Situation Awareness in Air Traffic Control

Authored by: Kim-Phuong L. Vu , Dan L. Chiappe

Handbook of Human Factors in Air Transportation Systems

Print publication date:  November  2017
Online publication date:  November  2017

Print ISBN: 9781466572645
eBook ISBN: 9781315116549
Adobe ISBN:


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Air traffic control (ATC) is a highly complex activity that requires air traffic controllers (ATCos) to interact with various technical and social elements of a system (e.g., radar screens, Ultra High Frequency/Very High Frequency (UHF/VHF) radios, automation tools, pilots, other ATCos, and air traffic management [ATM] personnel). This challenges their information processing abilities as they seek to acquire and maintain their situation awareness (SA) regarding the ongoing traffic situation (Durso & Alexander, 2010; Endsley & Smolensky, 1998; O’Brien & O’Hare, 2007; Prevot, Homola, Martin, Mercer, & Cabrall, 2012). For example, to ensure that aircraft (AC) are not in danger of losing separation, ATCos have to scan their 2D radar screens to assess the current and future 3D locations of various AC. In projecting these locations, they have to take into account multiple factors such as wind speed, weather, and the performance characteristics of the AC. Despite being a challenging task, aviation remains one of the safest areas in transportation (see accidents rates from the National Transportation Safety Board; This is due to the fact that human factors has played an important part in shaping the roles, tasks, training, and technology used by ATCos (Roske-Hofstrand & Murphy, 1998). This continues to be the case under the airspace modernization plan known as the Next Generation Airspace System, the goal of which is to increase the capacity of the airspace without compromising its safety (JPDO, 2011). We begin the chapter by outlining some of the changes that are envisioned as part of the NextGen ATM system. Then, we discuss some of the key areas of human factors research that have been carried out, focusing on SA and best practices for training student ATCos in the use of NextGen technologies.

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