ATCC Controllers' Read Binder...
NOTAMS, FAQs and other info for users of ATCC
#1: STATUS ON PROGRAM UPGRADES
Xavius is hard at work creating a voice upgrade (speaking pilots) that should hopefully be ready by this summer. Registered owners of version 1.0 will receive this upgrade free of charge when it becomes available. If you ordered directly from Xavius, you were automatically registered! Check back here for status updates.
More sectors: remember, real controllers may work the same six or seven sectors day after day, year after year! Many grow to hate certain sectors, and love others. We do hope to create additional sectors though, starting with other ZNY, ZAU and/or ZLA sectors, then other Center facilities as well. They may be ready late this year.
Some have asked if they can create their own sectors. It's technically possible, but is a LOT of work, and a lot of interrelated data is needed for each one. If you have programming/hacking experience, and would like to know the format to the sector files, email a request to firstname.lastname@example.org. We can't really help with debugging your creations, though, so it's probably best just to wait for our new upgrades. The six original sectors cover most of the range of Center controlling, so most new sectors would just be variations of these originals anyway.
#2: TIME OF DAY/SYSTEM CLOCK & CALENDAR
The sim does not look at the system clock to determine traffic levels. Traffic levels are determined solely by the traffic intensity window, either manually controlled if you're training, or kept "busy" if you're working. This allows you to work busy traffic even if you run the sim at 3am. On the other hand, the sim does use the clock to determine the numbers of VFR aircraft wandering around. But, that has no real bearing on how difficult the sector is, other than cluttering up the scope.
Some have asked about being able to change the time of day within the sim. It's not possible currently (other than changing your system's clock before you start the program), and should not be needed for the reasons above. But, if enough people want it, we'll put it in a future upgrade.
Likewise, your system's calendar is used to determine weather patterns when the storms option is set to normal. Thus, you'll get more frequent storms in the summer months (June-August) than in other times. But, if you want to force storms into your sectors, choose always under the storms option. Storm placement is mostly random, so you should, but won't necessarily get storms within the sector boundary. Exit and re-enter to move them around if you desire.
#3: THE RATING SYSTEM
Your career rating is really your supervisor's assessment of your status as a controller employee. The supervisor's main concern is that you not have deals, so if you keep working busy traffic without deals, you should see it slowly go up. The supervisor usually doesn't watch what you're actually doing at the sector (you're mostly on your own when you're working), so you won't get bonus points for brilliant vectoring or creating order from chaos. As long as you don't have deals, and don't try to cheat the system by unplugging from the sector just before you have one, your supe will like you and it'll show in the rating. The numbering system is more-or-less calibrated so that a real-life, professional radar controller should score in the low- to mid- 80's. Most ATCC users will probably be in the 40-80 range.
#4: THE D-SIDE
Trained controllers are a scarce resource, and with the frequent budget cuts, most Centers are understaffed. The supervisor will always give you a D-side if either you or he feels it is getting a little too busy (safety is always the top priority), but there is also informal pressure to keep sectors one-holed (i.e. just one controller) so any extras can rotate through and let others go on break. There is a requirement that controllers be on position no longer than two hours, but most of the time they'll work the sector for 1:15 to 1:30 before going on a 20 minute break.
Thus, you may have found that soon after requesting a D-Side, your supe takes him away. This really means your past history as a controller is good enough that the supe feels you can work it by yourself, he trusts you, and he'd rather use the D-side to let somebody else go to lunch or take a break. If you only have a couple sectors under your belt, or have had deals recently, the supe may keep the D-side in with you for a longer time, if not always.
It's probably best to plan on doing everything yourself, and let the supe decide if you need or don't need the D-side. Having one means less work for you, but it does keep one of your exhausted co-workers from going on break sooner.
#5: LOOKING AWAY FROM THE RADAR SCREEN
Center radar controllers do not sit glued to the radar scope! The typical Center controller has to do all the following:
In the sim, all of the above are done for you automatically, to provide a balance with your need to look down at incoming messages or to type commands you'd otherwise speak. The overall looking-away-from-the-scope versus looking-at-the-scope thus remains similar to the real-life workload. But yes, speaking pilots and voice recognition would make it better, and we're working on that! But as-is, it's still very realistic.
#6: "WARMING UP" THE SECTOR
Some have asked about the need to wait awhile for the sector to get "warmed-up." Until the aircraft show up, you may sit around for 5-10 minutes with nothing really going on. This is like reality, because there is a lot of sitting around even at the busiest sectors in the middle of the day. There might be a crazy departure rush and the sector is saturated, then everything goes away, and you sit with one or two aircraft for the next 20 minutes. It's all part of the job. Still, with the sim you can always start the sector, then go off and do something else. Come back in 10-15 minutes and plug in, and it should be getting busy. Hopefully in a future update, the sim will be able to construct a busy sector from nothing, so you can start out "busy".
#8: WORKLOAD AND GETTING OVERWHELMED
It's entirely possible that things will get to be too much for even a seasoned professional controller to handle. Having to type a lot only makes it worse. As a controller, you are expected to make the best of the situation, keep as calm as possible, concentrate on one thing at a time, do it, and systematically move on to the next. Still, things may get away from you, at which point you should request a break, hang on for a couple more minutes, then get out of there and recollect your thoughts. These are some reminders on how to reduce complexity hopefully before it starts, or as soon as you realize you've lost control:
A good controller will be arrogant and ignore calls when restoring order in the sector, but will make a mental note of who is asking about rides or checking on, and will get back to them politely once the sector is under control again.
#8: CRASHES AND EMERGENCIES
Some have asked if aircraft in the sim can declare emergencies, or collide with other aircraft. Yes, collisions are possible (when working traffic) and what you'd see would be realistic. However, the sim was designed to be a realistic sim and not a "game" like some other programs. Thus, collisions are extremely unlikely. Firstly, as soon as you lose 5 miles separation, an alarm goes off and the supervisor rushes to the sector and will quickly find somebody else to take over. Secondly, the chances of two 200-foot aircraft flying at 450mph and happening to hit each other is somewhat similar to two bullets colliding in mid-air. Additionally, in real-life almost all airliners now have instrumentation ("T-CAS") to detect other nearby aircraft and alert the pilots how to avoid any that get too close (though they don't have this in the sim).
Thus, collisions are so unlikely (and the consequences so severe) that the concept is almost taboo among controllers. War stories among controllers usually revolve around how close to five miles the aircraft came -- "...so then they passed same altitude, 5.1 miles! <GASP>."
The Read Binder is updated at the beginning of the month. All information is for use with Xavius Software's Air Traffic Control CenterTM only, is the opinion of the author(s), and does not necessarily reflect the policies or practices of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration or Federal Aviation Service. Send your questions or comments to email@example.com and we may incorporate them in the next issue!