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Air Traffic Controllers

Old 27th May 2017, 12:55
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Air Traffic Controllers

Are RAF air traffic controllers, trained at Shawbury, up to the standard required to control traffic at Northolt? This is in regard to the airprox last year between an A380 and a Gulfstream, the controller became distracted and concerns were also raised at the manpower levels.
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Old 27th May 2017, 13:51
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Distraction is a human factor, it can and does happen at any airfield regardless of it being a military or civilian, big or small.

Is the question regarding the ATC school at Shawbury stem from the fact it's a RW base?
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Old 27th May 2017, 14:08
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https://www.airproxboard.org.uk/uplo...%202016221.pdf
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Old 27th May 2017, 14:11
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Duplicate post

Last edited by MATELO; 27th May 2017 at 14:26.
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Old 27th May 2017, 15:11
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Originally Posted by Door Slider View Post
Distraction is a human factor, it can and does happen at any airfield regardless of it being a military or civilian, big or small.

Is the question regarding the ATC school at Shawbury stem from the fact it's a RW base?
As far as I'm aware nowadays, students from the Air Traffic Control School at Shawbury no longer train on 'live' traffic in the tower at Shawbury, using simulators which can simulate literally any type of aircraft so implying they are only used to helicopter traffic is totally misleading. They are all trained to the highest standards (as are civil controllers trained by NATS at Whitely) and if at the end of the course they have not met the required standard, they do not graduate and are often re-coursed.
The 'incident' appears to have been caused by the oncoming controller being distracted while an aircraft was being vectored for the easterly approach at Northolt which includes a 'dogleg' turning final at about (I think) 4nm (please correct me if I'm wrong); the aircraft cannot be positioned on long final for Northolt due to traffic on the 09L ILS at Heathrow so it requires a great amount of concentration to achieve the ideal final approach track.
Northolt have separate frequencies allocated for 'approach' and 'final' directors so I'm surprised as it appeared to be so busy that the supervisor wasn't keeping a better eye on things.
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Old 27th May 2017, 15:32
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haltonapp (#1),

After five years of flying in war, and a further five years in peace, I was an RAF ATC from 1955 to 1972, including 3 years as an instructor at Shawbury. But no experience on Area Radar. (We have a MPN11 on frequency here, who can remedy that deficiency).

IMHO, Door Slider (#2) has answered your question. But your unspoken question is: Does the Civil ATC Training system produce a "superior product" (for Civil purposes) to the RAF (Shawbury) system ? I leave that open for discussion, but will only note that many RAF Controllers, after the end of their SSCs, made successful careers in Civil Air Traffic Control.

I think we may have a hot potato here !

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Old 27th May 2017, 16:59
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Adopt the brace position!

Both paths share similar skill sets as required by the job, and also different 'specific' skills as dictated by the unit you work at post-college, hence why each unit requires it's own training plan and validation. (Mil traffic operate differently to civil, etc).

No unit has the same airspace/traffic/restrictions etc so leaving the ATC college, whether it be RAF or Civil, will not make you eligible to walk in to a unit and be able to work the traffic in a safe, orderly & expeditious manner. You merely leave the college with a licence to learn at the unit you're posted to.

Airprox's can, and do, happen at any unit, regardless of where the staff were trained, so to imply those trained at Shawbury may not be up to the standard to work Northolt is absolute bolleaux. It's a challenging job wherever you were trained, and wherever you're posted.
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Old 27th May 2017, 17:30
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Originally Posted by 360BakTrak View Post
Adopt the brace position!

Both paths share similar skill sets as required by the job, and also different 'specific' skills as dictated by the unit you work at post-college, hence why each unit requires it's own training plan and validation. (Mil traffic operate differently to civil, etc).

No unit has the same airspace/traffic/restrictions etc so leaving the ATC college, whether it be RAF or Civil, will not make you eligible to walk in to a unit and be able to work the traffic in a safe, orderly & expeditious manner. You merely leave the college with a licence to learn at the unit you're posted to.
Does military air traffic control deal with more circuits and touch and go's, while civil ATC is more straight in approaches and full stop landings?
On the fast jet units I've worked on, it seems there's always a wave or two of aircraft each doing multiple circuits and bumps, especially when you need to drive past the end of the runway at shift change !
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Old 27th May 2017, 18:41
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Originally Posted by Danny42C View Post
haltonapp (#1),

After five years of flying in war, and a further five years in peace, I was an RAF ATC from 1955 to 1972, including 3 years as an instructor at Shawbury. But no experience on Area Radar. (We have a MPN11 on frequency here, who can remedy that deficiency).

IMHO, Door Slider (#2) has answered your question. But your unspoken question is: Does the Civil ATC Training system produce a "superior product" (for Civil purposes) to the RAF (Shawbury) system ? I leave that open for discussion, but will only note that many RAF Controllers, after the end of their SSCs, made successful careers in Civil Air Traffic Control.

I think we may have a hot potato here !

Danny42C.
I like to think I got the best of both worlds. I did a 3 year course gaining civil ratings for aerodrome, approach, approach radar, area and area radar. My field training for area radar was carried out at a joint military/civil area radar unit (Lindholme) so I was able to work alongside military controllers learning what they did, then for my final posting I was sent to an MOD(PE) unit (Farnborough) where not only did I have to learn military procedures as well as operating civil procedures and where I would often use approach radar and area radar ratings at the same time, but when it came my turn, I was sent to Shawbury for a PAR course.
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Old 27th May 2017, 20:06
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gr4techie (#8),

...Originally Posted by 360BakTrak
Adopt the brace position!

...leaving the ATC college, whether it be RAF or Civil, will not make you eligible to walk in to a unit and be able to work the traffic in a safe, orderly & expeditious manner. You merely leave the college with a licence to learn at the unit you're posted to...
My opinion exactly ! When I started instructing at Shawbury, the thinking was that we were turning out Air Traffic Controllers (don't laugh, read my story below).

Later I came to think that we were turning out skeletons of Air Traffic Controllers, who would be clothed in the flesh of experience at their Stations. At the end I realised that we were really running a big Aptitude Test - if they could hack the Course, they could probably learn to do the real job at the desk.

But the practice did not always follow the theory ..... The newly minted D. turned up at Strubby in '55. "Welcome aboard", said SATCO, "we've been waiting for you - you're on Approach Monday afternoon - Flt Lt So-and-so will show you around - Good luck !"

In defence of that, I must remind readers that, in those benighted days, the Shawbury output was almost all ex-war aircrew, mostly pilots and navs, who had a fair idea of the job anyway. (It was said that the immediate postwar RAF Air Traffic Control Branch was set up as a Sunset Home for all the good old has-beens and neverwozzers of wartime leftovers). But I think that was just sour grapes. ...

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Old 28th May 2017, 13:31
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Northern Dairies

Chevron,
That would have been Northern radar then, with PRESTON AIRWAYS up at the back with, IIRC, a single suite consisting of 2 controllers, 2 assistants, 1 tracker and 1 height finder. (Yes folks, 3 FIRs! Scottish, Preston and London).

It was, from my point of view as a servant of the Blue Line Master Race, a brilliant job, especially the controllers assistant part. I suspect that those of us who served at ATCRUs like the dairies and had to manually track 8 returns at once can still beat their grandchildren on modern computer games.

A342

p.s. I think my controller, who instructed me one night, to take 2 pairs of Lightenings on recovery to Binbrook, while he was playing Bridge up on the bridge with the co-ordinator and two assistants, made his 7 no trumps (or was it 7 spades?) Oh and Northern was JUST outside the Midland overhead!
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Old 28th May 2017, 17:46
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Originally Posted by ACW342 View Post
Chevron,
That would have been Northern radar then, with PRESTON AIRWAYS up at the back with, IIRC, a single suite consisting of 2 controllers, 2 assistants, 1 tracker and 1 height finder. (Yes folks, 3 FIRs! Scottish, Preston and London).

It was, from my point of view as a servant of the Blue Line Master Race, a brilliant job, especially the controllers assistant part. I suspect that those of us who served at ATCRUs like the dairies and had to manually track 8 returns at once can still beat their grandchildren on modern computer games.

A342

p.s. I think my controller, who instructed me one night, to take 2 pairs of Lightenings on recovery to Binbrook, while he was playing Bridge up on the bridge with the co-ordinator and two assistants, made his 7 no trumps (or was it 7 spades?) Oh and Northern was JUST outside the Midland overhead!
I was there in '73 and I seem to recall that on the civil UAS suite, we operated with 2 assistants writing up flight data on the edge lit board between the 2 radar consoles plus 2 trackers, one for each console; the height finder wasn't permanently manned; you just shouted 'height please' and hoped someone was there to look at it.
I think I rather 'freaked out' some of the RAF guys one sunday. Mainland and North Sea positions were bandboxed and whereas the RAF guys dealt with off route traffic with a maximum of 4 tracks each, suddenly I had 16 tracks on frequency, fortunately all were on known routings and most of them were overflights and did not require climb or descent so I was quite relaxed, but the poor tracker trying to deal with 16 tracks was working his [email protected] off!
A third console well away from the 2 upper airspace ones was used as a joint operation with Boulmer. It was called the 'Northern Joint Radar Service Area' (forerunner of 'Pennine Radar') and was for traffic below FL245 to/from Newcastle and Teeside which was leaving/joining controlled airspace at Pole Hill. Although this control position was moved occasionally, it was usually next to the console occupied by the co-ordinator who kept a 'log' of levels in use in the Lindholme T82 overhead; same type of radar as Midland but apparently with a much smaller overhead - wonder why that was?
My mentor did one session with me on this console when I started my training and thereafter he stayed in the rest room for extra tea/extra fag whenever we were rostered on it!

Last edited by chevvron; 29th May 2017 at 10:08.
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Old 28th May 2017, 20:08
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I did my time at Northern in 75 & 76.

Happy days.
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Old 29th May 2017, 10:48
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Late on parade ... been following the BA chaos on another Forum and other places over the last couple of days!

During my 29 years in the RAF, I spent 8 years as a Tower controller [including time as SATCO and Local Examining Officer) and another 8 years in Area Radar (including Senior Supervisor, OC Training Sqn and LEO) at Joint units (Eastern Radar and LATCC). So I guess I can claim to have a reasonable spread of experience, including those years in a joint Mil/Civ environment.

I think the OP's question is 'reasonable' in the context he has drawn it, but there's no real difference when it comes down to the reality. ANY controller, of either persuasion, has potential to drop a ball occasionally and the incident in question shows how easily it can happen. The Airprox occurred simply because the Northolt controller was distracted exactly at the time when the Gulfstream should have been turned inbound. Any controller, when juggling several balls at once, need to remember which ball is the most important at any given moment ... and that priority changes dynamically every few seconds.

In a perfect world, either of the following could have prevented the Airprox:
  • Delay the controller handover until the Gulfstream was turned inbound. Literally a 'critical path'.
  • Prioritise the Gulfstream and tell Heathrow Director to "Wait". Not easy to do, but see previous bullet!

Easy to say, in the comfort of my Study, of course. But if the Northolt controller had been Civil, the same scenario could have unfolded. That 07 approach must be a right sod to manage!

Have a picture of Eastern Civil. Of course, it would normally be much darker than that!
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Old 29th May 2017, 11:53
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MPN11 (#14),
...ANY controller, of either persuasion, has potential to drop a ball occasionally and the incident in question shows how easily it can happen...
You have put your finger on it: "To err is human"; the man or woman who cannot make a mistake has not been born yet. (But, "To forgive is not Company Policy" ?)

Nic pic of all you poor battery hens in your gloomy henhouse ! Fresh (air-con) air, blue skies (occasionally), and starry nights, under wall-to-wall octagonal glass, suited old D. much better !

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Old 29th May 2017, 12:49
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Danny
Fresh (air-con) air
Not always at Northern ... there were instances when Airwork(?), the engineers, failed to turn off the air-con when the 'Honey Cart' was going about its business by the air-con intake!!!
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Old 29th May 2017, 22:30
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a literal sh*t hitting the fan.
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Old 30th May 2017, 10:26
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We were obviously lucky at Eastern. We had proper plumbing and sewage disposal
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Old 30th May 2017, 11:11
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Originally Posted by MPN11 View Post

Have a picture of Eastern Civil. Of course, it would normally be much darker than that!
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Similar to Northern but only one control position instead of two; I presume one of the positions was occupied by the tracker, but it shows the edge lit board very well.
Data was fed to the assistant at this board by an electrowriter. One day at Northern, we were working away as normal when there was a loud 'pop' and a flash of light. The electrowriter had blown up!! I never saw the 2 assistants move so fast!!
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Old 30th May 2017, 11:30
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@haltonapp - yes, of course they are. RAF ATC training, examination, validation, standardisation and supervision are all tightly controlled, documented and assured. As has been said already, HF happens. That is not to make light of the incident, but no system is fool-proof, especially with a human in the loop.

@Door_Slider - ATC training and RW training have nothing to do with each other at Shawbury. ATC training is all simulated.

@chevvron - Live tower training (using dedicated Jet Provosts) ended in the early 90s (I went through JATCC in 93 and was on an all-sim course).

One of the reasons for moving Northolt Approach down to Swanwick was to have the Northolt controllers sat with the Heathrow team in order to remove some of the coordination issues associated with such a tight piece of airspace.
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