Study of ICAO Training Manual Part D-2 “Air Traffic Controller”

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Study of ICAO Training Manual Part D-2 “Air Traffic Controller”

19TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE, Toronto, Canada, 05-09 May 1980

WP No. 37

Study of ICAO Training Manual, Part D-2

“Air Traffic Controller”


A preliminary review of this ICAO training manual was made in 1978 with the assistance of the Swiss ATCA. During the last year SC5 has been able to study this training manual in more detail. ICAO Training Manual Part D-2, Air Traffic Controller provides a useful basis for those engaged in the organisation of training. This manual should be read in conjunction with Part A-1, General Considerations and Part A-3, Composite Ground Subject Curriculum. All these training manuals have their origins in ICAO Annex 1, Personnel Licensing, which in presently being revised by ICAO. The ICAO Training Manual Part D-2 recommends course content but leaves the development of detailed syllabi and lesson plans to the discretion of the instructor. Because of the differing backgrounds and qualifications of ATC instructors the syllabi produces have often varies widely in both length and content. With this in mind the ICAO Technical Assistance Bureau produced in 1979 a series of Technical Assistance Guidelines (TAG) giving in great detail standard training syllabi for various ATC courses. Training manual in conjunction with the relevant TAG putting emphasis on local conditions which will be experienced by the student e.g. airspace structure, communications, prevailing MET conditions etc. Whatever syllabus for training is proposed the instructor must take into account the basic educational standard and/or previous experience of the students and adjust course content accordingly.


Chapter 1, Training policy and methods


Fewer aircrew are available today to be selected for training as air traffic controllers. The trend is toward the recruitment of ab-initio students having little or no aviation background. Not all ex- aircrew make good controllers and reasons for change of career should be determined in order to highlight any potential or latent psychological factors which would be detrimental to air traffic control.

Some knowledge of aviation and ATC would be desirable and there must be a case for recruiting from among those already employed within the Air Traffic Services. Such people have an advantage over the school-leaver in (i) a background experience of ATC, (ii) a certain amount of job maturity and sense of responsibility and (iii) the selection process should be easier as the potential recruit has already been under a period of observation. To quote (para. 1.3.2.) “In all cases, emphasis must be placed on the practical application of the training given and the importance of developing the qualities, as distinct from the qualifications, required in an air traffic controller…”

Choice of training method:

To quote (para 1.5.2) “The economic penalty of lengthy training times is considerable and the consequences of unsatisfactory training may not be readily apparent, but may be revealed subsequently when the operational controller is under pressure, with potentially disastrous results.” Nevertheless, the length and content of a training course must be carefully measured against the background knowledge, educational standard and experience of the students. The same course length and syllabus may not apply to all groups of students.

The training of students at operational ATC units on a self-study basis is not to be recommended and should be actively discouraged. Formal ATC training on approved courses must be provided. (refer to para 1.5.3) Simulation training, particularly if based on the students’ own ATC unit or area, is a most worthwhile training aid. However, student progress must be carefully monitored, as there can be a tendency for some students to get bored with the limitations of a simulator and the system of training thus defeats itself. (refer to para. 1.5.5)

The specialisation of tasks has led to the practice of retaining controllers at specific units for considerable periods of time. Trainees are being qualified in either Approach or Area. Unless suitable refresher training and regular exchange visits are organised the long-term effect could pose problems for the Air Traffic Services. Controllers would lose the overall view of ATC and their relationship within it. To quote “From a career point of view it is important for the ATCO to obtain broad based experience of all facets of air traffic control to qualify for promotion to future middle and higher management”. (para 1.6).

Chapter 2, Training facilities

Depending on the type of course and equipment available 10-12 students could generally be regarded as a maximum with 6 – 8 students for radar training. For practical training to be effective there should be one instructor to each student occupying a controller position. Students acting as pilots or assistant controllers need not be so closely supervised. To quote “Instructors should be allowed sufficient time for lesson planning and preparation of individual training. The correction of examination and study papers, and keeping abreast of current development in air traffic control.” (para 2.4.4.)

The use of tape recorders has proved of value in both basic and refresher training. RTF phraseology and pronunciation can only be successfully corrected when the student is able to check his own communications. (refer to para 2.6.) Practical training for Aerodrome Control is difficult to achieve in simulation be the simulator basic or sophisticated. The objective though remains the same i.e. students must be able to give definite, concise advice and information to pilots and to promote optimum safety conditions and expedition. (refer para 2.7)

Flight training should form part of the controller training in order to better appreciate and understand the co-ordination necessary between pilot and controller (para 2.10 refers). When deciding on the allocation of time for each subject the Technical Assistance Guidelines should be consulted. Previous experience and educational qualifications of the students may be considered. However, no two groups of students will follow exactly the same syllabus in the same way to reach the same standard.

Chapter 3 and 4. Theoretical and Practical training

The curriculum proposed by ICAO covers a broad spectrum of the basic knowledge required in order to qualify as an air traffic controller. When read in conjunction with the relevant Technical Assistance Guideline it will be seen that in many subjects the gradings as applied in Part D-2 have been modified. SC5 is in general agreement with the shift in emphasis on most subjects. In any case the basic requirement will undoubtedly vary throughout the world depending on the student intake, local ATC system and airspace structure, airspace users, etc. In the context of flight training and airline familiarisation flights, which should be part of controller training, students will have to acquire some knowledge of navigation, principles of flight, aerodynamics, aircraft instruments, conduct of flight operations etc.

Chapter 5. The Air Traffic Controller ratings

Training for ratings should be conducted as a formal course of training in a fully equipped and properly staffed training environment. Knowledge training would occupy approximately one third of the training time leaving two-thirds to practical training. Of the knowledge taught more emphasis could be placed on the performance characteristics of aircraft typical to the region or airport, and on flight operations. if the controller is better able to appreciate the pilot’s point of view less misunderstandings might arise and improved co-operation will follow. (This works both ways – encourage pilots to visit your ATC unit).

Chapter 6. Examination arrangements

At the end of formal training students should sit examinations to test knowledge (written test) skill (practical test) and understanding (oral test). These examinations must be to the same standard regardless of the method of training given to the student. SC5’s recommendations on examination and validation procedures were presented to MAs at the 1979 Conference (W.P. 22)

Chapter 7. Radar ratings

Quote “One of the main objectives of controller training is to ensure that all controllers the similar procedures and the same Phraseologies”. (refer to para 7.2) Quote “Performance of radar equipment can be affected by meteorological and other factors and it is essential for radar controllers to have a thorough knowledge of the operational characteristics of the equipment they have to use”. (para 7.3). Note here that some technical knowledge of his equipment is very useful to the radar controller.

Quote “It is desirable that radar instructors are selected from personnel with at least two years’ practical experience in all aspects of radar control”. In the initial stages of training there should be a 1:1 student/instructor ratio during actual training. It is possible at later stages for one instructor to monitor two adjacent students on a simulator. Students can benefit from such “remote” instruction in building up their own confidence. (refer to para 7.5)

The typical course proposed for Radar Controller/Aerodrome or Area (papa 7.8.2) offers a general outline which may be modified by experience. Primary radar identification and exercises would normally precede SSR. When only a basic simulator is being used about 45 hours is an optimum training time per student. The student would be expected to be able to handle up to 6 aircraft at one time and have a good grasp of basic radar procedures and techniques and standard phraseologies. Ideally a mix of “live” and simulator exercises should be employed.

Chapter 8. Familiarisation training

In this context the word familiarisation refers to validation or on-the-job training. Minimum experience requirements should be specified. They may differ from unit to unit depending on complexity of procedures and traffic workload. ICAO Annex 1 makes a general reference to them.

Chapter 9. Aids to training

Quote “It is considered most valuable for an air traffic controller to have an appreciation of the duties and responsibilities of the pilot and other operational personnel, with particular reference to the problems of such personnel in the discharge of their duties. Such a mutual understanding of each others’ difficulties can only result in a better co-operative working relationship”. (para 9.1) Having a good background knowledge of aviation is almost as important to the student as learning the specific skills required in ATC and in fact it may greatly assist in the acquiring of these skills.


Not mentioned in Part D-2 but which today is becoming more and more part of the working life of the air traffic controller is the subject of computers and in particular automatic data processing (ADP). An introduction to the uses of computers in ATC should be included in the final stage of controller training. Very few air traffic systems today are not influenced to a greater or lesser extent by some form of computerisation. SC5 believes that a basic introductory course on the techniques of computers and on automatic data processing should become part of the training for an air traffic controller.


This ICAO training manual published in 1977 set out to promote the uniform application of ICAO standards and Recommended Practices and Procedures. It aims to give guidance in establishing training syllabi and to encourage a high standard of professional training. Annex 1, Personnel Licensing, contains the standards for the licensing of air traffic controllers. The training manual was however open to personal interpretation by the individual training officers and instructors and the uniformity originally sought for was not achieved. To assist instructors in their interpretation of the training manual ICAO produced in 1979 the Technical Assistance Guidelines. ICAO Annex 1 is currently being revised and draft copies of the amendment (No 7) are in circulation. SC5 has studied the new amendment to Annex 1 and finds that many of the observations made on the training manual Part D-2 are included in this amendment to Annex 1. viz:

If ab-initio controllers are recruited direct from school it may be an advantage to them, and to the ATC system, that they spend up to one year working within air traffic services before commencing controller training.

ATC students must undertake approved training courses and not have to rely on self-study methods. Simulation training is a valuable training tool but with limitations.

It is important for controllers to obtain broad-based experience on all facets of ATC. Tape recorders are useful training aids for RTF phraseology and pronunciation. Flight training should form part of controller training combined with air experience flight with an airline.

The Technical Assistance Guidelines should be read in conjunction with training manual Part D-2.

Education and experience of students should be considered when following the recommended syllabi. More emphasis in basic training can be put on to the performance characteristics and recognition of today’s aircraft. At the end of each phase of training students should take written, practical and oral examinations to test their knowledge, skill and understanding.

Personnel selected as radar instructors should have at least two years’ practical experience in all aspects of radar control.

Minimum experience requirements (MER’s) should be specified for each validation of a rating.

A basic introductory course on computers and automatic data processing should be part of the training of an air traffic controller.


It is recommended that training officers and instructors use the ICAO Training Manual Part D-2 in conjunction with Annex 1 and the relevant Technical Assistance Guideline in assisting them to organise their training courses, bearing in mind the variances dictated by local conditions. (Action – MAs).

It is recommended that the Executive Board of IFATCA approach ICAO with a view of having some instruction on computer technology and automatic data processing included in the ICAO Training Manual Part D-2, Air Traffic Controller (Action – EB)

It is recommended that this paper be accepted as Guidance Material.

Reference Documentation

ICAO Annex 1, 6th edition and proposed amendments for 7th edition.

ICAO Training Manual Part D-2, Air Traffic Controller, 1st edition (1977) – D0c 7192-AN/857 ICAO Technical Assistance Guidelines.

All quotations are from the Training Manual Part D-2.

Last Update: September 19, 2020  

November 23, 2019   745   Jean-Francois Lepage    1980    

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