An introduction to air traffic control and the application of human factors

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Contribution to a Book

Publication Title

Human Factors in Aviation and Aerospace, Third Edition



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Air traffic control (ATC) is a safety critical domain that is essential for the safe and efficient movement of air traffic. It is also highly human-centric, with no physical barriers to prevent aircraft incidents or accidents. Air Traffic Controllers (ATCOs—also referred to as “controllers”) are at the sharp end of this safety critical system. To ensure flight safety, ATCOs are required to maintain a consistently high standard of performance. The potential consequences of poor performance are severe, with high costs and potential loss of life. Due to the essential role of the human operator in maintaining safety and efficiency for airspace users, the application of human factors and associated principles has critical implications for system safety. The application of human factors principles can significantly influence all ATC components, including tool design and validation, human performance support, prediction and prevention of performance decline, hazard and incident analysis, and more. This book chapter provides an introduction to ATC within the context of the overarching system of air traffic management (ATM), and presents real-world examples of the application of human factors principles and the resulting impact in this safety critical domain. This chapter is divided into four sections. The first provides an introductory overview to ATM and ATC. The second focuses more specifically on the air traffic controller, with a particular emphasis on the performance-influencing human factors that are associated with ATCO performance decline and human error. The third section builds on the previous introductory information with real-world, operational examples of human factors applications in the air traffic domain, and highlights the importance of applying human factors principles in ATC. Finally, the fourth section explores the potential future developments and changes in the air traffic control environment, and the associated human factors challenges that must be addressed to continue positively supporting ATC.


Air traffic control, ATCO performance, Fatigue, HF applications, Human factors, ICAO, Mental workload, Sitiuation awareness, TRACON, Traffic flow management


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