Tower simulator improves ATC refresher training

Air Traffic Controllers at Airways in New Zealand are undertaking vastly improved refresher training through the use of the organisation’s world renowned air traffic control simulator.

The simulator allows controller’s ratings to be refreshed in an environment exactly replicating their airfield tower, with seasonal variations such as fog ensuring controller’s training is up to the minute.

For Air Traffic Controllers (ATCs) at Auckland Airport, the country’s busiest international airport, fog can create serious complexities in their workload. With the introduction of upgraded Instrument Landing Systems and lighting, some aircraft are now taking off and landing in low visibility at Auckland International Airport.

To meet the CAA license requirements for Low Visibility Operations, ATCs are required to undergo refresher training prior to the fog season. At Airways, ATCs update their controller rating in a tower simulator, which provides controllers with a view the same as the actual view from their tower.

Senior Controller Chris Kershaw recently undertook refresher training on Airways’ Total Control simulator, which was developed by Airways in partnership with 3D graphics experts Animation Research. He says that the simulator allowed him to practise some emergency exercises along with his fog training.

“It’s invaluable for us to familiarise ourselves annually with fog operations and also to be exposed to some of the abnormal situations that can occur,” he says. “The beauty of this simulator is that we can create any type of emergency, be it an aircraft landing with one engine shut down or a simulated crash on the runway or in the harbour. In the simulator the event becomes very real, and it’s excellent training to prepare for any eventuality. Previously, we simply had to imagine the emergency, and respond accordingly.”

Sharon Cooke, Airways Head of Training, says that the simulator allows controllers to immerse themselves in a real situation without actually being on the job.

“Our Total Control simulator allows us to train controllers with a level of realism that we would never be able to attain other than on the job, in the physical tower. Controllers feel as if they are controlling real aircraft, in real situations, and they can repeat those situations over and over until they get them right every time,” she says.

“ATCs have been able to refresh their ratings in just one shift, meaning that they can then handle a full quota of 24 aircraft per hour in fog,” she adds.

Airways’ Total Control simulator is provided to Air Navigation Service Providers around the world, who particularly value the realism of the graphics and the weather modelling. Ms Cooke says the simulator can emulate any weather pattern, and the 4D technology means students can watch the weather situation gradually change, as they would in the tower.

“At Johannesburg Airport, for instance, radical lightening storms occur on a regular basis. ATCs need to know how to work within these storms, and so our simulator models them in the training. It’s invaluable practice for the students, and as a result they are very confident managing air traffic in these situations,” says Ms Cooke.

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