‘We are living in interesting times,’ says Samuli Suokas. He says that a ‘paradigm change’ is underway in ATC training. This article outlines four forces that are driving that change.
1. New training providers
Historically, training was solely in the hands of state-owned ANSP (air navigation service provider) training departments. But that’s changing.
Samuli Suokas, a former ATCO and instructor now runs Lektor, a Finnish ATC training provider. Alongside firms like Entry Point North in Sweden, Global ATS in the UK, DFS Aviation Services in Germany and CANI in The Czech Republic, Lektor is part of a new wave of private training providers revolutionising the sector.
In addition, some ANSP academies are opening their doors to students from other organisations. For example, NATS in the UK offers a full range of ATC training courses, not just for NATS employees but also for third-party ANSPs.
2. Freelance instructors
Traditionally, schools had their own set of instructors, which was quite expensive to maintain. However, a new role of the freelance ATC instructor has emerged. Also, more agent-providers, such as Lektor, act as intermediaries between ATC training organisations and freelance instructors. Expect this trend to continue and grow over the next five years.
3. Online ATC training
New generations of students consume all their media and information through smartphones, computers and the internet. That can be a barrier to learning if instructors deliver training in traditional ways. As a result, instructors and training organisations will need to refactor the way they deliver training and focus more on online delivery.
4. Student-focused training
ATC training is time-consuming and expensive. It can take several years and more than €60,000 to fully train a controller.
10-15 years ago, ANSPs didn’t have to care so much about money or efficiency. If they lost a student, there was more budget to train another. As a result, the wastage rate was almost a badge of honour. Some organisations failed as many as 50% of each intake.
‘Always the organisation blames the student,’ says Samuli Suokas, ‘most of the time they don’t look at themselves and ask what went wrong,’ This approach doesn’t encourage innovation or improvement. There needs to be a shift in mindset.
As more ANSPs outsource their training, they have to take a more commercial view. It’s not about lowering standards or compromising safety. It’s about improving the quality of training, reducing the cost of delivery and prioritising student success.
Benefits and implications of changes in ATC training
Very few people can get ATC training because it’s so expensive. In addition, strict entry tests, high failure rates and inefficient delivery mean that too few candidates get to show their abilities in training.
The trends outlined in this article have clear benefits for students as opportunities increase and ATC training becomes more accessible. But there are benefits for the industry too. Better learning makes better controllers, which leads to better safety.
Air traffic management is a conservative sector - for good reason. But change is coming: innovative new providers, increasing use of freelancers, new training techniques combined with lower costs and a wider pool of students. Forward-looking businesses and ANSPs are already seeing the benefits.
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