Complexity in Airport Traffic Control Towers

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Authors: Jean-François D’Arcy
Victor Ingurgio
Anton Koros
Gulshan Panjwani
Pamela S. Della Rocco

Koros, A., Della Rocco, P. S., Panjwani, G. Ingurgio, V., & D'Arcy, J. F. (2006). Complexity in airport traffic control towers: A field study. Part 2. Controller strategies and information requirements (DOT/FAA/TC-06/22). Atlantic City International Airport, NJ: Federal Aviation Administration William J. Hughes Technical Center.


This two-part field study investigated sources of complexity and their incidence within Federal Aviation Administration Air Traffic Control Towers (ATCTs). Human Factors Specialists from the William J. Hughes Technical Center selected six sites representing a combination of high traffic volume, traffic mix, and/or converging runways. Sixty-two Air Traffic Control Specialists participated in the study, providing ratings and descriptions of the complexity sources from a local- and ground-controller perspective. The first report represented a key step in identifying and characterizing the primary sources of complexity within ATCTs and assessing their relative incidence and importance. The second report identifies the strategies that tower controllers use to mitigate complexity, the types of information that they require, and the sources of this information. The participants reported relying on two to three core strategies, which they supplemented with ad hoc techniques. Results from this field study hold implications for future tower automation equipment design. Future research efforts should systematically investigate tower controller information needs and focus, in particular, on sources such as high traffic volume and frequency congestion, which are among the most prevalent sources of complexity within this environment.

Updated:11:21 AM May 04, 2012