Air Traffic Control (ATC) is considered one of the most challenging professions in the world. ATC in general is about taking quick and right decisions with the prime motive to ensure safety by keeping aircraft well separated. Although Air Traffic Controllers are not Superhuman yet quick-decision making, good communication skills, stress resistance, multi-tasking ability, pressure-handling, good memory, and spatial awareness are some of the core skills that every ATC officer must possess.
The Core Skills Required To Be An Air Traffic Controller
This article focuses on the core skills required to be an Air Traffic Controller not only in India but also anywhere in the world.
1. Quick Decision-Making Capability
ATCOs deal with flying machines that are damn fast, so they need to take effective and assertive decisions in the blink of an eye. But remember that quick decisions have to be correct as well otherwise it will defeat the purpose of provision of safety.
2. Stress Resistance
Sometimes, depending on various factors such as bad weather, emergency situations, equipment failure, a sudden increase in traffic volume, improper coordination, etc., Air Traffic Control (ATC) can be notoriously stressful. So to be the guardian of the skies, an ATCO (Air Traffic Control Officer) needs to handle such stress and pressure with ease and calm. An Air Traffic Controller has to be adaptable to the dynamic situations that arise on day to day basis at the work.
3. Spatial Awareness
It is a well-known fact that Air Traffic Control or rather Air Traffic Management is a dynamic activity/job in which the information keeps changing with the passage of time and accordingly ‘right’ decisions are to be taken in a timely manner to ensure the safe, orderly and expeditious flow of air traffic.
Visualization can be understood as the ability to translate the available information/material into a visual representation of what is currently occurring. ATCOs have the ability to visualize the current traffic situation, the way this situation is likely to change, and even the actions they should take to ensure the safety of aircraft.
An ATCO has so many tasks to perform at any point in time but it is the ability to prioritize things that makes ATCOs identify tasks that are most critical and require immediate attention. This ability ensures that ATCO doesn’t run out of time or ideas in a critical or high-traffic situation.
6. Multi-tasking Capability
It is a fact that we, the humans are finite beings that cannot attend to all things at once but the same is not applicable to an ATCO who needs to do so many tasks at the same time like while giving a departure clearance an ATCO might be managing and writing on flight movement strips, coordinating with other ATC units and simultaneously planning for the next departure or arrival.
Although there are rules and more rules for Air Traffic Control and ATCOs need to follow and apply these rules yet they need to be flexible whenever the situation demands it, Flexibility can be considered as an innate quality of an Air Traffic Controller.
8. Communication Skills
As communication is a vital part of ATC, the Controllers are required to have excellent communication skills. They shall be able to use concise and precise phrases while communicating as it will save precious time and avoid confusion or misunderstanding which might end up in a disaster. Here, I would like to include that ATC must be proficient in English as well because it is the default language of the aviation world.
9. Excellent Memory
In my opinion, an ATCO needs to have excellent intermediate-term memory. Usually, ATC working situations require ATCOs to remember aircraft movements or related pertinent information over a period of almost 8 to 10 minutes.
10. Team Player
Air Traffic Control is a team game that can only be won with immense coordination with various other units such as Airlines, Pilots, Air Force, Airport operators, and other ATC Units. So an ATCO needs to work positively with every unit in question to get the job done the best possible way.
11. Numerically Proficient
ATCOs need to deal with a lot of numbers like Flight levels, different times for landing and take-off as it depends on the Aircraft, to calculate aircraft crossing timings. So ATCOs are expected to be quick with numeric computations and mathematics.
12. Medical and Mental Requirements
The nature of the ATC job demands controllers to maintain some of the strictest medical and mental requirements. At the same time, ATCOs need to have excellent speaking and hearing skills as it is what they are required to do during their entire career. (In India, for testing the speaking skills, AAI exclusively conducts a voice test to ensure that no candidate with a stammering problem gets selected).
I hope you enjoyed my article!!
For those who want to be a part of this unique profession, there is no need to get disappointed even if you don’t possess these skills as most of these can be learned at civil aviation training institutes. Just prepare well and be ready to master the airspace of the country. I culminate my article with these motivational lines by my favorite author, Paulo Coelho:
“Before reaching that stage, however, you must practice and repeat. And if that’s not enough, you must practice and repeat some more”