(Aug. 10, 2018)
NATCA members represented air traffic controllers at the annual Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l (ALPA) 2018 Air Safety Forum last week in Washington, D.C.. NATCA Procedures Rep and Boise ATCT (BOI) member Andy Marosvari spoke on a panel about pilot-controller interactions.
The forum brings airline pilots, subject-matter experts, and government and industry partners together for in-depth discussions to drive improvements in aviation safety, security, and pilot health in the U.S. and Canada.
The panel discussion, titled “Pilots & Controllers – Managing Change in an Evolving National Airspace System (NAS),” focused on the evolving experience levels of both air traffic controllers and pilots. Panelists discussed ways aviation safety organizations work to manage pilot-controller interactions to ensure safe operations in the ever-changing landscape.
Moderator and ALPA Air Traffic Services Group Chair Captain Marc Henegar asked Marosvari how NATCA and the FAA deal with loss of expertise as experienced controllers retire, and what background can help incoming controllers.
“Previous to the hiring requirements the FAA has had the last few years, you didn’t need any background in aviation to be hired as an air traffic controller,” Marosvari said. “The aviation background helps, but we’ve found that sometimes people without any aviation background whatsoever can succeed.
“Most, however, do tend to come in with some background knowledge. These people with no experience, they would walk into New York TRACON or Southern California TRACON, and they’d have that wide-eyed moment, where they see all the traffic and have no clue how they’re going to make it. That’s why the training program takes so long. We have a program that trains people sometimes for three or four years before they go to work traffic.
“In air traffic control, at the rate that we are training people and the rate that we are losing experienced controllers, if something is not trained correctly, it’s never learned correctly."
To combat this, he said, NATCA and the FAA develop recurrent training and provide it to controllers to keep them well-trained and fluent in the operation.
“When people ask where your safety dues and other funding goes, that’s where it is, and with good reason,” Henegar said.
Another example of successful collaborative safety measures is the development of a tool to prevent wrong surface landings. Henegar asked Marosvari to explain.
“At the airports where this is being implemented, they’re making use of the ground radar and controllers are able to use it to look out on the final approach to determine if the aircraft is lined up to the correct runway,” Marosvari said. “As it is implemented, it will be tailored to each airport to their specific geometry. This taxiway arrival prediction tool has an alert, and if it goes off because the aircraft is not aligned, it’s a mandatory go-around for the aircraft that is aligned incorrectly.”
“The FAA and NATCA together took action and came up with this very effective tool. As it’s implemented over the next year or so, it will help prevent those types of issues,” Henegar said. “That’s what we do, is try to engineer every potential for error out of the system.”