Air Traffic Controllers Riding in Cockpits Again

Air traffic controllers communicate with pilots and watch the movements of aircraft on their monitors all day long, but few ever meet the pilots or see the planes they direct. This doesn’t necessarily interfere with their ability to do their jobs, but getting a chance to experience what a pilot goes through helps a controller get in the mindset of their co-workers. A new program started by the Federal Airline Association is putting air traffic controllers in the jump seat behind the pilot so they can learn first-hand what a pilot goes through.

Chris Boughn was one of the first controllers to participate in the program, aptly named Flight Deck Training. CNN reports that he claimed it was one of the most valuable training programs that he’s participated in. The program is completely voluntary, and isn’t new. A similar training method was available prior to 2001, but the terrorist attacks on September 11th halted the practice. The controllers chosen to participate are carefully screened and monitored to eliminate any security risk to the pilot.

Despite the common link of aviation, air traffic controllers and pilots experience drastically different work routines. Controllers work in more spacious and generously equipped offices, while the pilot is limited to the cockpit. The pilot has to manage just the single airplane he’s flying, but a controller has to direct and orchestrate the take-off and landing procedures for as many as 30 airports in a region. Giving the air traffic controller a chance to witness the actual process of flying a plane gives him or her a new appreciation for the work of the pilot. It also improves communication between the two.

The program was previously known as Familiarization Training and was criticized by the media and FAA for abuse. Many controllers used it to receive free travel and eight trips per year were included for each worker. The program was also referred to as an entitlement in official documents. The new program is designed strictly for training, and each controller can only apply for two flights each year. Controllers are also on duty and can’t be on leave during or around the time of the flight.

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