicle movements on or across runways.
  • Approach: issues instructions to aircraft who are intending to land at the airport. This involves vectoring aircraft in a safe, orderly, and expeditious manner and, if needed, stacking the aircraft at different holding altitudes.

Civilian/military - public/private

Most countries' armed forces employ air traffic controllers, often in most if not all branches of the forces. Although actual terms vary from country to country, controllers are usually enlisted.

In some countries, such as Brazil, all air traffic control is performed by the military. In other countries, military controllers are responsible solely for military airspace and airbases; civilian controllers maintain airspace for civilian traffic and civilian airports. Historically in most countries this was part of the government and controllers were civil servants. However, many countries have partly or wholly privatized their air traffic control systems; others are looking to do the same.

Education

Civilian Air Traffic Controllers' licensing is standardized by international agreement through ICAO. Many countries have Air Traffic Control schools, academies or colleges, often operated by the incumbent provider of air traffic services in that country, but sometimes privately. These train student controllers from walking in off the street to the standards required to hold an Air Traffic Control license, which will contain one or more Ratings. These are sub-qualifications denoting the air traffic control discipline or disciplines in which the person has been trained. ICAO defines five such ratings: Area (procedural), Area Radar, Approach (procedural), Approach Radar and Aerodrome. In the United States, controllers may train in several similar specialties: Tower, Ground-Controlled Approach (GCA), Terminal Radar Control, or Enroute Control (both radar and non-radar). This phase of training takes between 6 months and several years.

Whenever an air traffic controller is posted to a new unit or starts work on a new sector within a particular unit, they must undergo a period of training regarding the procedures peculiar to that particular unit and/or sector. The majority of this training is done in a live position controlling real aircraft and is termed On the Job Training (OJT), with a fully qualified and trained mentor or On the Job Training Instructor (OJTI) also 'plugged in' to the sector to give guidance and ready to take over in a second should it become necessary. The length of this phase of training varies from a matter of months to years, depending on the complexity of the sector.

Only once a person has passed all these training stages they will be allowed to control on their possessions.

Work patterns

Typically, controllers work "on position" for 90 to 120 minutes then they get 30 minutes break. Except at quieter airports, Air Traffic Control is a 24 hours, 365-days-a-year job. Therefore controllers usually work rotating shifts, including nights, weekends and public holidays. These are usually set twenty eight days in advance. In many countries the structure of controllers' shift patterns is regulated to allow for adequate time off. In the UK the most common pattern is two mornings, two late afternoons and 2 evenings/nights followed by 4 day break.

Age restrictions

If employed by the FAA, the latest one can start training is usually age 30, and retirement is mandatory at 56 years of age. However, retired military air traffic controllers may qualify for appointment after reaching 31 years of age.

With NATS, the minimum age to start the application and training is 18 while the mandatory retirement age is 60. If an 18 year old joins and is successful then they will have to be posted to an Area course which will ensure they are 21 years old on graduation, thus old enough to hold a radar licence.

Stress

Many countries regulate work hours to ensure that controllers are able to remain focused and effective. Research has shown that when controllers remain ‘in position’ for more than two hours without a break, performance can deteriorate rapidly, even at low traffic levels. Many national regulations therefore require breaks at least every two hours.

Computerization and the future

See also NextGen
Next Generation Air Transportation System
The Next Generation Air Transportation System is the name given to a new National Airspace System due for implementation across the United States in stages between 2012 and 2025. The...



Despite years of effort and the billions of dollars that have been spent on computer software designed to assist air traffic control, success has been largely limited to improving the tools at the disposal of the controllers such as computer-enhanced radar. It is likely that in the next few decades, future technology will make the controller more of system manager overseeing decisions made by automated systems and manually intervening to resolve situations not handled well by the computers, rather than being automated out of existence altogether.

However there are problems envisaged with technology that normally takes the controller out of the decision loop but requires the controller to step back in to control exceptional situations: air traffic control is a skill that has to be kept current by regular practice. This in itself may prove to be the largest stumbling block to the introduction of highly automated air traffic control systems.

User acceptance or willingness to use such technology is another important consideration air service providers need to consider prior to implementing any new technology. In a recent study with over 500 air traffic controllers from around the world, Bekier and colleagues found that once the locus of decision-making shifts from the air traffic controller, support for the technology dramatically decreases. Unsurprisingly, they also found that air traffic controllers enjoy the core tasks of their role: namely, conflict detection and resolution.

Canada

NAV CANADA
NAV CANADA
Nav Canada is a privately run, not-for-profit corporation that owns and operates Canada's civil air navigation system .The company employs approximately 2,000 air traffic controllers , 800 flight service specialists and 700 technologists...

, the country's civil air navigation services provider, is a private sector, non-share capital corporation financed through publicly traded debt.
NAV CANADA provides air traffic control, flight information, weather briefings, aeronautical information services, airport advisory services and electronic aids to navigation.

United States

In the U.S., a majority of the air traffic control workforce will retire over the next 10 years. As a result, the Federal Aviation Administration is hiring more than 12,000 new trainees (that take 3–5 years to become fully certified controllers) over the next decade.

There are many avenues to become an Air Traffic Controller. There are 35 CTI (Collegiate Training Initiative) schools around the United States which also provide a college degree in the process. After graduation, personnel are then placed on a list that depicts hiring eligibility. The Federal Aviation Administration then selects personnel from this list and places new hires in a location. The Federal Aviation Administration also hires Air Traffic Controllers who have separated from the United States military. The cut-off age for hire is 31. Finally, the Federal Aviation Administration also hires from the general public. Applicants from the general public must attain a qualifying score on a computerized aptitude test battery known as AT-SAT

Prior experience or training in air traffic control is not required. However, candidates must have three years of progressively responsible work experience, have completed a full 4-year course of study leading to a bachelor’s degree, or possess an equivalent combination of work experience and college credits. In combining education and experience, 1 year of undergraduate study (30 semester or 45 quarter hours) is equivalent to 9 months of general experience. Certain kinds of aviation experience may be substituted for these requirements.

U.S. citizenship is required. Candidates must be able to speak English clearly enough to be understood over radios, intercoms, and similar communications equipment.

United Kingdom

In the UK there are three main routes to becoming an Air Traffic Controller. One is to join NATS
National Air Traffic Services
NATS Ltd. is the main air navigation service provider in the United Kingdom. It provides en-route air traffic control services to flights within the UK Flight Information Regions and the Shanwick Oceanic Control Area, and provides air traffic control services to fifteen UK airports and Gibraltar...

 as a trainee controller: this is the only way for people wishing to become Area Controllers. Another is to join a non-NATS airport as an Air Traffic Services Assistant with a view to being sponsored by the employer to become an Air Traffic Controller. The third way is to pay for one's own training to licence level with a view to being hired afterwards (usually by a non-NATS airport).

If a candidate decides to join through NATS
National Air Traffic Services
NATS Ltd. is the main air navigation service provider in the United Kingdom. It provides en-route air traffic control services to flights within the UK Flight Information Regions and the Shanwick Oceanic Control Area, and provides air traffic control services to fifteen UK airports and Gibraltar...

, they will begin a rigorous training regime. Once the initial application form is completed and if successful, the candidate will have to complete an online test which is basic checking and mental arithmetic. Stage 1 follows which is a selection of paper and pencil tests. If successful, Stage 2 is a day of computer tests which again further test the candidates skill-set for the job and their aptitude
Aptitude
An aptitude is an innate component of a competency to do a certain kind of work at a certain level. Aptitudes may be physical or mental...

. Stage 3 is the final stage, it involves a thorough interview and a group exercise. If successful then the candidate will go for a medical and the process for security clearance begins. If the candidate gets this far, he represents the top 3% of applicants.

Controllers can earn up to £90,000 per year depending on employer, experience and the unit at which they are employed (the highest salary potential for NATS Controllers is at Swanwick and Heathrow). Controllers employed by NATS, on appointment as an Air Traffic Controller (3rd anniversary of joining NATS) earn between £41,653 - £46,423 plus shift pay of approximately £5,489 (April 2009).

See also

  • Air safety
    Air safety
    Air safety is a term encompassing the theory, investigation and categorization of flight failures, and the prevention of such failures through regulation, education and training. It can also be applied in the context of campaigns that inform the public as to the safety of air travel.-United...

  • Air traffic controllers' strike of 1981 (U.S.A.)
  • Flight planning
    Flight planning
    Flight planning is the process of producing a flight plan to describe a proposed aircraft flight. It involves two safety-critical aspects: fuel calculation, to ensure that the aircraft can safely reach the destination, and compliance with air traffic control requirements, to minimise the risk of...


External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.
 
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