ATCC Controllers' Read Binder...
NOTAMS, FAQs and other info for users of ATCC
#1: New Sector
A test version of a new sector (L.A. Center sector 4, 125.8) is just about ready and should be posted at this site by April 8th or so for free download. L.A. #4 is an extremely congested sector that lies immediately north of LAX and handles a mix of jet departures from LAX, Burbank and Ontario airports as well as commuter props to and from central and southern California. It is very small as far as Center sectors go (about 50 miles long, 20 wide), but rapidly fills up with aircraft checking on and bugging you for higher. Check the main page of this site after April 8th for download info.
We have received various requests for particular sectors, or particular areas. We've put them on our request list, but in a lot of cases there can be "busy" sectors that aren't really interesting. In some cases, the various procedures are designed to take away challenges, and keep things straight-forward and orderly (like sector 82). In gathering the data for the sim, we aimed for a couple "easy" sectors (82 and 38), along with some of the more challenging ones from around the country (the others). Of course we hope to add even more as time goes on!
#2: Storm season approaching!
If you currently have the "storms" option set to "normal," you should be getting occasional storm cells on your radar about this time. As summer approaches, you'll see more and more. If you get big clusters right in the middle of your major traffic flows, remember that you can take the initiative and vector aircraft around them prior to their asking for deviations. This will help to avoid their tying up the frequency with "uhhhhh, we're gonna need to come [pause] ahhhhh [pause] about 20 right or so" while you have 10 other things you need to do. If 5 arrivals in a row have all asked to deviate right, and have all gone about the same distance before going back on course, just vector out the 6th to follow the others, because you know he'll be asking for the same thing anyway. This may save a transmission or two, and every little bit helps when things are already congested.
#3: Readback errors
In real-world ATC, pilots certainly do sometimes make mistakes and read back incorrect altitude assignments or other commands, and it ultimately is the responsibility of the controller to catch the erroneous readbacks. If you say "climb and maintain 15,000" and the pilot reads back "Allright, climb to 17,000" and you don't catch it, it is your fault when he climbs through that other aircraft at 16,000. Thus, when you state an instruction, you are not finished until after the pilot has read it back.
With an exception! --- as you know, with the sim's text-only communications, it can become distracting to have to constantly read the incoming messages. In the real world, you could continue looking at the radar as you listen to the readback. The new voice upgrade will rectify this. But in the meantime, the sim pilots will always readback instructions correctly (assuming they heard it). Thus, if you know what you typed, you can safely ignore the readback! A little better, though, is just to glance at the start of the message to make sure it's an acknowledgment type of message (versus, say, a check-on), then you can safely assume the pilot got it, and move on with your radar scan. This saves precious time when you are busy.
In fact, when you are extremely busy, you can pretty much safely ignore EVERY message; just make sure you type in the correct altitude assignments. Once you get some of them up and out of your sector and things have quieted down, anybody who had something to say earlier (like checking on, or asking for higher) will ask again when it is a little quieter.
#4 Grumpy pilots
As you've probably noticed, most of the sim pilots are cheerful, or at least professionally neutral. Occasionally, though, they may seem a little sarcastic---only because they are! If you turn them all over and slow them down or keep them from climbing for no real reason, you can make some of them a little grumpy, and it will show in their communications with you. "Grumpiness" is a minor part of the job (the vast majority are highly professional in any case), but don't count on extremely P.O.'d pilots to "help you out" when you need it--- they're more likely to ignore you or question your instructions.
On the other hand, most appreciate the job you do and are glad to speed up, slow down, or expedite their descent when you need it.
Sometimes, the only solution to a situation is to climb or descend an aircraft even though there is traffic somewhat nearby. If you think it will be close, but you have no real choice, be sure to say Expedite! (E and up-arrow or E and down-arrow, or just plain E if they are already climbing or descending). Assuming they're not in a bad mood (see #4 above), they'll increase their climb/descent rate. The more times you tell them to "E", the more they'll increase their rate, up to their aircraft's maximum capability. If you really need them at their new altitude now, you could say (for example) "112, E, E, E" and they'll get the hint you really need their best rate!
You'll hear "expedite!" a lot on the east coast (i.e. New York) more so than "out west," because with crowded, small sectors there isn't much room to turn aircraft out of the way if something's not going to work, so the only choice is to make it work by getting their best climb/descent rate from the start.
#6: If you have a deal, confess!
If you're working traffic and "have one," as you know you will take a hit on your rating. If you immediately turn yourself in by requesting a break, you will be given less of a penalty than if you wait for the tap on your shoulder, or even worse, refusing to press the blinking BREAK and waiting for them to yank your headset out (you could get fired for that!)... As soon as the datablocks start blinking, press BREAK to notify your supervisor and you'll probably only lose 5 or 10 points.
#7: Look out your SIM window!
Undocumented feature: hold down ALT and press T W R in sequence. Your radar screen will disappear and you'll be looking out the "window" at your sector! Aircraft are white dots with shadows on the ground; grid lines denote 1 mile increments; the ground is green, the sky is blue (or black), and active runways are drawn in grey.
Your viewpoint is at the left center edge of your scope, looking (magnetic) east. You can't turn around, but you can move around with the arrow keys. You can also move up with the Page Up button, and down with the Page Down button. + zooms in, - zooms out. * redraws the screen. The "range" control determines the visibility...click it upward to see further out.
It's undocumented because it was just a simple display module used in the development process to make sure aircraft were behaving properly (arrow-key over to one of the big airports and you'll see they taxi around, roll down the runways and take off!). It was left in because it didn't take up much space and is kind of interesting to watch. But make sure you unplug from the sector before ALT-TWR'ing, because technically you're still at the sector, and it is as hard as heck to control by looking up at them from the ground, without datablocks! ... ALT-TWR again to go back to your radar.
#8: Build your own radar room!
For best effect, close your window shades and turn off all the lights, except for a desk lamp or other small light next to the monitor. Turn the brightness down on your monitor until the black areas on the radar become truly black (instead of "glowing grey"), then turn up the contrast until the green lines and blips stand out brightly. Tell your family you have "important work" to do, lock the door and plug in your headset! Imagine getting paid (good money!) to do it...
#9: ATC job opportunities (in the U.S.)
The FAA is set to resume large-scale hiring (after about 4 years of very little) starting late this year. The main requirement is that you have to be age 30 or under, or be an ex-PATCO controller (any age). The under-30 requirement is only because they want to get a good 25 years of service out of you for the 3 or so years they'll spend training you. But, that could change...write your congressman.
If you are eager to start an ATC career now, the best way in is to attend a special ATC school in Minneapolis (part of the Minnesota Technical College System). They have a special contract with the FAA, and their graduates are being hired directly out of the school usually upon graduation. Tuition is about $1,500 for the 6 months of schooling, plus room and board. Call them for information, 1-800-475-2828.
Otherwise, call directory information in the nearest big city and ask for the Federal Aviation Administration, Personnel office. They'll steer you in the right direction, or at least send you an application form. If they're not sure what the hiring status is, check back every month or so until they get the information. It may take up to a year to get the proper paperwork sent in and approved, but keep at it!
If you can't work as a controller in real life, at least with ATCC you get the same challenges they get at the real sectors, and probably just as much adrenalin. You can also get more busy traffic and more proficiency than real controllers, who may only work an hour of busy traffic each day (there's a lot of slow periods, or having to do somebody else's boring D-side). Finally, when you start getting the anxiety dreams where you have 50 aircraft in your sector, and nobody's listening, and your fingers can't type, you'll know you've absorbed the complete controller mentality!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll be glad to help!