By Barbara Cockburn
The aviation industry is currently suffering from a shortage in air traffic controllers throughout the Middle East. Ulf Grinsvall, chief instructor at Emirates Aviation College, discusses how companies can benefit from developing the skills of their traffic controllers.
|~||~||~|The aviation industry is currently suffering from a shortage in air traffic controllers throughout the Middle East. Ulf Grinsvall, chief instructor at Emirates Aviation College, discusses how companies can benefit from developing the skills of their traffic controllers.
Air traffic controllers play an essential role in the aviation world, especially when it comes to managing the smooth flow of traffic and keeping planes a safe distance apart. Their ability to efficiently secure airspace and provide vital information and instructions to pilots is a valuable asset to any international airport.
Swedish-born Ulf Grinsvall, chief ATC instructor at Emirates Aviation College, helps existing and future air traffic controllers in the Middle East to develop their skills, in what is undoubtedly a complex profession.
“There are three disciplines of air traffic control – area controllers, approach controllers and aerodrome controllers – each with a different area of responsibility,” he explains.
Area controllers are based away from the airport and help to direct planes that are passing through the airspace, but not actually landing.
In the United Arab Emirates, for instance, the area controllers conduct their duties from a specialised centre, which is located in Abu Dhabi. Through the use of radar and computer technology, the controllers can track the exact position of each aircraft and keep the traffic separated at all times.
Approach controllers, on the other hand, are more
focused on guiding the aircraft during its approach to the airport. The controller will decide the time and location
for the plane’s landing, ensuring this aspect of airport operations runs smoothly.
Finally, aerodrome controllers are trained to manage planes after the landing procedure is completed. In busy airports, such as Dubai, such controllers have a dual rating – they are either air controllers, looking after the plan during landing, or ground controllers, who take over following the touchdown.
Aerodrome controllers also guide aircraft during take-off, covering the movement from parking stand to runway and finally into the air.
“All three disciplines are becoming very complex,” says Grinsvall, describing the Department of Civil Aviation’s recent decision to encourage specialisation in single traffic control disciplines, instead of dual disciplines.
“There will always be problems if a large number of recruits favour one discipline over another,” says Grinsvall. “As the amount of traffic is constantly growing, there must be a balance in the industry. All positions must be manned and training is definitely an important requirement.”
Basic training in air traffic control includes navigation, aircraft performance, aviation law, operational procedures and communications. Students need to understand how to operate the complex equipment in front of them, and therefore must possess basic knowledge in mathematics and physics. Also crucial for the job is something known in the industry as ‘human factors’.
This is a fairly recent subject area, where students consider how people learn, why mistakes are made, and how to prevent them happening. Skills include error management, crew resource management, effective team working, and employee interaction.
Rather than being taught by psychologists, Grinsvall believes the best learning initially comes from controllers with appropriate experience, followed by on-the-job learning.
“With a considerable number of responsibilities, this job can be stressful, so it’s imperative that air traffic controllers learn how to prevent or manage mistakes,” he says.
The Emirates Aviation College adheres to international training standards, which are established by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), based in Canada. This means students will eventually receive internationally recognised qualifications.
The college’s course for air traffic control lasts approximately six months. After qualifying, students are placed in ‘the unit’, or join the airport for practical on-the-job training, which can last for either one year or 18 months.
Whilst the Dubai Department for Civil Aviation hires 100% locals and sends them for training at the college, Grinsvall believes the industry is still suffering from a regional skills shortage. There are, however, some local controllers employed by the DCA, working in airports at other emirates, such as Ras Al Khaimah, Fujairah and Al Ain.
The rest of the students, compromising expatriates, are sent for training provided by the British company Serco. These students only come into the college to undergo a short conversion training stint, before heading into the business.
Grinsvall acknowledges that recruitment in the sector remains a challenge, but believes the problem can be solved by attracting and retaining the right people, with the right attributes and skills base.
Probably one of the most important of these attributes, says Grinsvall, is the ability of air traffic controllers to think on their feet. “If there’s an emergency, for example, you need to change everything in a split second,” he says.
“Therefore, the controllers should be able to process information quickly and remain flexible enough to react to changes in the work environment. This skill is the basic foundation for a good air traffic controller.” ||**||