Study of an ATC Baseline for the Evaluation of Team Configurations

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Authors: Michele Heiney
Randy Sollenberger, PhD.
Ben Willems

Willems, B., Heiney, M., & Sollenberger, R. (2005) Study of an ATC Baseline for the Evaluation of Team Configurations: Effects of Allocating Multisector Control Functions to a Radar Associate or Airspace Coordinator Position (DOT/FAA/CT-05/07). Atlantic City International Airport, NJ: Federal Aviation Administration William J. Hughes Technical Center.


Thirty Air Traffic Control Specialists (ATCSs) from Air Route Traffic Control Centers within the United States voluntarily participated in a study to investigate if a multi-sector air traffic control position could assist sector controllers using conventional means available in the current National Airspace System. ATCSs either worked as a radar controller, a radar associate with additional multi-sector responsibilities, or as a multi-sector airspace coordinator. Our visual scanning results show that the Experimental Position in either the radar or Airspace Coordinator position predominantly used the radar display to obtain control information. In contrast, the Upstream Radar Associates obtained control information from the radar display, Data (D)-side computer readout device, and Flight Progress Strips. As an Upstream D-side, ATCSs spent more time transitioning between scene planes and were able to pick up less information because of this. As an Upstream D-side, the Experimental ATCSs’ mean fixation durations were lower, implying that they spent more time reading the other displays. As radar controllers, participants devoted more mental resources to search for potential aircraft conflicts than when acting as airspace coordinators. As Airspace Coordinators, they devoted more mental resources to search for direct routes. This finding reflects the differences between tactical and strategic control responsibilities. Overall, ATCSs were more favorable of the Airspace Coordinator who coordinated control actions through Radar-side ATCSs compared to a multi-sector planner who would directly communicate control actions to aircraft. They felt that an Airspace Coordinator would improve safety, increase efficiency, evenly distribute workload, and be more helpful and less interfering. Further, the Experimental ATCSs rated the direct routing advisory automation functions as important for an Airspace Coordinator as a conflict probe or conflict resolution function. We found that a strategic multi-sector position can be introduced into the current Display System Replacement environment. The Airspace Coordinator’s roles and responsibilities has an advantage over the Upstream Radar Associate’s roles and responsibilities because the Radar Associate tended to revert to more tactical control responsibilities, particularly under high task loads. To fully maximize the effectiveness of a multi-sector position, it should be accompanied by appropriate decision support tools.

Updated: May 04, 2012 11:21 AM