The effects of structured arrival and departure procedures

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Authors: Randy Sollenberger, PhD.
Earl S. Stein

Sollenberger, R. L., & Stein, E. S. (1995). The effects of structured arrival and departure procedures on TRACON air traffic controller memory (DOT/FAA/CT-TN95/27). Atlantic City International Airport: Federal Aviation Administration William J. Hughes Technical Center.


Air traffic control (ATC) is conducted by men and women of the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) air traffic service. Controllers do an excellent job of keeping aircraft separated and safe. However, they do make mistakes. Many of these errors are caused by the limitations of working memory, which controllers continuously use to maintain situational awareness (SA). An experiment was conducted at the FAA Technical Center Human Factors Laboratory to examine the potential benefits of a memory aiding concept on controller performance, SA, and workload. The advanced use of Standard Terminal Arrival Routes (STARs) and Standard Instrument Departures (SIDs) were selected as the memory aids for testing. These specially-designed STARs and SIDs were intended to simplify the controller's task and allow more time for planning and monitoring aircraft. A new high-fidelity ATC simulator was used which allowed controllers to work under extremely realistic conditions. Sixteen controllers from Atlantic City TRACON participated and worked scenarios consisting of low and high traffic volumes both with and without the memory aids. Controllers' actions and aircraft data were recorded during each scenario and used to evaluate ATC performance. Other evaluation methods included the Air Traffic Workload Input Technique and a modification of the Situational Awareness Global Assessment Technique. The results indicated that the memory aids decreased both the number of ground-to-air transmissions and handoff errors. Controller workload and SA were primarily determined by the traffic volume and were not affected by the memory aids. A final debriefing with controllers suggested several ways the memory aids and SA technique could be improved.