Hi, my name is Kirsty Richards and I’m an Air Traffic Project Specialist (APS), within the Simulation Delivery team, based at our Whiteley office in Fareham. I initially joined NATS as an Aircraft Control Position Operator 25 years ago and I was promoted into my current role in 2004 which I still love today. I’m often asked what my job means and what a Feed Sector Specialist is so hopefully I can clear that up for all of you today!
The aim of the Simulation Delivery department at NATS is to provide realistic air traffic simulations for scenarios including trainee air traffic controllers completing their initial sector validations, for valid air traffic controllers refreshing their competencies, or on new airspace or air traffic systems. Part of my role includes being a Feed Sector Specialist (FSS) ‘feed’ controller which involves me being a pseudo controller, simulating traffic on adjacent sectors to the trainee (live) sectors, sending and receiving the traffic accordingly.
My role enables the on-the-job training to be as realistic as possible for the air traffic controllers and accurately simulates how it would be presented within the live Operations Room. The Feed Sector Specialist part of my overall role involves giving instructions to my Aircraft Control Position Operator (ACPO pseudo pilot) over the radio, which they then input into the system to make the aircraft on the radar do what I’ve instructed ready for the controllers to respond to. I use the electronic flight strips to co-ordinate aircraft between the adjacent sectors and control the aircraft in my sectors of airspace by giving levels, headings etc. All these parts come together to create an accurate representation of a live air traffic environment so the controller can train in an accurate environment.
On the job training is a really important part of the training for controllers as you can only ever learn so much from studying or watching someone else control. On the flip side this does also mean that it’s incredibly important for me to be up to speed with the relevant airspace procedures to ensure the simulation training is as realistic and current as possible. I work as part of an amazing team to ensure all the sectors surrounding the part the controller is training on are covered.
My role involves shift working – there are three watches, which work opposite shifts to each other. The shift pattern is a nine-day pattern (three mornings – 06:45 – 14:15, three afternoons – 14:15 – 21:30 and then three days off). This is a rolling pattern which includes weekends and bank holidays. Personally, I prefer shift working as it allows me to have some time off in the week!
I really enjoy my job as an Air Traffic Project Specialist and the Feed Sector Specialist part of my role is always very varied. One day I could be providing training to a trainee air traffic controller, the next day we could be learning new airspace or new air traffic control systems. Because there is a vast amount of airspace and sectors to cover as well as so many different scenarios to train on, every day really is different. My core validation skill is on Area Control (AC), generally above 21,000 feet but I also cross trained and recently validated on Terminal Control (TC) Area as well which generally involves airspace below 21,000 feet, We also simulate military, and unusual circumstances including emergency situations and as the airspace is always changing and there are always new things to learn, there is never a dull day.
I would recommend the Feed Sector Specialist role to anyone with the relevant skills and a passion for aviation. It is an excellent opportunity to be part of an amazing team and join an amazing company. If you are an aspiring air traffic controller, then it could also be a great way to build up these skills for any potential applications in the future. My time with NATS has flown by and I still enjoy coming to work and the job I do – how many people can still say that after 25 years?
Interested in applying to be a Feed Sector Specialist? You can find out more here – Feed Sector Specialist vacancy.
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