Student Controllers and Student Pilots – Part 3

Last time, we talked about the common factors that a both a Student pilot and a Student Controller face during the process of learning to fly or control traffic.

After the classroom (and simulator portion), On-The-Job (OJT) training starts for both of our Students. A certain number of hours of OJT are assigned to Developmentals (Student Controllers) based on previous experience – less experience equals more hours. Typically, the target is in the 150-200 hours range on each position controlling live traffic. So, in a Terminal Facility, such as an Approach Control, with 8 or 10 positions of operation, a Developmental may easily spend over 1,000 hours in OJT. Imagine getting 1,000 hours of dual in a C172 before earning your Private license!

Student Pilots, of course, have no target number of hours but the FARs do prescribe certain minimum times of both solo and dual time  – night, cross country, instrument etc.

ATC training is conducted in a team concept. The Training Team consists of the Developmental, two Instructors known as OJT-Is (On the Job Training Instructors) and a Front Line Manager (Supervisor). The OJT-I is equivalent to a CFI and the Front Line Manager is equivalent to the DPE (Designated Pilot Examiner).

The first few hours of training are done strictly as observation. The Developmental sits and observes the OJT-I work traffic for about 10-15 hours. Then, the Developmental will start to work light traffic sessions under direct supervision of the OJT-I. The Instructor has instant override capability on the Developmental’s push to talk button. This is the equivalent of dual controls in flight training. I’m sure everyone has heard at one time or another where a controller issues an instruction and it is immediately changed by another voice. That voice is the OJT-I taking over.

As the Developmental gains experience and confidence, exposure to busier and more complex traffic situations will follow. This is very similar to the way a pre solo Student Pilot is exposed to more challenging conditions – stronger winds, navigation and radio work while flying, etc.

Periodically our Students will (or should) be evaluated by another Instructor or Evaluator. Most large flight schools (required at Part 141 schools) will have a phase check at certain points before and after solo. The Developmental is no different. At least once a month, the Developmental will receive a formal written evaluation by his or her Supervisor. The Supervisor will also ask the OJT-Is for input on the Developmental’s progress. When everyone on the Training Team is satisfied the Developmental is ready for certification, the Supervisor will conduct a check ride.

Checkouts for both our Students are (or should) be conducted in a similar manner. The Student Pilot is evaluated against the Practical Test Standards (PTS). The Student must control the aircraft within specific published limits of altitude, speed, etc. The Developmental Controller is also evaluated against  standards in the FAA Technical Training Order 3120.4. This handbook spells out the specific criteria that Developmentals are evaluated against. However, it is a bit more subjective than the PTS. It contains phrases such as:

Provides orderly traffic flow with proper aircraft spacing, and avoids use of excessive separation/restrictions.

Kind of like: Don’t crash on your first solo.

However the differences in standards, the role of the DPE or the Supervisor conducting the certification is similar. They are looking at both the subjective evaluation against the published performance standards and a “gut” feeling based on experience. Does this applicant exhibit the judgment needed in an unusual situation? Not all situations will be “by the book”

Checkout on the first control position is much like first solo. A Student Pilot receives an endorsement to solo under certain conditions. The CFI will specify a specific aircraft, airport and weather conditions. During these solo flights, the Student Pilot acts as PIC for the first time.

Our Developmental will also be signed off to work a position solo. Usually, the first positions are non- control – Clearance Delivery or Flight Data (makes ATIS recordings, etc). Unlike a Student Pilot, the Developmental’s only restriction is to work under the general supervision of an experienced controller.

After solo or the first position sign off, instruction continues for both our Students. The Student Pilot will continue to take dual lessons while practicing skills learned on solo flights. The Developmental will also continue to train on additional positions while soloing on positions checked out on. The typical progression in a Tower is from Clearance Delivery to Ground Control and then Tower (or Local Control). A Radar Developmental will start out on a Flight Data position (handling clearances, flight plans, etc) then progress to Radar positions in order of increasing complexity. Usually starting out on departure and working up to final approach controller but it may vary depending upon the facility. Enroute centers are similar. The Developmental will start out on Data positions and work up to Radar.

Next time, we’ll talk about after solo (when you really scare yourself for the first time).

Part 1

Part 2