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What Are the Different Types of Air Traffic Control Simulators?

Air traffic control simulators range from 2D radar-based systems to immersive 3D tower simulators. They provide realistic training environments for air traffic controllers, replicating various weather conditions, emergencies, and airport layouts. How do you think these simulators contribute to the safety of air travel?
Maggie J. Hall
Maggie J. Hall

There are many types of air traffic control simulators available that provide varying degrees of difficulty and realism. Program designs accommodate amateurs who want a taste of the profession, and students who are actually attending a professional air traffic controller (ATC) training program. Non-professional programs provide users with the opportunity to learn about an air traffic control system from the comfort of their home, while performing tasks on a personal computer. Many colleges and universities across the country offer undergraduate degrees in air traffic control. Instruction includes radar and non-radar simulations that provide students with experience of actual air traffic control situations.

Students and other individuals interested in getting a taste of directing air traffic might visit the National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA) website, which has one of the most basic air traffic control simulators online. The simulator features an array of runways where individuals direct incoming aircraft by regulating plane route and speed. Budding air controllers gain experience by choosing levels providing from two to five airplanes. Each control level contains a number of problem scenarios in which individuals learn to safely guide traffic.

Radar simulators are used in air traffic controller training programs.
Radar simulators are used in air traffic controller training programs.

Novice airspace controllers looking for a more realistic experience use the air traffic control simulators on the Virtual Air Traffic Simulation network (VATSIM), a large and complex online game. Hundreds of thousands of individuals enjoy free membership on the web site and interact with real life flight scenarios. After being enrolled onto the site, members choose one of six divisions located around the world. Beginning air controllers attend the site's online training program, containing five levels of instruction. The training program introduces students to theory and provides practical lessons in flight terminology and control procedures.

Each level of training provides documentation as well as audio and visual learning aids that direct students through the course. Before advancing to the next level of training, participants complete theory tests, which require a minimum passing score of 80%, and accompanying practical stimulator tests. The VATSIM site teaches controllers the methodology behind safely managing arriving and departing ground and air traffic flow while assisting pilots. The realistic scenarios presented by the simulators often attract professionals who want to hone their skills by encountering various possible situations.

Individuals who are interested in a career in airspace control usually obtain an associate's or bachelor's degree at institutions approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Besides general coursework and classroom lectures, students also acquire practical experience on air traffic control simulators at the facility. Instructors use the radar and non-radar simulators, which contain customizable exercises are designed for various levels of training. Each exercise has a grading system that deducts points and enumerates errors. Simulated exercises also feature play, record, and replay functions, which provide students with the opportunity to review and learn from various scenarios to which they have responded.

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    • Radar simulators are used in air traffic controller training programs.
      By: Official U.S. Navy Page
      Radar simulators are used in air traffic controller training programs.