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Knowledge and Education

The growing sophistication of the business of aviation calls for employees who have at least a working knowledge of the industry. Clearly, the greater the knowledge (ideally extending to an awareness of historical events), of regulatory and economic, operational, technical (especially relating to the performance of aircraft), commercial, and perhaps political aspects, the better the likelihood of understanding how the industry comes together to achieve the key aims of safety, legality and efficiency. More recently, airlines have begun to recognise the value of educational qualifications, particularly in the area of Aviation Management, which can provide individuals with a broad knowledge of industry and, subject to the course content, may even expose them to simulated problems not dissimilar to real events with comparable challenges and scope. Employment in the IOC has never really been subject to specific educational qualifications, but there is growing demand for advanced mathematical and computer literacy to provide for more sophisticated data analysis and systems support. Hence, some IOCs like to employ PhD qualified specialists, though in the day-to-day operations, there is no call for this level.

Key Attributes

Some of the key attributes vital for the operational control role have been categorised below to itemise relevant criteria. As has been described elsewhere, these attributes also apply to the role of Dispatcher (as defined earlier).

Motivation and passion

The role of Operations Controller calls for high levels of motivation. Individuals who are ideally suited to the task truly find their niche in such an operational setting. For the right people, there is a natural fit. As alluded to above, high achieving Controllers thrive in this environment, because the greater the complexity of the task in hand, and with their full immersion in a problem, the greater satisfaction they derive. They are results driven. If problem solving can be delineated in terms of degrees of solution outcomes, the following examples may help to distinguish perceived differences among Controllers. Ajjood Controller might establish a workable solution to a problem that mitigates losses, recovers the schedule reasonably and uses resources sparingly. In decision theory, this approach is often called ‘satisficing’ - that is, achieving a solution that is satisfactory or ‘good enough’.2 It works, but that’s all. In some events, this may be perfectly acceptable, given that time-frames may not permit further consultation or deliberation perhaps.

In contrast, though, an outstanding Controller will demonstrate skills well beyond this rudimentary level, expending considerably more effort to seek what, in their eyes, is an optimal or desirable solution. The attainment of such high goals comes about from a process of creating, testing and fine-tuning possible solutions, and being in a state of dissatisfaction until the best option is reached. To the uninitiated, observing an expert Controller’s eyes seemingly ‘jump’ around the flight displays, or listening as a series of apparent disjointed questions are asked, would seem a most irrational manner to consider an event. Yet, the Controller will actually be creating a number of‘what-if’ scenarios in his or her head and testing them for validity. This is how they sense whether potential solutions may or may not work. A key to this approach lies with the Controller’s mastery of the situation, gained through stages of thorough preparation (e.g., during a briefing or handover stage), constant oversight, and an astute awareness of the potential consequences of any decision. This self-need for achievement is what gets their adrenalin flowing. It stimulates them, giving them a real ‘buzz’ as they seek to rectify adversity. To reach these heights they must be passionate about working in the operational environment and all that it brings in terms of challenges and opportunities to excel, and of course they have to be the right person for the job in the first place.


The above section may appear as though these high achievers must be constantly stimulated at work and be excited sufficiently to produce the outcomes described above. Not at all. The reasons that high quality solutions are achieved don’t emanate from a series of hectic responses, even in the midst of a chaotic disruption. Rather, they are due to the careful, deliberate approach that characterises the proficient Controller. There’s no secret that at times, the IOC becomes quite chaotic. Routine problems in isolation are handled as a matter of course, but complex, multiple and ongoing situations test the resolve of all Controllers in time. One of the fundamental requirements of working as a Pilot or Air Traffic Controller is calmness under pressure, as decision making in these domains is critical, of course. The nature of the IOC in disruption mode (high pressure, noisy, many people, multiple events, conflicting objectives) calls for a similar approach, and needs individuals who are extremely resilient and determined, who can critique problems fully, and then construct carefully considered solutions. To do this implies not only an ability to multi-task, but an adeptness for juggling multiple problems, each with its own idiosyncrasies. They need to perform at their best in these conditions, so they need to exhibit a work ethic that meets this level.

Self-management and team-fit

At a personal level, individuals in this environment need to be in a sound state of health and condition. As shift workers with starting times variously at 0400, 1200, 1800 or 2300, for instance, and working anywhere between eight and 12 hours at a time, there must be a just recognition of the rigours of working around the clock and how this results in accumulated tiredness and fatigue, both at work and away from it. Similar to other roles in aviation operations, sufficient periods of quality rest are required for recovery. Staff rosters (should) play a key role in helping to mitigate the effects of fatigue, but individuals also need to take their own responsibility for maximising rest. One advantage usually enjoyed by shift workers in an operational environment is the knowledge that they can leave the workplace having endured a challenging and somewhat stressful shift, only to return the next day in totally different circumstances. Naturally, the inverse also occurs. But, the necessity to ‘leave problems at work’ for the oncoming shift to handle, is an important part of the mental and physical recovery process.

To conduct themselves calmly and professionally, yet still be determined to accomplish the task, individuals need a high level of self- control and behaviour. This includes the careful use of time management and, as discussed in later chapters, opportunities for some downtime as a means of escapism in the short term. Some of the tasks enable Controllers to work autonomously, carrying out a series of activities with otherwise little interaction. But the vast majority of work is team dependent, necessitating close cooperation with a mix of personalities, and tolerance for realising the team members’ own goals and methods of working, while participating in and contributing to the overall objectives of the IOC. A Senior Controller needs to have well-honed leadership skills, capable of drawing others along throughout a disruption-management process, encouraging creativity, resourcefulness and persistence among the team members. This is vital to ensure the combined effort is directed appropriately.

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