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Oliver Rhodes

atc-training Controlling Tips

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Oliver Rhodes

In a similar spirit to @Harry Sugden's EuroScope 'tricks' thread, and following a few requests from members, I thought it might be helpful to collate some general 'hints and tips' on controlling: how you can make life easier for yourself and for other controllers!

To start, here's a couple which I've been asked about recently:

Logging on/off

When you connect to the network, drop a quick message to the people controlling around you, just to let them know you're there and to find out what you need to know - they can't give you your traffic if they don't know you're online!

And when you disconnect from the network, to remember everything you need to tell a controller who's taking over, try using PRAWNS:

  • Pressure - is it high or low? What's the current MSL? (more appropriate for APC/ACC)
  • Roles - where will the next controller be taking over? Who else is also online?
  • Airports - which runways are in use?
  • Weather - has wind shear or turbulence been reported to you anywhere? Are you in LVPs or safeguarding? What's the wind doing?
  • Non-standard - have any other controllers put things in place: maybe a 'check west' or something similar? Is anyone doing something a bit different to what you'd usually expect?
  • Situation - does the next controller have a good enough awareness of the current situation to take-over? Is there any other information you could tell them which would help?

If they're busy or you need to get off quickly, why not drop them a text message so that they can read through it when they've got time? The more informative (but 'to the point') you can be, the easier it is for whoever's taking over your frequency!

@Arvid Hansson has written some extra information on co-ordination below, as well!

Scratchpads

There's a lot of common notations that people like to use, but there's none that you absolutely have to follow: when it gets busy, having a convention for yourself can really help you to keep on-top of the situation! Just remember to clear the scratchpad before you pass the aircraft on to the next controller so they don't get confused!

Anyone got anything else they'd like people to know? If there's something you've found which is really helpful (whatever it is), or if there's something you just wish people would do to make your life easier, this is the place to put it!

Edited by Oliver Rhodes
Clarified, and added reference to Arvid Hansson's post

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Arvid Hansson
50 minutes ago, Oliver Rhodes said:

When you connect to the network, drop a quick message to the people controlling around you, just to let them know you're there

I would in most cases argue that this is insufficient if one is connecting below an already connected controller (KK AIR logging on under AC South etc.). It's not about telling someone that you're online and already controlling, it's about taking over a position from a controller working several positions (in the sense that AC South in the previous example is "working" KK AIR). PRAWNS (etc.) are not just for when you are logging off, but also for when you log on and take over a position from someone else.

In my experience, it is incredibly hard to build situational awareness if you simply log on and start controlling traffic when you're not fully aware of what's going on. A proper controller brief is beneficial for both controllers as they will be at the same level of understanding and awareness as to what's going on at the airfield/in the sector. If I connect to an APC/ADC position with overlying AC coverage, I expect to be given a brief about what's going on. Equally, I will brief any controller who logs on underneath me to make sure they are up to speed with what I've been doing with the traffic that's becoming theirs. A rather common example is during high wind,  a lot of newly connected LL controllers bust their airspace when taking aircraft off the stacks because of the wind rendering their "standard headings" useless. Had a brief taken place, they could have used H260 off LAM straight away and saved 5 corrective transmissions.

If you "don't have time" to brief properly because that queue of departures looks very cool, or you want to give Belynz's takeoff clearance for 5 seconds of "fame", IMO you have the wrong approach to controlling.

I do realise my view on this varies slightly from that of an average UK controller, mainly because coordination is replicated very strictly in line with reality in my home division (just like the real system, vERAM has a built in position handover checklist) whereas VATUK takes a significantly softer approach (which is not in itself a bad thing). I do however think it is perfectly reasonable to expect some degree of situational awareness and respect from underlying controllers in VATUK and I hope that more focus can be put on this during training to ensure a more enjoyable experience for controllers, and ultimately a better service for our pilots.

TLDR:

(my own opinion, not official guidelines (although I wish they were!))

DO: Come on TS, advise the overlying controller you want to open a certain position, log on, brief with the other controller and wait for acknowledgement that the handover has been completed ("your control", "your traffic" etc). Ask questions if you're not fully aware of what's going on.

DON'T: Log on, PM LON "hi 26L A" and start sending contact requests to each and every pilot on the ground to then issue clearances that have already been issued etc.

Edited by Arvid Hansson

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Richard Keen

The amount of times ive had controllers under me just log off with out saying anything leaving me to sought out the situation is getting silly now, ..I  understand things cant be helped like net disconnections ...or real life problems but to just log off with out saying any thing is just not on , i always try and inform others im loggin off and co ord the traffic movements if needed and update the list before i go.

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Fraser Cooper
10 minutes ago, Richard Keen said:

The amount of times ive had controllers under me just log off with out saying anything leaving me to sought out the situation is getting silly now, ..I  understand things cant be helped like net disconnections ...or real life problems but to just log off with out saying any thing is just not on , i always try and inform others im loggin off and co ord the traffic movements if needed and update the list before i go.

Completely agree. Also, just putting in the ATC Chat that you are online is not sufficient. Maybe it is just me, but I never check the ATC chat.

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Lawrence Abel
4 hours ago, Arvid Hansson said:

I would in most cases argue that this is insufficient if one is connecting below an already connected controller (KK AIR logging on under AC South etc.). It's not about telling someone that you're online and already controlling, it's about taking over a position from a controller working several positions (in the sense that AC South in the previous example is "working" KK AIR). PRAWNS (etc.) are not just for when you are logging off, but also for when you log on and take over a position from someone else.

In my experience, it is incredibly hard to build situational awareness if you simply log on and start controlling traffic when you're not fully aware of what's going on. A proper controller brief is beneficial for both controllers as they will be at the same level of understanding and awareness as to what's going on at the airfield/in the sector. If I connect to an APC/ADC position with overlying AC coverage, I expect to be given a brief about what's going on. Equally, I will brief any controller who logs on underneath me to make sure they are up to speed with what I've been doing with the traffic that's becoming theirs. A rather common example is during high wind,  a lot of newly connected LL controllers bust their airspace when taking aircraft off the stacks because of the wind rendering their "standard headings" useless. Had a brief taken place, they could have used H260 off LAM straight away and saved 5 corrective transmissions.

If you "don't have time" to brief properly because that queue of departures looks very cool, or you want to give Belynz's takeoff clearance for 5 seconds of "fame", IMO you have the wrong approach to controlling.

I do realise my view on this varies slightly from that of an average UK controller, mainly because coordination is replicated very strictly in line with reality in my home division (just like the real system, vERAM has a built in position handover checklist) whereas VATUK takes a significantly softer approach (which is not in itself a bad thing). I do however think it is perfectly reasonable to expect some degree of situational awareness and respect from underlying controllers in VATUK and I hope that more focus can be put on this during training to ensure a more enjoyable experience for controllers, and ultimately a better service for our pilots.

TLDR:

(my own opinion, not official guidelines (although I wish they were!))

DO: Come on TS, advise the overlying controller you want to open a certain position, log on, brief with the other controller and wait for acknowledgement that the handover has been completed ("your control", "your traffic" etc). Ask questions if you're not fully aware of what's going on.

DON'T: Log on, PM LON "hi 26L A" and start sending contact requests to each and every pilot on the ground to then issue clearances that have already been issued etc.

Yep, PRAWNS worked really well in vACC Malta back in the day - worked a treat as all was integrated well into mentoring/Instructor observations live on the network!! 😄

(would rather do a morning briefing though, eh Arvid?)

Edited by Lawrence Abel

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Adam Farquharson
5 hours ago, Arvid Hansson said:

Log on, PM LON "hi 26L A

This is one thing that annoys me when observing or sometimes even connecting. When a tower controller logs on, the new tower does not select the runways strait away. The runways have already been selected by a previous controller that had top down of your sector so they will tell you the runways in use. If you then wish to change then obviously you can as you would normally but just because there wasn't a tower controller on before doesn't mean you can come on and choose the runways.

Another thing that has been going around on slack is:

Tower and ground controllers that are using either VCA or UKCP should clear the initial altitude that the plugin sets for you if there is no sector above you and you are handing the aircraft to Unicom before you hand them off. I normally do it when giving a takeoff clearance or for a ground controller when they are reaching the holding point and you are handing them off. If you leave it in then when the aircraft goes to the next sector(on a EGLL-EHAM flight EHAA_W_CTR) the cleared level will still be in the tag and it will appear as if the aircraft has gone above it's cleared level when in fact the cleared level shouldn't be at the initial climb of the SID.

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James Yuen
41 minutes ago, Lawrence Abel said:

Yep, PRAWNS worked really well in vACC Malta back in the day - worked a treat as all was integrated well into mentoring/Instructor observations live on the network!! 😄

(would rather do a morning briefing though, eh Arvid?)

Did you even have anyone to hand off to/from haha?

In addition to these points, controllers should know what they get themselves into. This includes logging on the third GND split at LL when there's one aircraft on the GND, TWR/APP top down when there's 25 on the ground at KK (or LL) and BB CTR when there's no LL or KK and it's peak time. Check before logging on, what runways in use and how much traffic so you can start 'analysing the situation' the moment you log on.

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Arvid Hansson
34 minutes ago, James Yuen said:

Did you even have anyone to hand off to/from haha?

I think they eventually handed their entire vACC over, wonder what the acronym for that procedure was 🤭

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Lawrence Abel
2 minutes ago, Arvid Hansson said:

I think they eventually handed their entire vACC over, wonder what the acronym for that procedure was 🤭

Yeah, if I recall correctly, it was "SHAMBLES"

Edited by Lawrence Abel
Ooops

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Arvid Hansson
1 hour ago, Adam Farquharson said:

The runways have already been selected by a previous controller

This 👏 is 👏 so 👏 important 👏

You're not opening up a previously closed position, you're taking away part of another controller's already active jurisdiction.

Edited by Arvid Hansson

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Robert Terrace
7 hours ago, Oliver Rhodes said:

In a similar spirit to @Harry Sugden's EuroScope 'tricks' thread, and following a few requests from members, I thought it might be helpful to collate some general 'hints and tips' on controlling: how you can make life easier for yourself and for other controllers!

To start, here's a couple which I've been asked about recently:

Logging on/off

When you connect to the network, drop a quick message to the people controlling around you, just to let them know you're there and to find out what you need to know - they can't give you your traffic if they don't know you're online!

And when you disconnect from the network, to remember everything you need to tell a controller who's taking over, try using PRAWNS:

  • Pressure - is it high or low? What's the current MSL? (more appropriate for APC/ACC)
  • Roles - where will the next controller be taking over? Who else is also online?
  • Airports - which runways are in use?
  • Weather - has wind shear or turbulence been reported to you anywhere? Are you in LVPs or safeguarding? What's the wind doing?
  • Non-standard - have any other controllers put things in place: maybe a 'check west' or something similar? Is anyone doing something a bit different to what you'd usually expect?
  • Situation - does the next controller have a good enough awareness of the current situation to take-over? Is there any other information you could tell them which would help?

If they're busy or you need to get off quickly, why not drop them a text message so that they can read through it when they've got time? The more informative (but 'to the point') you can be, the easier it is for whoever's taking over your frequency!

@Arvid Hansson has written some extra information on co-ordination below, as well!

Scratchpads

There's a lot of common notations that people like to use, but there's none that you absolutely have to follow: when it gets busy, having a convention for yourself can really help you to keep on-top of the situation! Just remember to clear the scratchpad before you pass the aircraft on to the next controller so they don't get confused!

Anyone got anything else they'd like people to know? If there's something you've found which is really helpful (whatever it is), or if there's something you just wish people would do to make your life easier, this is the place to put it!

As someone who is going through the S1/OBS mentoring sessions at the moment, I like this idea. Anything that helps the newer controllers (or even those that aren't that confident), is something I can get behind.

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Callum Axon
18 hours ago, Oliver Rhodes said:

There's a lot of common notations that people like to use, but there's none that you absolutely have to follow: when it gets busy, having a convention for yourself can really help you to keep on-top of the situation! Just remember to clear the scratchpad before you pass the aircraft on to the next controller so they don't get confused!

This is as easy as hovering over the aircraft and pressing the INSERT key...

I'd say make sure you double check the SID routing of an aircraft. For example, if an aircraft is going to Dublin from Manchester, don't clear them on a SANBA (southbound!) SID. Bit of common sense with the SID directions goes a long way. The SRD is your friend. 

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Daniel Button

I think one of the most fundamentally important things is to know your aerodrome before you log on to a position.

If you're considering opening a position, read the vMATS or at the very least have a look at the crib sheet. You may find that some departure routes are invalid (EXMOR UM140 SAM is a good example if we're looking at Bristol/Cardiff) or time-restricted (DET departures from Stansted); some may even require a release from the receiving controller. If the airport is quiet most of the time, you can even read as you go (I often did this as an S1) and refer to the crib sheet before giving instructions. The SRD as mentioned above is always useful, I find that even as a Radar controller that I have to utilise it (clearly I have too much time on my hands).

Knowing the aerodrome is a sure-fire way of not upsetting your adjacent controllers (particularly if they're busy). Hope this helps.

Happy controlling.

Edited by Daniel Button

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Robert Terrace
15 minutes ago, Daniel Button said:

I think one of the most fundamentally important things is to know your aerodrome before you log on to a position.

If you're considering opening a position, read the vMATS or at the very least have a look at the crib sheet. You may find that some departure routes are invalid (EXMOR UM140 SAM is a good example if we're looking at Bristol/Cardiff) or time-restricted (DET departures from Stansted); some may even require a release from the receiving controller. If the airport is quiet most of the time, you can even read as you go (I often did this as an S1) and refer to the crib sheet before giving instructions. The SRD as mentioned above is always useful, I find that even as a Radar controller that I have to utilise it (clearly I have too much time on my hands).

Knowing the aerodrome is a sure-fire way of not upsetting your adjacent controllers (particularly if they're busy). Hope this helps.

Happy controlling.

Thats the thing I'm learning.

Every time I look through the vMATS and Crib sheets, I pick up different things. I've got the SRD as well, but, that will probably get used when I begin to feel more confident in my abilities (once I get passed as an S1). A lot of what I'm getting through my mentor, is to ask questions as well. 

One thing I've picked up is the need to have notes/crib sheets readily available so that you can at least reference them in down periods.

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Harry Sugden

'Inventing' Rules

The rules that we adhere to are those in the MATS Part 1 (CAP493) and vMATS Part 2 documents (or where appropriate, any posts in the ATC Procedure Changes forum that might overwrite these documents. Any other 'rules' just don't exist and have been suggested as good practice or passed around as rules when they just aren't. A couple of examples...

Always handoff aircraft passing 1000ft

Have seen and heard of this a few times, but am not completely sure where it has come from. There is no hard and fast rule as to when you hand aircraft off. There are some important things to note though:

  • Is there any other traffic in the vicinity that is on your frequency, which the departure is not yet separated from? This applies when you do not use the prescribed departure separation minima, and might be using RSIVA (Reduced Separation In the Vicinity of an Aerodrome) before 3NM radar separation is established. This especially applies when you have a go around on frequency against a departing aircraft - if there is not 3NM or 1000ft separation between them yet (I would hope that the instructions they have been given will cause them to diverge soon!), do not hand the go around to APP and the departure to CTR!
  • Is there any VFR traffic operating in the circuit or in the vicinity of the aerodrome that the aircraft needs to be informed of? I would expect any circuit traffic on crosswind to have been notified to an IFR departure before they're given takeoff clearance of course, but there might still be reasons to pass traffic information.
  • Has the pilot passed a reasonable height to be able to respond to the instruction? If they have only reached 200 feet above ground level, I think this might be a little too soon...
  • And most importantly, are you satisfied the aircraft will be following their route/instructions!!!? e.g. for EGLL CPT departures on easterlies, you should observe the right turn (to 220 degrees) beginning before handing off! For SIDs with a left or right hand turn soon after departure, if the pilot does not initiate this turn as expected, prompt them to/coordinate/ask whether they need vectors etc.

Hand off to TWR at X / passing X

AFAIK, there is not a single aerodrome where there is a hard rule as to where you should hand off from GND to TWR. I have heard of Gatwick controllers and 'hand off passing J for 26L' or 'passing T for 08R', and I'm sure there are probably other locations where these have made to seem like rules - they're not, they're just suggestions. Things to consider:

  • Is there an aircraft in front that you haven't yet handed off? If so, probably best to transfer to TWR in the order that the aircraft will present themselves!
  • Is there the possibility for a conflict with another taxiing aircraft if you hand off now? This doesn't include conflicts caused by a pilot screwing up, as that's not the same as you weaving aircraft around each other and giving conditionals etc. On that note, if a conditional has been given, such as "taxi holding point A2 via P and AS, give way to the A320 passing right to left on J", probably best not to hand off until you're sure they've given way since TWR presumably doesn't have the aircraft on J on frequency, and so wouldn't be able to resolve a conflict should one occur.
  • Do you trust the pilot to follow the taxi instruction you've given? If there's nothing conflicting, an aircraft passing P1 at Gatwick for A2 could easily be handed to TWR and perhaps they can then be offered an intersection B1 departure if it's available - no point keeping aircraft you don't need!

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Harry Sugden
23 hours ago, Oliver Rhodes said:

Scratchpads

There's a lot of common notations that people like to use, but there's none that you absolutely have to follow: when it gets busy, having a convention for yourself can really help you to keep on-top of the situation! Just remember to clear the scratchpad before you pass the aircraft on to the next controller so they don't get confused!

On that note, if you don't need to use them, then don't if you don't want to! If it's not busy, think about whether it benefits you to put the stand number in the SPad. Or does it benefit you to mark which direction they are facing on pushback? On London, I use the SPad to mark routes (I use #FP) or flight levels (#FL) I have noticed are off and need to address, and then only for holding points when it is intermediate/non-standard/busy.

When you put stand numbers from 1 to 9 (I think it's this range, might be more - basically when you put a number in the SPad and it then disappears after pressing enter...), this can cause the aircraft to be routed direct to a fix called that number - please don't do this!!

Edited by Harry Sugden

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Harry Sugden

Teamspeak

For some reason, I often come across people who just aren't on TeamSpeak when controlling... I cannot stand text coordination (unless of course you cannot use TS for one reason or another which is completely understandable). It takes far longer for me to type out a release to an APP controller or a departure clearance than it does to speak it!!!

Releases (more APP related)

If I haven't issued a release for an aircraft for one reason or another and it's quiet - come and ask me for one!!! Or just left turns/right turns/descent/a direct blah blah! Offer me left bases for 08R at Gatwick rather than waiting for me to suggest; offer straight ins from the west for easterlies at Heathrow; straight ins for Birmingham on either runway etc. etc. Don't be afraid to ask - the majority of the time I expect the answer will be yes!

Check your fellow controller's work and correct in a polite fashion

Everyone makes mistakes!! As TWR, for example, do not assume that every single aircraft you receive at the holding point has a perfect route - do one last check! I've seen aircraft to EBBR from EGLL before be sent to me by TWR on a BPK SID (should be DET!), even with ground and tower online supposedly checking... none of us are perfect, so simply working together to look out for 'off' things goes a long way. And then point it out politely... "ah hey, just so you know, that aircraft should've been on this SID"

Same if a TWR controller forgets a release as either APP or CTR - "hey, for future, just a reminder that that departure requires a release" etc.

Edited by Harry Sugden

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Adam Farquharson
1 hour ago, Harry Sugden said:

When you put stand numbers from 1 to 9 (I think it's this range, might be more - basically when you put a number in the SPad and it then disappears after pressing enter...), this can cause the aircraft to be routed direct to a fix called that number

Is there a fix to this if you see another controller make the mistake or if you mistype because I have had to handoff aircraft to London before on somewhere like KK_TWR when busy because of this problem or someone putting "a3" in the scratchpad instead of "/a3" and not known how to change it and it would be a lot easier for me to fix it then handing them off to London

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Fraser Cooper
9 minutes ago, Adam Farquharson said:

Is there a fix to this if you see another controller make the mistake or if you mistype because I have had to handoff aircraft to London before on somewhere like KK_TWR when busy because of this problem or someone putting "a3" in the scratchpad instead of "/a3" and not known how to change it and it would be a lot easier for me to fix it then handing them off to London

You can reset it by typing 'H0' as it is also the heading tag and this will reset any waypoint/heading that has been assigned.

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Harry Sugden

Was working with a ground controller recently who had no idea what the reason behind putting the stand number in the SPad is for departures. Can we please start teaching why certain things are suggested, rather than just forcing them on people...?

(For the record, the reason why I assumed it was being taught is so you could remember where to look for an aircraft if it were very busy; but that was in a Heathrow context, and I would only ever do so when it's busy. No point when there's one aircraft on the ground!)

Edited by Harry Sugden

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