Display concepts for en route air traffic control

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Authors: Ulf Ahlstrom, PhD.
Carol Manning
Richard Mogford
Joshua Rubinstein
Steven Siegel

Ahlstrom, U., Rubinstein, J., Siegel, S., Mogford, R., Manning, C. (2001). Display concepts for en route air traffic control (DOT/FAA/CT-TN01/06). Atlantic City International Airport: Federal Aviation Administration William J. Hughes Technical Center.


Previous research in the domain of air traffic control (ATC) has explored factors that describe the complexity facing a controller. Based on this research, new technologies and procedures have been developed that may aid the controller and reduce the complexity in ATC. Most of these technologies were designed to reduce ATC complexity associated with air traffic density, identification and resolution of conflict situations, and the operational efficiency of the human-machine interface. The purpose of the present study was to explore and prototype new display enhancements that may reduce complexity in ATC. A team of researchers from the Human Factors Branch (ACT-530) of the Federal Aviation Administration William J. Hughes Technical Center and the Human Resources Research Division (AAM-500) of the Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI) identified four complexity factors as being suitable for a graphical enhancement. These factors were the effects of weather on airspace structure, the effects of active Special Use Airspace (SUA), the effects of the number of transitioning aircraft, and the effects of the reliability of radio and radar coverage. We conducted a user evaluation of the display enhancements and their possible impact on ATC complexity. Two supervisors and 13 Full Performance Level controllers from the Jacksonville Air Route Traffic Control Center participated as observers in this evaluation. The results of the user evaluation showed that the controllers supported earlier research that identified weather, SUA, transitioning aircraft, and reliability of radio and radar coverage as factors that increase ATC complexity. The controllers favored the proposed display enhancements. More importantly, the controllers predicted a substantial reduction in their job complexity from the enhancements. Based on these findings, we recommend a formal test simulation of the proposed enhancements to determine their efficacy for reducing task complexity in ATC operations. We also recommend further studies to determine the optimal colors for each display enhancement for use in operational systems.