Student Controllers and Student Pilots – Part 2

Last time, we talked about the similarities of training Student Pilots and Student Controllers.

For the purpose of this discussion, we will only discuss the facility portion of the training. Prior to assignment to a facility, a Developmental will go through the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City and possibly a college level program known as a College Training Initiative (CTI) program. This portion corresponds roughly to the Private Pilot ground school. Developmentals learn airspace, weather, aircraft characteristics and FARS in addition to ATC rules.

There are many variations on the path depending upon the type of facility (Enroute Center, Tower or Tracon) but the basic part is the same once the Developmental arrives at the facility. Classroom training is the first stop.

The classroom portion can take anywhere from a few days until a few weeks depending upon the size and complexity of the facility. The Developmental will study the facility airspace, local Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), charts, approach plates, equipment (lighting systems, Navaids, RADAR and radio), frequencies and Letters of Agreement).

Consider that a moderate size facility might have 20 or 30 Letters of Agreement with adjacent facilities, the military and local operators. Each portion requires a written test. The test includes filling in the blanks on the approach plates and low altitude charts from memory. Can you imagine memorizing 40 or 50 approach plates? I can hardly remember the inbound course with the plate hanging on the yoke in front of me and having looked at it a dozen times.

A Student Pilot will usually start flight lessons during or right after Ground School. The Developmental may have another stop in the training process before getting to talk to an aircraft. Large towers and all RADAR facilities will have simulator training (also known as Lab Training) as the next phase. Most VFR Towers do not normally have a simulator but may send Developmentals to a RADAR facility if the Tower has a RADAR display.

Larger flight schools (Part 141 schools) and pilots seeking a type rating are usually the only places a Student Pilot will encounter a simulator. The fidelity of the displays and realism is getting much better. The ATC simulators, like flight simulator programs, start out with normal procedures and progress through unusual situations and emergencies.  And like a type rating course, the ATC simulator training (in many cases) is Pass or Fail.

The volume of traffic presented to the Developmental ranks ATC simulator training sessions. The first few problems start out slow so that basic procedures, phraseology and strip marking can be mastered. Then, the volume of traffic is increased (expressed in terms of percentage of normal traffic at the facility). Therefore, the first sessions may be at the 25% level. As the Developmental’s skill increases, so does the traffic. At certain set levels, usually 50% and 75%, a Front Line Manager (FLM) conducts a periodic progress check.  This is much like a Phase check given by the Chief Instructor or another CFI at a flight school.

So now at this point in training, we have a Student Pilot and a Developmental controller who have each passed their respective Ground Schools but have yet to get in an airplane or pick up a microphone.

Next post, we’ll talk about the live training.

See Part 1