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TOTI: Cutting Distractions Worldwide

The FAA’s global leadership in promoting professionalism in the air traffic control workplace – towers, TRACONs and centers – was demonstrated at the recent International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers’ Associations (IFATCA) Americas Conference in the Bahamas.

Professional Standards Co-Lead Garth Koleszar was invited to the conference and gave a presentation to air traffic professionals from around the world regarding the dangers of distractions in the air traffic control operation. Koleszar discussed how the distraction-awareness and education initiative Turn Off Tune In has helped create a safety culture at facilities across the United States, and he encouraged other countries to adopt a similar program if they don’t already have one in place. IFATCA represents 133 nations and more than 50,000 controllers internationally. Controllers attending the Americas Conference came from as far north as Canada and as far south as Chile.

“A controller in South America faces the same challenges as a controller from North America,” Koleszar said. “Everything from resources to technology changes – we’re all dealing with the same things in this profession.”

During his talk, Koleszar stressed the importance of educating the workforce to change the culture surrounding electronic distractions. Koleszar showed a video featuring several controllers speaking on the importance of mindfulness when it comes to eliminating distractions in the workplace. Many of the controllers featured in the video were filmed during the annual IFATCA Conference when it took place in Las Vegas in 2016 where Koleszar and other professionalism educators appeared.

“I think it was important for them to see what they have done,” he said. “It demonstrated the continuity of controllers around the world because we leveraged their experiences and values to show we are all on the same page.”

For example, one controller featured in the video, Zephania Sholobela of Zambia, said that every time he enters a control room he finds a place where he can put away distractions. “Every time I transmit to an aircraft, the pilot should have confidence in me that I know what I’m doing,” he said.

Koleszar believes other countries are looking to the United States as a resource for helping them advance their own distraction-awareness campaign within their air traffic system. Since 2013, Turn Off Tune In has helped controllers and managers embrace professionalism and minimize distractions through information, tools and resources. Controllers from around the world have contacted the campaign for materials to help them develop their own educational programs on professionalism.

“I think events like this give us an opportunity to demonstrate leadership in the aviation community worldwide on taking an active role in driving concepts and continued change toward an even safer environment,” Koleszar said. “Controllers around the world are showing they are committed to moving the safety needle forward despite challenges they face.”

This story has been published jointly by the FAA and NATCA.