I recently spoke at an online webinar hosted by Resilient Pilot on the topic of skills fade and the anxiety being felt by air traffic controllers and pilots who have been furloughed for the past year (and more) and therefore working with far fewer flights than usual due to Covid-19 travel restrictions.
To help re-build confidence, and refresh the necessary skills of our controllers, we ran a regeneration training programme earlier this year, ensuring ATCOs are ready to handle increasing numbers of aircraft as travel restrictions are eased.
Handling ‘too little’ air traffic isn’t what we are used to dealing with. In the past, our focus has always been on ensuring that controllers can handle busy sectors of airspace without feeling stressed or overloaded. Since the pandemic hit the UK last March, we have had to change the way controllers operate and now training is focused on building back confidence and making sure that all the necessary skills needed to safely manage air traffic are at their sharpest, so we are ready for peak travel levels once again, whenever they may occur.
As social distancing has become a necessity, controllers have been unable to communicate face-to-face as they normally would to coordinate flight movements and handovers. There has been a higher frequency of non-standard approaches as aircraft are taking shortcuts and more direct routes in quieter skies. And there have been more requests from General Aviation pilots to fly in/through controlled airspace as they also take advantage of quieter skies. All of these things have affected the way controllers work and changed the way they deal with things.
Pilots face a similar challenge, with many not having flown for a year or more or flying far less frequently than they’re used to, and they’re undertaking similar training to sharpen skills and build back confidence.
Crew Resource Management (CRM) will underpin the safe return of aviation, alongside NATS’ Team Resource Management (TRM), with each side needing to understand and empathise with the other. The goal will be as ever to keep things standard, predictable and safe, in everything that we do.
Through initiatives like Resilient Pilot, air traffic controllers, pilots and cabin crew can share valuable learning and be reassured that everyone in the aviation industry is working closely together through the toughest of times.
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