Air Traffic Controller Training – Simulator Speeds Process

Southwest Airlines 737 departing Las Vegas

Southwest Airlines 737 departing Las Vegas - Photo courtesy and copyright Brandon Farris

According to a article, McCarran International Airport at Las Vegas, Nevada, is the site of a new simulator that is used to train air traffic controllers. The simulator gives trainees a very detailed and realistic view of the airport as seen from the control tower. The simulator duplicates the view of the landing strips in all kinds of weather and all times of night or day. With 505,000 takeoffs and landings annually, this airport at Las Vegas is the country’s 8th busiest.

With a hardware cost of $500,000 and a software cost of $400,000, the total cost of the simulator is nearly $1 million dollars. It is used for the training of new controllers and for veteran controllers to brush up on their skills. The simulator enables new controllers to qualify in 1/2 the time that is required using traditional training. This results in real savings, as air traffic controllers have six figure salaries. The traditional method of training allows the trainee to actually control the air traffic while their instructor is on standby to assume control, if necessary. The simulator allows hands-on training without the disastrous consequences of failure.

An air traffic controller’s job would rank near the top as the world’s most stressful job. At times, the controller is tracking dozens of airplanes on the radar screen and trying to keep them from crashing into each other while they are trying to land. He has responsibility for the safety of thousands of lives simultaneously.

A Kansas City Star article demonstrates the difficulty of the job at the country’s busiest airports. The article relates the story of a experimental recruitment program at the Chicago area air traffic control center. The control center has been recruiting the “best and the brightest” for four years. The goal is to train recruits to have the ability to handle all positions in the radar center. The recruits range from walk-ins to experienced controllers from smaller airports. To date, not one recruit has completely succeeded in mastering all positions. This testifies to the extreme demands of the job. advertises a game, which they say simulates very realistically, a radar screen showing the airspace over an airport. They state that your blood pressure will definitely rise while playing this game. Quoting the website, “This is no game, but an utterly realistic simulation of a terminal airspace, with human pilot voices.” This article implies no endorsement of the game or the website. If it is as advertised, the game should definitely give the player a feel for the situation facing air traffic controllers.

Learn more about becoming an air traffic controller
See a list of air traffic controller schools


Richard N. Velotta/”Simulator Streamlines Air Traffic controller Training”/
Air Traffic Controller Game/Big Fat Simulations
Jon Hilkevitch/”Recruits Brave Air-traffic Control’s Pressure Cooker: Chicago”/Kansas City Star

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