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Towering problem cut down to size

Posted 25 June 2019 · Add Comment

A new training course in Kuwait aims to help provide local air traffic controllers with the skills to take up positions in the nation’s control towers. Alan Dron reports.

The rapidly rising number of airline flights in the skies over the Gulf mean increasing numbers of air traffic control officers (ATCOs) will be required to guide them. So, any initiative to increase the number of ATCOs under training is very welcome.
A new training course at the Australian College of Kuwait (ACK) is doing just that.
ACK’s School of Aviation is a Part 147 maintenance training organisation approved by Kuwait’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation, the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority and the European Aviation Safety Agency. As well as maintenance engineering diplomas, it now offers an air traffic control programme.
“Currently, we have 20 people enrolled in the ATC programme out of 368 students in the School of Aviation and it’s open for all nationalities,” said Miral Reyadh Nassar, the school’s senior officer, academic administration.
The ATC programme began in September 2018 and is run by Airways International, the overseas arm of New Zealand’s air traffic control organisation Airways NZ. It aims to train candidates to a point at which they can start working in an air traffic control tower.
Becoming an ATCO is not easy. Only 3% of the population has the necessary spatial awareness ability required to hold a ‘picture’ of an air traffic control situation in their head, said Airways International CEO Sharon Cooke.
Her organisation has been involved in the Gulf for around 20 years. Trainees from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Oman have all undertaken training with the New Zealand organisation.
For example, groups of 30 Saudi students at a time regularly go to the southern hemisphere nation for two years – the first spent polishing their English language skills, the second on actual air traffic control training.
The need for ATCOs in the Middle East is urgent. The worldwide growth in passenger traffic over the next 20 years is estimated at 3.5% annually. In the Middle East, that figure is 8% to 10% “depending on what research you look at”, said Cooke.
“They can’t train controllers quickly enough locally, which is why we’re involved.”
Around 70% of Airways NZ’s work is outside its home country, with China, Hong Kong and Vietnam among the nations whose next generations of ATCOs are being trained by the Antipodean organisation.
Airways International’s connection with the Kuwaiti project began after the Arab nation revealed a requirement for ACK to meet military ATCO requirements. “Basically, they were looking for an ATC training programme on their campus to meet a demand from the Kuwait Air Force. We told them we had this very successful training programme with the [Saudi Arabian] General Authority of Civil Aviation, and the programme we put together with [ACK] is based on that,” said Cooke.
ACK already teaches English classes, so Airways International steps in for what is essentially the second year of the course. “We provide a turnkey ATC programme. We start off with some aviation English, along with some theory, then we move on to more practical simulator-based training.”
Those qualifying from the two-year course are sufficiently competent that they can conduct radio transmissions between a control tower and aircraft. They then begin on-the-job training, for which, in this case, the Kuwait Air Force is responsible.
“We bring in our own simulators and some pilots and instructors,” explained Cooke. The instructors use a tower simulator plus two radar simulators that give trainees both a radar screen and a ‘visual’ view over an airfield.
Airways uses TotalControl simulators that employ photo quality, four-dimensional, 360° graphics that mimic the view from the tower window. This simulation technology is used from the ab-initio stage of training through to senior operational levels.
The course has proved its worth elsewhere in the Gulf, said Cooke: “With GACA, all the people who’ve been successful with us have gone on to become a rated controller with them.”
 

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