Hi, I’m Lauren and I’m an Aircraft Control Position Operator (ACPO) at NATS.
Normally, when I tell people what my role is, they look at me and say ‘what?!’. In simple terms the best way to describe what I do is that I am effectively a ‘pseudo pilot’. This means that I sit on a desk with an interactive touchscreen and a radar screen in front of me and act as if I were a pilot, in an aircraft, talking to a controller. This helps controllers to train for the airspace that they will eventually be responsible for.
To become a valid ACPO, you undergo a period of training (in my case I took 6 weeks to validate) to ensure you know the correct radio phraseology, procedures, radar knowledge and input on your touchscreen. Once you are valid, you are expected to confidently take part in conversations and speak fluently to the controllers as if you were a pilot. Occasionally we have scripts, depending on what projects are running and what the ATCOs want from their training, but on the most part we are using all of our own knowledge to facilitate the interaction.
As part of my role, I also help with controller resilience training projects which is where we create emergency situations for the controllers to handle. Not only is it important to train for the unlikely event in which an emergency arises, but it is also a necessary part of a controller’s validation which allows them to keep their licence and do their jobs. We carry out a variety of emergency scenarios including explosive decompression, laser and drone sightings, radio transmission failure, engine loss, medical emergencies and many more.
On an average day, we may have one or two different projects or scenarios playing out in the simulator and we do approximately six of these sessions a day. Whilst this can mean that my days are quite busy, the work is always varied and exciting.
I have always wanted to work within aviation, ever since I was 14 and first heard about NATS. Even after four years at studying Psychology at Glasgow Caledonian University, I knew that aviation was my true calling, so when I saw the vacancy for my current role and that I met the requirements, I knew I had to apply. This job is the perfect first step into the world of aviation and honestly, once you’re in, you will never want to leave.
I know it is a bit cliché, but I can wholeheartedly say that I thoroughly enjoy my job; I still can’t believe this is actually what I get to do every day for a living. I love being able to expand my airspace knowledge on a daily basis, assist with training, speak to controllers, and ultimately play a part in keeping our skies safe. Everyone that works in the simulator is like a big family, it’s a great environment to work in and I couldn’t see myself working anywhere else now.
If you are reading this blog because you are considering applying for the Aircraft Control Position Operator vacancy at Prestwick, I would 100% recommend applying. It is a great career and NATS is a fantastic business to work for. There is so much room for progression within the company. This is a job where the ‘Sunday dread’ doesn’t exist and you look forward to coming into work. I can’t lie though… it’s also pretty cool to be able to tell people that you are a ‘pseudo pilot’ for NATS!
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