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.


The importance of Quality for Air Navigation Service Providers

“My service has the best quality”, “We offer the best quality service to our customers”, “Our service is guaranteed by quality”. Have you ever heard that? Most probably you have. Quality is a word that we hear in everyday and in relation to many different fields, from buying a new TV, hiring a new internet provider, or even playing sports.

What about the Air Navigation Industry? Quality of service has been a subject for several years now and perhaps more related with Aeronautical Information Management (AIM), Safety Management Systems (SMS) and Flight Procedures Design (FPD), not to mention Service Level Agreements (SLA), but is that all?

Let’s develop a little further:

What is Quality?

Even though there are many definitions for Quality, a good starting point would be ISO’s definition:

“Degree to which a set of inherent characteristics of an object fulfils requirements.”

This means that quality depends on the requirements of what is intended to be done (Good or Service) and how we achieve these requirements. This simple sentence implies a lot, and it brings the possibility to plan, do, check, act, and plan again to fulfil our goal.



Process in Quality

Basically, a process are series of actions or steps taken to achieve a particular end.

In this way of thinking there are 3 basic phases:

  • Input: Where the goods, data, service or whatever we need to produce are collected
  • Process: Where the input is transformed into something new
  • Output: Where the final product is presented


Let’s explore examples of this in Air Navigation Services:

  • Aerodrome data is surveyed by using its own process. The data collected (output).
  • This output will be an input for AIS/AIM where a new AIP will be made.
  • The new AIP will be a new input for Flight Procedure Designers which will produce as an output a new Procedures and Charts.
  • This Procedures and Charts will be loaded into Aircraft’s FMS and ANSP’s ATM Systems.

This chain of inputs and outputs looks perfect in theory but what would happen if one piece of data Aerodrome data surveyed had a mistake and was not detected?

Garbage In Garbage Out

There is a concept mainly used in IT which states that the quality of the input determines the quality of the output. In other words, the quality coming out is dependent on the quality of the input.

The importance of this concept remains in that what we do in Air Navigation Services has direct impact on the Safety of the Operations.

Keeping Operations Safe

There are many documents from different organizations about how safety is achieved, but they all agree on that Quality is required for a Safety Management System to work properly.

One of the most famous models used in safety is James Reason’s Swiss Cheese model.

In the Swiss Cheese model, an organisation’s defences against failure are modelled as a series of barriers, represented as slices of the cheese.

The holes in the cheese slices represent individual weaknesses in individual parts of the system and are continually varying in size and position in all slices.

The system produces failures when holes in all of the slices momentarily align, permitting “a trajectory of accident opportunity”, so that a hazard passes through holes in all of the defences, leading to an accident.

Usually, an organisation’s defences can be described in 3 categories:

  • Technology
  • Procedures
  • Human Competence

This defences work as an input for the safety process, therefor it is fundamental to have an excellent quality on them.

How can an ANSP make sure that their input for safety will have the required quality

There are 2 basic ways:

  • If Technology, Competence acquisition (training) or Procedures are contracted from another provider, make sure that the provider has at least an ISO 9001 certification and not only a “generic” specification but with a specific mention in the required process.
  • If Technology, Training or Procedures will be performed in house, have these process certified.

INGENAV and Quality Certification

Ingenav has been certified in ISO 9001:2015 for its quality management system since 2016, and not just certified in a general way, but specifically in:

  • Design and Delivery of Training in Air Navigation
  • Consulting in Air Navigation

This means that what INGENAV does, regarding Training and Consultancy, has Certified Quality and will fulfil the customer’s requirements.

Moreover, since 2018 Ingenav is also certified as a Training Organisation for Air Traffic Control training in accordance with EU regulation 340-2015.


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!

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!