Air traffic control visual scanning

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Authors: Earl S. Stein

Stein, E. S. (1992). Air traffic control visual scanning (DOT/FAA/CT-TN92/16). Atlantic City International Airport: Federal Aviation Administration Technical Center.


Air traffic controllers scan multiple displays to gather information necessary to make critical decisions in order to separate aircraft flying in the National Airspace System (NAS). When controllers make an error, they often respond that they did not see a piece of information that was right in front of them. Little is known about how controllers systematically scan their displays. This study was undertaken to determine whether there were patterns of scanning that characterized personnel with different levels of skill. Ten FAA controllers from a very active Terminal Radar Approach Control Facility (TRACON) participated in this study in which they controlled simulated radar traffic while their eye movements were monitored with an oculometer. This device allowed the computation of fixation frequencies and saccade duration during dynamic operations. Results indicated that the more experienced personnel had higher fixation frequencies than those who were in training. There were also significant changes in scanning behavior over time that the controllers worked. This occurred irrespective of experience and indicated that it takes between 5 and 10 minutes for the controller to establish a pattern which continues for the remainder of the work period. This suggests the importance of systematic relief for the work period as personnel come on to control position.

Updated: May 04, 2012 11:21 AM