Academic journal article Human Factors

The Use of Flight Progress Strips While Working Live Traffic: Frequencies, Importance, and Perceived Benefits

Academic journal article Human Factors

The Use of Flight Progress Strips While Working Live Traffic: Frequencies, Importance, and Perceived Benefits

Article excerpt


The Air Traffic Control System

Highly trained men and women using sophisticated technologies and intricate procedures accomplish the safe and expeditious movement of the nation's air traffic. Air traffic control (ATC) separation responsibilities are divided among four types of controllers who work at three different kinds of facilities. This paper focuses on en route controllers responsible for the high-altitude, high-speed components of the flights. En route controllers perform a multitude of functions associated with a flight. They clear aircraft to appropriate flight levels, coordinating with other en route facilities and Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON). They change headings and routings (also ascents, descents, and speeds), granting pilot requests to maximize both the safety and efficiency of a flight. At airports without active control towers, en route controllers can also perform the functions of arrival and departure controllers, granting approach and departure clearances.

Facilities. En route controllers work in one of the 22 Air Route Traffic Control Centers (ARTCCs) in the United States. Each ARTCC is responsible for a defined airspace that typically covers several states and extends from the ground to 60 000 feet, except where other types of ATC are enacted. En route air traffic control services are provided to aircraft on instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plans when the aircraft are operating between departure and destination terminal airspace. When equipment, capabilities, and workload permit, certain advisory/assistance services may be provided to visual flight rules (VFR) aircraft.

Airspace. A center's airspace is divided further into contiguous segments of airspace called areas of specialization. Areas of specialization are further segmented into volumes of airspace called sectors. A certified professional controller (CPC) is qualified to work in all sectors in one area of specialization. The size and configuration of a sector is often determined by factors such as traffic volume and flow, types of aircraft operating within the sector, location and activity of nearby terminal facilities, special operations and procedures (e.g., military operations), equipment limitations, and radar/radio coverage. Although several variables can define differences between sectors, it may be possible to capture many of the differences by considering a sector's altitude. Sectors are usually labeled as low or high, depending on the altitude limits of the airspace. High and low sectors near a busy terminal facility may be further broken down into superhigh or superlow sectors, in order to better distribute the workload for the circumstances (e.g., arrivals, departures).

Equipment. The controllers have access to computer-augmented radar information displayed over a situation display (also called a plan view logical display) and can use data entry and display devices to enter and retrieve information about an aircraft's flight plan. Controllers use a variety of communication devices, including radio and telephone landlines that allow contact with aircraft, other facilities, and other sector workstations within the ARTCC. Finally, they have flight progress strips, small pieces of paper that contain pertinent information from the pilot's flight plan. One strip, occasionally more, is printed for each flight in the controller's sector. Each strip is a 1-7/16 x 6-7/16 inch (3.62 x 16.35 cm) piece of paper containing 30 fields for information (see Figure 1). In addition to providing access to stored flight plan information, the controller can manipulate and write additional information on the strip.

Staffing. The workstations used to control traffic at a sector within the ARTCC can be staffed by one or two controllers and sometimes more. The tasks to be completed remain the same regardless of the staffing. However, when more than one controller is present, there is no universal approach to the division of responsibilities. …

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