Exploring opportunities for controllers to work more flexibly across sectors

A SESAR research project, called Increased Flexibility in ATCO Validations (IFAV), brings together industry partners from across Europe. The project is exploring what tools and procedures might be needed to support controllers in working more flexibly across sectors.

Controllers today must hold an ATCO Validation to control traffic in NATS’ airspace. This is essentially a licence allowing them to control specific sectors, and in certain parts of NATS’ operations, this can be for as few as one or two sectors. There are limits to the maximum number and/or mix of endorsements that a controller can hold due to the operational uniqueness of the different airspace sectors, with each sector having its own design, procedures and rules which must be followed - and there is only so much information any human brain can hold.

Changes in air traffic management will see new suites of controller tools and the modernisation of our airspace. These changes are expected to reduce how much sector specific knowledge is needed as the differences between sectors are expected to reduce, and this provides a platform for this work.

IFAV is a SESAR Joint Undertaking project which has begun to explore what tools might be needed to reduce this sector specific knowledge further and support our controllers in working more flexibly across our operation.

IFAV aims to identify the human, system and procedural constraints that, when addressed, would allow ATCOs to work more flexibly across NATS’ airspace without the need for further sector-based endorsements. While today we achieve expansion of ATCO Validations through sector-specific training, the vision here is that it could eventually be based on the operating methods and systems that controllers use, given that all informational requirements are covered by changes to procedures, tools, training and regulations.

The implementation of the concept could result in ‘sector-type’ ATCO Validations which would allow a controller to operate in any airspace classified as a particular ‘type’, regardless of its geographic location, or an ability for controllers to hold validations on a greater number of specific sectors.

The first part of the project will explore how flexible an ATCO can be in today’s operation, identifying areas that may need more support from a new system or tool. Once these are known, the project will look to identify how airspace and system modernisation could positively impact ATCO effectiveness and flexibility. Finally, the project will look to identify if there are any new tools/procedures that could be designed to further support ATCOs in becoming more effective and flexible in the future.

This project has received funding from the SESAR Joint Undertaking under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 874464 and No 101017479. The opinions expressed herein reflect the authors’ view only. Under no circumstances shall the SESAR Joint Undertaking be responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained herein.

Potential benefits

Cost savings

Reduced workload

Operational resilience

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