What will change? skills for future Air Traffic Controllers

A few weeks ago I was asked to present at one of the closing events of a project aiming at defining “… future knowledge, skills and competences required by key professionals of the aeronautical sector. By identifying the needs of an evolving labour market, skill-UP develops initial and continuing VET training programmes based on suitable and innovative teaching and training methodologies and on study pathways for skilling, upskilling and reskilling the air transport workforce.” The project is called skill-UP and you can find more here: https://www.skillup-air.eu/

I was asked to consider the future Air Traffic Controller skill set. I took current competence areas and skills and the way we feel the future is going in terms of service expectation, technology and societal trends as a starting point to try to look into the crystal ball and see how this future skill set for air traffic controllers could look like.

I came up with 5 areas which admittedly are not all necessarily skills but are a mix of skill, knowledge and attitudes (known as KSAs) that I believe would be necessary for the future.

The 5 KSAs for me are:

  • Digital competence (K)
  • Cognitive Flexibility (S)
  • Maintenance of current ATCO skills that lead to cognitive processes: Spatial Intelligence, Situational Awareness and Decision Making with possibly alternative exposure to practice. (S)
  • Continuous Development (A)
  • Discipline (A)

With digital competence I mean that a future air traffic controller will need to appreciate how artificial intelligence (not in the strict sense of AI but in a generic sense of a non-human support/co responsibility in decision making and other processes) works, its strengths and weaknesses not dissimilar to how we inherently learn on how to work with other people and to get a feel of their strengths and limitations.

With cognitive flexibility I mean that skill to be able to switch from one thing to another and also to go from 0 to 100 in a split second. This skill is already important now but if future air traffic controllers will be put in montoring situations, then we will need to fill in the gaps more rapidly than we perhaps do today.

Future air traffic controllers will still need to take decisions on aircraft flying in 3 dimensions, in order to provide a safe and efficient service. This needs a number of skills to be developed and maintained. Currently controllers mainly maintain these skills by practicing. If practicing becomes less available, because of the delegation of certain elements of work to an automated system, then we will need to find an alternative way on how to maintain these skills – (apart from the fact that as a system we need to acknowledge skill degradation and have mitigations for these that do not expect super being skills from human air traffic controllers – but that is the subject of an other article)

I included continuous development because I think that the job of a controller will be changing rapidly in the future. If future controllers do not endorse the attitude that they need to keep learning and to move with things, then we will have a mismatch in pace.

Finally, I also included discipline as an attitude. One may say that discipline is important to date and I would perfectly agree. However whereas in the present there are still windows which allow one to work in their own bubble and do “what they like and how they like” within a set of prescribed rules and regulations, the trend is towards sharing of information and collaborative decision making, between humans and between humans and machines. The discipline comes in where it will become more important to do the right thing, but in the way it fits with the rest of a shared system rather than in isolation. Working well with others, vs working alone requires discipline. Tomorrow´s air traffic control work will probably require even more of that.

These are my thoughts about the future skill sets of air traffic controllers. 

I end by sharing the presentation I gave (click on the picture to go to the pdf).

What do you think? Send me a private message or start a healthy debate. I´ll be happy to answer and to contribute!

More learning tools and skills for our instructors and teachers as a basis for innovation

Last week, I had the honor to give a presentation at Eurocontrol`s ATM Training Team (ATT). The ATT could be regarded as a network of training organisations and supervisory authorities in the sector of Air Traffic Management who meet to share information and to learn from each other and from external sources. 

As from this December meeting onwards, a number of fixed agenda items have been put in place inside the bi-annual meetings. One of these is about innovation. Ingenav was invited to give the first presentation in this series. When asked to consider a presentation topic I thought that the right way to start is to try to set the basis right: There are many reasons a training organisation might want to innovate, and the first step in that direction should be to know why.

Each training organisation I know in our field has an organisational structure which includes a management tier, composed of elements whch include functional (training) management and administrative management (finance, resouces/people, IT, etc.). The what I call functional management is normally composed of the teaching staff and their management. In some training organisations, mainly the bigger ones, this area also includes support to training development and delivery, both in approach and also in content. In most of the organisations I know however, this support service is either non-existant and the tasks fall on the instructors, or there is a gap in knowledge, understanding and expectation between these professional training support staff and those tasked with teaching.

The problem mainly comes from this area, I think, in that our instructors, most of the time, are not as skilled and knowledgeable as they should be in learning theories and approaches. The reasons to this situation are in my opinion valid ones, in the sense that this personnel is recruited firstly for their subject matter expertise (ATC) it is a regulatory requirement, AND with a minimum knowledge and skill in terms of teaching. Some organisation recruit with a minimum requirement of an on-the-job trainining or synthetic training device endorsement, the training of which can be resumed to a couple of weeks of initial training mainly in practical instructional techniques and a bit of learning theory and human factors applied to training plus a minimum number of years of experience and periodic short refresher trainings that very rarely go further than refreshing the same techniques learnt in the initial course (and rarely building on them). Other organisations go a bit further and require candidates to have followed classroom instruction techniques or similar courses. Some organisations give internal improvement courses to their staff in the area of teaching and others don´t.  However in all (or at least in most as never say all) cases, none of this compares even remotely, for example, to the training a professional teacher receives.

The result, amongst other things, is that this staff, who is the first line of contact with the students lacks the background knowledge, skill and especially confidence to innovate. We learn from experience (which in other words from mistakes we commit with previous students) and from copying models of our predecessors, who in turn were poorly trained themselves.

So, without goining into further analysis of the issues that this situation arises, in terms of the subject of the title of this blog entry, how can we innovate if our basis – our instructors, are shaky in their knowledge and confidence on how should they best approach their tasks, adapt to new situations and propose improvements?

Back to the ATT:

The idea that I presented in the ATT aims, at least in part to deal with this:

To provide our instructors with ideas and a framework on how they could see, organise and deliver, and think of improvements in training.

For the past 7 years we have been organising workshops (at Skyguide, Eurocontrol, FABEC and DFS) aimed at instructors to see learning as a series of events that occur to students who through the use of methods managed and delivered by our instructors assimilate knowledge and become skilfull in the competences required.

During these workshops which also aim at motivating our instructors and to give them further confidence in their didactical choices, we reflect on the profile of the students they teach. We discuss gender gaps and current preferences and relationship their students have with items such as critical thinking, the use of technology, attention span, etc. We then consider the content and the competence areas we need to facilitate learning in and study its nature: rather theoretical or practical? Concrete or rather abstact. Is the relvenace for the students clear? Is it condensed or delivered with time? Etc.

After this we do a good introduction to methodologies such as adult learning and the staged self directed learning model. We also look at gamification. We dig down into seeing what methods such as student centred learning or the flipped classroom have to offer. Then we look at some tools such as using videos on demand, authoring and editing tools which are accessible to non experts, and more.

Finally we look at what is expected from us as teaching professionals: being teachers, instructors, facilitators and also coaches. We do an analysis of these needs and discuss and action plan.

We come out revitalised, “boosted” in our profession as teachers/instructors, along with that of being subject matter experts. We have a basis to think of innovation from the roots, from those who are the mortar in ATC training.



If you wish to receive more information about these workshops, do contact us at Ingenav!

The 1st 100 years of ATC training and the next 10.

A couple of months ago I was invited to write an article for the IFATCA Controller magazine about the 1st 100 years of training. Here is the text of that article:

Looking back at the past 100 years, it is astonishing to see how fast the aviation industry developed. In doing so, a need was created to ensure order and safety in flight, and at airports. Air Traffic Control developed in order to meet the demands of safety standards of the young aviation industry.
The pioneers of this new air traffic control discipline learned from experience. They developed best practices which were gradually turned into rules, procedures and regulations, initially at aerodromes but gradually expanding as aircraft extended their range.
These pioneering air traffic control experts not only wrote the rules they had adopted: they also began to hand down their knowledge and skills to new generations of controllers. In doing so, they became the first instructors. They held the body of knowledge that bidding air traffic controllers needed before they could move on to practice on-the-job, under the supervision of an established controller: principles of flight, navigation, communication, air traffic procedures. As air traffic grew in volume and complexity, so did the air traffic control system, though almost always slightly lagging behind. As the system matured, so did the realisation that an air traffic controller needed particular skills. Until then, the main criterium for eligibility as a controller was intellect: one needed to have an appropriate educational background. With the realisation that particular skills were also needed, came a new challenge for training: how do we train those skills to the adequate level?
The answer was through simulation that could expose new controllers to situations that they would possibly experience one day, but that were far from guaranteed to happen during on-the-job training. It made controller    training more efficient and neutralised the higher exigencies borne from the fact that air traffic was becoming so complex that in certain units the on-thejob training, without of the use of prior simulation was becoming very long.
Over the years, these simulators became increasingly sophisticated. Tower simulators were initially little else than model airports with various ways of moving model aircraft around. More recently, they have benefitted of powerful 3d graphics generation and projection possibilities that can reproduce the most challenging tower situations.
When I joined ATC in 1995, I discovered a particularly mature system in which the body of knowledge, divided into subjects (what all of us mostly know) was taught first, followed by simulation on generic situations, followed by transitional training from the generic to unit specific and finally to on-the-job training. Almost 30 years have passed since then, and ATC training continued to evolve, growing increasingly sophisticated. Apart from initial training to qualify as a controller, there was an increased need to establish requirements for maintaining the competence and to periodically refresh skills and knowledge. Development training, first for instructors, then for assessors and for other functions developed. Regulation also became with time more sophisticated, and more dominant, with minimum requirements for training to achieve competence, to maintain competence, to train others and to assess competence.
With the continuous development of the science of human performance and growing understanding of its link to safety, training in applied human factors (notably team resources management) passed from being a best practice to (at least in Europe) a regulatory requirement. Teach and instruct has grown to include facilitate and to coach. None of these four “teaching” techniques can be singled out, as they complement each other and should be used as needed. Students are actively encouraged, most of the time not only to “just” learn but also to reach their best performance and potential. Controllers who act as instructors and assessors are better supported. Maintaining and monitoring competence in day-to-day operations have gotten a lot more focus over the past decades. Air traffic control training has definitely matured in these first 100 years!
But there are still areas where we can improve. Unfortunately, with explicit regulation becoming very prominent, we tend to forget best practices and good intentions. Performance is measured against regulatory requirements, often ignoring common sense. In some cases, there is even a trend towards mediocrity and doing the minimum possible, rather than seeking excellence. In more extreme cases, it has created a race to the bottom, even if we do not know where that would be. Our regulations far from perfect. They dictate things from a common agreed minimum and, in many cases, there is the unfortunate assumption that compliance with a regulation is a guarantee to obtain the desired outcome. Organisations feel compelled to comply with regulatory requirements, while looking for the cheapest solutions. They are at risk of unlearning essential skills that brought us to where we are and instead. Instead, we explore the lower limits of where training can be rather than to aspire to explore the upper ones.
So where do I think we will go in the next 10 years? The pessimist in me says that we could keep exploring the race to the bottom until we are confronted with or exposed to serious threats to our safety records. It will then take significant cost and effort to fix the system that we have dismantled. But the optimist in me says that we have always shown professionalism and that we are part of an industry that has always been concerned, at times to the limits of a healthy obsession, with excellence and safety. If we go this way, I can see us progress in three main areas:
1. We continue in our increased understanding of performance and to advance in our teaching techniques to help student controllers and also our qualified colleagues to reach and maintain the level of competence needed.
This will pass through the further professionalisation of our instructors, both on-the-job and especially in our schools where we will continue to improve our learning to master a broad number of techniques and skills including coaching, skills training, the understanding of the human factor, the human – automation interface and so forth.
2. The continuous improvement of technology that needs to accompany our understanding of how performance is acquired and maintained. That we understand which are the fundamental skills of tomorrow´s controller and have the support, through for example sophisticated modules and simulators, to train them and build on them in a seamless way from the beginning through the achievement and maintenance of competency. To better blend skill
with knowledge acquisition rather than seeing them as two distinct parts.
3. The third is the training of how we as controllers and our students learn to reflect on our performance, how we learn how to analyse our strong and weak points periodically and frequently stop from the action – reaction duo and include the reflection and make it a threesome (a bit like the famous first de-briefing question we all teach in the OJTI course: “How do you think you did today, Max?”). We can then grow into self-directed learners of our own profession, diagnosing our needs and asking for help as we find necessary.

In this way, I believe we can move into full maturity for the next 10 and perhaps 100 years, so that human- centricity in our sector takes its full meaning: that we are not only used because there is no other way without us but that we are the conscious part of an increasingly automated system.


Presenting Ingenav´s Competence Management software module

During these past years, we have been working towards a software suite aimed at supporting air navigation services providers in the management of air traffic controllers and their needs. We are calling this suite ARM for Air traffic controllers Resources Management.

In 2020 we launched our Roster Management module as the first module within ARM. Now we are launching the second module in the suite: the Competence Management module.  Our idea is that each module in the suite is interlinked with the others and fed by one powerful database which would store and distribute all the information pertaining to air traffic controllers. Clients can choose to opt for the complete suite or for distinct modules within it. The formula is flexible.

The Competence Management module allows ANSPs to monitor and manage the competence elements that are present in every ATCO license. The database includes space to incorporate all the elements that are present in a license, such as the ratings, endorsements, etc. and all the elements that enable these endorsements to stay up to date, for example, dates for competence assessments, dates for refresher training, medical examinations, etc.

The administrator of the module will receive warnings, which are parametrisable by the client, notifying that an element needs attention. These warnings can be kept for the attention of the administration or forwarded to the ATCO in a workflow. ATCOs can be given access to the Competence Management module so as to view the information and to also be presented with information pertaining to the status of the components making up their ATC license. The workflow arrangement between administration and the individual controller, which is purely parametrisable as well, would depend on how each ANSP would like to use the Competence Management module. 

Finally, the module also comes with a powerful search function which would allow the ANSP, to plan ahead by launching queries, for example: “How many ATCOs I have that have their English proficiency expiring in the 1st quarter of next year?” or “How many ATCOs are due for their OJTI refresher by a specific time?”, etc.

We think that the Competence Management module is of great add-value to ANSPs and the feedback we are receiving confirms this.

A link to a demo video that we have prepared is embedded in this post.

We are also offering one-on-one online demonstrations of the module. We would be glad to hold one with you – contact us via Linkedin private messaging or via info@ingenav.com.

And one more thing; we are maintaining “covid sensitive” prices for the launching of this module.


Automation and training

Automation in air traffic control (ATC) has been on a steady rise for a very long time now. We moved from no surveillance, to primary and then to secondary surveillance. From paper writing the flight details to printable strips, to electronic strips and to label based information. From no integration between plots and flight data to a high integration and trajectory prediction. From no ATC support control tools to short-term and then medium-term conflict detection, to probing and what-if tools. And this rise of automation will continue and will accelerate.

Early generation automation provided controllers with information acquisition (e.g., secondary radar display), then came automation that provided analysis, such as the probing mentioned earlier. Higher processing capabilities as well as the use of big data will allow us to see incursions into higher-end automation in the coming years. ATC systems will start providing decision suggestions that can be implemented by the controllers. Later we will also see some actions being implemented by the system. All this will come.

However, automation will not replace air traffic controllers, at least for a considerable long while. What it will do is augment the system capability to safely handle more traffic. We talk about human-centric automation, where automation will be used to enhance the capabilities and compensate for the limitations of air traffic controllers who will remain responsible for the safety and effectiveness of a complex ATC system. This will mean that on the one hand automation will need to be implemented to actually help humans and that the total sum of work, in terms of complexity and volume should at least remains stable, and on the other, that the system will need to be redesigned to allow for this enhanced human-machine interaction.

What I am referring to when I write about system redesign is to rethink not only the machine´s new role into the system but also the human´s. What are the skills, knowledge and attitude that will be needed in a high-end automatised system? What will be expected during normal operations and then during contingency operations? And then, with regards to skills: what skills will be needed in both situations and at what level? And what skills will be needed by controllers during contingency situations that are not used anymore during normal situations? And how will we mitigate to maintain a certain skill proficiency?

Some speak about the automation paradox which says something like that the increase in automation will bring an increase in human workload. I honestly do not understand why they call it a paradox unless those who do so have a misunderstanding that the human will do nothing thanks to automation and will be phased out. If one simplistically sees the objective of automation as to phase out humans, then yes, I understand they might see this as a paradox! But the aim of automation is not (or should not be) that. The objective of automation should be to allow a system such as the air traffic management one, to cater for more capacity, whilst maintaining very high levels of safety, stability and resilience. The goal should be that the system performs better with the best team of resources possible, and that team will include humans for quite a long while.

Many adaptations will be needed to have all this possible. Contingency procedures will need to be re-written, for one, and the role of training will also need to evolve, and that is the theme of this post.

One area that needs to be considered in-depth, with the dawn of decision support and decision implementation, is skill degradation. Currently, decisions are made up by the controller, based on automation-supported information. In the future, some (or many) decisions will be proposed by the system to be implemented by the controller, and/or some decisions will be implemented by the system, and the human might be expected to take over at least as a first contingency level, should the system fail. It is already hard to do this with the current skill set, let alone with one which is degraded because unused. So, what could be done? Let us look at another situation where skills have not been used for a while and how many air navigations services provider (ANSPs) have dealt with that degradation:

During the current COVID pandemic, traffic went from an all-time high to an all-time low. After an initial shock, many ANSPs decided to implement “skill-up” programmes for their controllers. These consisted of regularly planning controllers into simulation sessions of traffic loads and complexity similar to pre-pandemic levels. This is currently mitigating somewhat to the lack of skill practice in operations due to lack of traffic.

One of the things that could and in my opinion should be done, with the dawn of decision and implementation support by the machine is to regularly plan our controllers for simulation sessions in which they would need to practice their decision-making skills. Regular practice in the simulation would somewhat mitigate the skill loss in operations.

Refresher training in the simulator should be transformed from the currently abnormal and emergency situation centred one to one in which decision making is practised with lower degrees of automated support in both routine and non-routine situations. Also, the decision-making skill maintenance training would need to be done more often than the usual once every year refresher that is mostly the case nowadays. It should be something that becomes a routine and part of the monthly rostering of positions: many operational duties mixed with some simulation, skill maintenance duties. Simulation should become more routine than once a year event.

Some might see this thought as counterintuitive (or a paradox), and expensive. However, it is not so as the benefits of automation will be such that the system will considerably gain in capacity and efficiency. Some of that will need to be retro-alimented back to those who will need to maintain their skill set to be a highly effective part of the system. It´s a bit like in soccer, or other sports, where the team is not only made up of the 11 on the pitch but also, amongst others, of the other 5 on the substitute bench during the match. These players do not train less because they are playing less. They will train just the same as their teammates, and if anything, even train more, to make for the lack of match practice! And no one I know calls that a paradox!

Instructor Booster workshops – Now also online.

A few years ago, I was contacted by an ATC academy with a request to help them with a number of objectives which included:

  • forging a stronger instructor´ team,
  • go beyond the minimum knowledge required (usually the instructor endorsement and classroom instructions techniques) and
  • to reflect on best-fit training delivery methods.

I then set out to create a workshop with these objectives in mind.

Now, we are fours years down the line, with eight of such workshops delivered to four European ATC schools. Five further workshops are already planned for between the end of this year and 2021.

The workshops are a mixture of facilitated sessions and presentations in which we go through a simple, but effective, model that says that to consider learning we need to consider 4 areas: Who, What, How and By Whom.

The who is the student, who has a need to learn, the What is the subject matter – or content, the How is the methodology and methods used and the By Whom is, of course, us the instructors/teachers/coaches.

We go through a reflective path to consider all these elements as the basic ingredients that make up a plate. One can say that there are as many learning experiences as there are plates and the trick is to dose the basic ingredients right. However, as anyone who has attempted a little bit of cooking knows, before dosing an ingredient, one needs to know what it tastes like and what effect it´s presence (or absence) and quantity will produce in the plate.

The results help those attending, who range from instructors to training managers and those responsible for training development to reflect about the fit of the learning experience to the ingredients they have: the type of students and the subject matter. It helps them think on whether adjustments to the methodology and methods are necessary and finally to determine their own needs to be an integral part of the recipe.

The feedback received is very positive. We step down the hamster wheel called routine (no wonder that in many languages routine (from road) and wheel are related) and start reflecting on what is working and what can be improved. We come out of the workshop with insight into our work and our needs as instructors. We also come out with concrete ideas on how and where to make adjustments.

This year brought a new challenge: These workshops were until now held in a face to face set up with a lot of team exercises and dynamics. With restrictions in meeting and in travelling, we had to take a decision to either postpone the planned workshops, and lose good time when actually reflection and change COULD take place, or find another solution. We decided to go online. We had to consider the number of participants and also most of the exercises and the dynamics in which they are done. The first such workshop took place a week ago with very good results!

As for me, each workshop is a learning experience. I do provide my ideas through the presentations and also challenge the status quo. I also learn a lot, from the day to day examples, from the insight that my fellow instructors provide and also come out energised ready to do more to improve the learning experience in our business!

Diversity of perspective – safety and team resources management

There are at least three types of truths –

Alternative truths: (actually “alternative facts”) a term coined by a US counsellor and synonym with “fake news”,

Objective truths: that deal with things that can be objectively measured against an agreed standard and therefore the result either is or is not – for example, 5NM separation minimum either is or is not if measured by a well-calibrated mode. And

Subjective truths: those things that are true (or false) to us because we analyse them against what we know, how we experience what happened and against our values and believes. For example,  from where I stand it is true to me that the sun is a sphere of white/yellow colour which emits both light and heat.

The focus of this post is on subjective truth and diversity of perspectives:

A subjective truth, as the term entails, is true to the subject experiencing it. Someone close to the north pole, who has not had access to any scientific explanation of what the sun is, could say that the sun is a yellow circle that appears on the horizon and which emits light. Both this person and I hold an experience of what the sun is, and no one can tell us that what we experience is untrue – even though objectively the sun has other characteristics that neither I nor this person can experience and therefore describe as part of their truth.

Now, bringing this thought to air traffic control, where our job is primarily to achieve and maintain objective truths such as minimum safety standards, I believe that sometimes we mix up what is objectively a fact and the subjective truths we derive from experiencing situations1. We forget that in the realm of subjective truths, these truths can vary to a large degree between peers and we also forget that the aim is not to debate on who is right or wrong – which makes no sense, but to sum up these truths to make up something richer.

Put in another way, when we experience something, we all get a perspective of that event, based on our prior knowledge, our values and believes and our position relative to the event. A team is stronger to analyse a particular event because the diversity of perspective that a team has is richer than the mono-perspective of each of the individuals. This diversity of perspective then helps us to make better sense of the situation, it enables learning between the individuals and improves decision making.

So where does Team Resources Management fit into all of this?

The way TRM is delivered, through facilitated sessions around, for example, exercise or case studies, allows those who participate to get off the “act” – “react” loop of ATC and delve into more of introspection of the experiences which mark differences in one´s professional career. It creates, to those participating, an environment of sharing in which all perspectives are valued. The results of this are at least two-fold: First, it allows us to realise once more that our experiences lie in the realm of subjective (and not objective) truths, and that several versions do exist and all are valid. Second, that when the subject in discussion in a TRM session arrives at items very close to our operational home, it gives us the diversity of perspective that is one of the main enablers for learning and for a richer (call it augmented) experience of the professional world around us.

Needless to say, that this richness derived from diversity of perspective will, in turn, improve the safety in our teams, as our teams are then wiser about the particular subject of discussion and from the knowledge that a team holds more pieces of the puzzle than the individual usually has.


that experience can be either a direct or an indirect one.

Supporting ATC students during COVID pandemic – Ingenav´s experience

At the beginning of April, we put up announcements on Linked-in and Facebook offering help with theory and or radar techniques to students who had their training interrupted because of the COVID pandemic. This help would be delivered for free as part of our initiative to help our sector in times of need.

Surprisingly for us, only a few students contacted us for help and they needed reinforcement in practical skills training.

During the months of April and May, we remotely delivered Approach and En-Route Surveillance skills training using PORT – ROSE Simulation Online ATC Simulator platform and our own exercises. Our instructors ran over 50 exercises with these students, adapted to their level of proficiency and helping them to maintain the skills they had learned already in their schools and to learn certain new ones.

From our side, we learned better how to deliver skills training remotely. We have learned that whereas face to face contact and feedback helps in certain cases, it is not necessary 100% of the time. A blend of presential and remote/online skills training is possible. We learned that briefings and debriefings are perfectly possible in an online space and that today the technology to execute and remotely monitor a student during simulation is perfectly possible and highly performant.

From the feedback we received at the end of these sessions, we see that the students, apart from being very appreciative of the gesture, they valued the following in particular:

  • The fact that someone else was giving a parallel and fresh viewpoint on problem-solving and radar skills, that complemented that which was thought in their school.
  • They could experiment outside of their official school program. Experimentation included: different separation techniques (vectors, vertical with rates of climb/descent, etc. ), coordination techniques, analysis of aircraft performance within the decision-making process, coordination, approaches including ILS and visual approaches.
  • Students did not find not having face-to-face interaction with the instruction a hindrance to their development.
  • The empathy and availability of the instructor during these difficult times was what they were looking for.
  • The possibility to continue practising radar skills and to avoid or at least reduce skill degradation.

In conclusion, offering free ATC training during the COVID pandemic has been a very positive experience for us at Ingenav, and from the feedback, we received a positive experience for the students who participated. Large amounts of ATC practical training can be done remotely. The technology permits it and the methodology fits well. We are considering repeating this at a later stage!

Automation and Human Centricity – Three-tier human centricity. Position paper.

There should be little doubt or argument that the journey towards further automation in Air Traffic Control is well on its way and is set to continue. Also, there is little doubt that many of the future solutions will have, at least, some of their components based on Artificial Intelligence techniques.

If we look at SESAR´s Level of Automation Taxonomy (LOAT) model as displayed below,  

most modern ATC Systems are somewhere between B4/B5: High level – full automation support of information analysis and C1: Artefact-supported Decision Making.

The end goal for most R&D projects is to arrive to D8: Full automation of action sequence execution for all ATC tasks.

This raises a few items to consider and this is what we at Ingenav think about this:

  1. Until D8 is reached on all ATC tasks (whether it will be desirable for it to be reached is the subject of item 2), humans will be part of the system and the system will need to be Human-Centric.
  2. It is questionable whether, even if technologically possible, it would be desirable to reach D8 and have a non-human-in-the-system ATC chain.

Developing these items, a little further we need to consider:

  1. A three-tier Human-Centric approach is necessary:

Human-Centricity needs to be seen holistically:

The design of an ATC system needs to be done through a human-centric approach. The result, i.e. the ATC system itself needs to be human-centric. And with the growing autonomy coming about, one shall not forget that the end-user of ATC is not the air traffic controller but the airspace user: the human who flies the aircraft. These are the three tiers – from the design, to the product itself, to its output.

Starting from Tier 3: Human-Centric design:

The design of an ATC system shall be led by its usability and by its interaction with the holistic system first. Rather than having a technology-led design in which the “what can be done” is defined first and the “how” is done later, human-centric design requires agile development cycles between definition – prototyping – human in the system testing – adjustments – redefinition and advancements. The design team needs to incorporate from a very early stage operational expertise that understands the business and the process and that co-lead the design. This should be the case even when the functionalities that are being developed would be in the high Ds in accordance with LOAT as these will always interact with other processes where the human is involved.

Tier 2: Human-Centric system:

The result of the design – i.e. the product, needs to fully integrate the human as part of the system and not its operator or the mortar which glues together the imperfections created by the other parts. A Human-Centric system understands how the human works and integrates the human´s processes into the overall system. Principles such as relevance, timeliness, prioritized and rationalized for human understanding should be key in all the interactions of a human-centric system.

Tier 1: Human-Centric outputs:

It may sound obvious but it is often taken for granted: an ATC system acts as an intermediate; it is a safety net and an efficiency boost to air traffic and airspace users (that is the objective of ATC!). It is airspace users who execute the instructions generated by ATC. Until further notice, aircraft will be flown by humans. The instructions provided by ATC need to keep that in mind. So far, this has been taken for granted because the human-in-the-system at the ATC level automatically made the adjustment. However, in a scenario where some of the instructions are not generated by a human, the system has to keep in mind they will be executed by one.

It is important to insist on Human-Centricity and the human-in-the-system principle and not to see the human as an external agent who acts as an operator or a mediator, or even worse as a corrector of imperfections. It is important to take the learnings we have made in the past decades and build on them rather than to try to discard them because we believe that advanced automation will make the human somehow less important.

Question 2: is it desirable to arrive to D8?

The quick answer to this is that we don´t know. To date, we do not have the maturity to understand what a fully autonomous system, which in turn is an intermediate between vigilance and execution, would mean. The gap to get there is still too big and we need to narrow this gap in order to understand better the ramifications. Of the ramifications, we are able to identify to date one can include resilience, of such a system and degraded modes, interconnectiblity, responsibility, certification, the holistic concept of operations of the airspace user and societal (is it, in fact, desirable and productive from a societal perspective to try to eliminate the human from the system?).

R&D in this area must continue and needs to be holistic and not just technology-driven. We can do a lot of things but should we apply them? By continuing R&D, the sector will mature further and whilst bridging the gap, we will also understand the opportunities and the threats that such changes would bring. If we ever reach D8, it should be an evolution and not a revolution.


Undoubtedly, work is in progress towards advanced automation in the lines of decision-making support and basic autonomous execution of tasks. Human-Centricity is primordial in the development of such tools and this human-centricity needs to be taken care of in 3-tiers: at design, at the system and at output levels. Achieving D8: full automation of task execution for all tasks making up ATC should be an R&D goal and not an operational one at this stage. The gap between the current paradigm and that one is too wide and we do not have the maturity to understand the ramifications of such a change. R&D needs to be holistic and not just technology-driven. A stepwise approach towards understanding will be necessary.


PS Ingenav is currently participating in a project with a Core European ANSP and ATC system manufacturer to introduce Decision Support Operational ATC tools using amongst other historical data and machine learning principles. In this project, a 3-tier Human-Centric approach is being applied.

A big thank you to our pool of instructors – we´ll be back!

With this post, we at Ingenav wish to thank our closely knitted pool of instructors who have helped us in the past years to deliver high-quality training services to our clients, with a very high rate of repeat business.

Until early March, and the COVID-19 outbreak in Europe, our network of active instructors originated from 7 different European countries. Together, we were regularly delivering services to clients in 5 countries.

The dedication, experience and qualifications of our instructors are high, and so is the cross-fertilization that was taking place between our pool, all learning from what the other had to offer.

Thank you to all those concerned for your hard work. This tough containment period is hopefully almost over, the time to be back in action is drawing nearer!

We´ll be back!