Staffing of ATFM Units – the Need for Licensed ATCOs to Man These Positions

  • Home 1991 Staffing of ATFM Units –....

Staffing of ATFM Units – the Need for Licensed ATCOs to Man These Positions

30TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE, Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago, 22-26 April 1991

WP No. 75

Staffing of ATFM Units – the Need for Licensed ATCOs to Man These Positions


The staffing of ATFM units was put on the SC4’s Work Programme in respect of the question – is there a need for licensed ATCOs to man these positions? This question has already been discussed by Committee B in 1986 and the following IFATCA policy was accepted:

“ATFM units and their associated positions must be staffed with appropriately trained and qualified personnel. These personnel should be currently licensed ATCOs.”


If we look to the future, we find in the Future European ATS system (FEATS) Concept Group Report, the following general principle:

“Although the system must be designed to accommodate normal peak traffic demands, and should be easily expanded to meet anticipated future growth, it is accepted that it may not be practicable to provide for excessive peak levels of air traffic demands.”


In other words, flow control measures will continue to be required and is generally accepted that ATFM units, already established in some countries, will become more widespread as airways and airports reach saturation levels.


The ever increasing number of ATFM units expected to occur world-wide and their staffing requirements (e.g. 200 in the CEU-West in Brussels of which 40 will work as “flow-controllers”) will make it extremely difficult for ATCOs employed in these units to maintain their validation, unless an ATFM-rating is introduced. The IFATCA policy asking for currently licensed ATCOs obviously needs to be reviewed.

ATFM activities

If employees have to be selected for ATFM, then one has to look at the tasks they have to perform. In the FEATS concept we find that the necessary balance between air traffic demand and ATC capacity should be achieved by ATFM activities as follows:

a. Strategic ATFM activities

(from several months until 24 hours before entry of a flight into the ATFM area)

i)  Early identification of expected bottlenecks within the ATC system;

ii)  Steps taken for corrective action (e.g. capacity increase, alternative routes and other measures taken in co-operation with States and aircraft operators).

Strategic ATFM activities should be directed towards resolving major demand/capacity problems and the preparation of flow management plans to minimise restrictive measures.

b. Tactical ATFM activities

(merging with the end of strategic ATFM activities until actual handling of the flight by ATC).

i)  re-routing of traffic;

ii)  profile limitation, and if necessary;

iii)  flexible time-management of individual flights.

Real time traffic situations:

i)  provision of warnings to ATC units concerning the build-up of overload situations taking into account actual traffic and actual system capacity;

ii)  when required by ATC, assistance by co-ordinating overall corrective actions taking account of the requirements of aircraft already in flight;

iii)  monitoring flow rates with due regard to any regulation/allocation errors.

ATFM activities at planning and supervising levels relate directly to the ATC function and the operators. The knowledge and experience of an ATCO would appear to be essential prerequisites in fulfilling the co-ordination required in order to achieve a safe, orderly and expeditious traffic-flow. IFATCA policy mentions currently licensed air traffic controllers, but what kind of ratings must they have?

It is clear that the work of ATFM will have a direct impact on the work of ATC. Due to the influence that ATFM will have on the day to day air traffic situation, the ATFM staff, with the knowledge and ability to interpret data in relation to all aspects of ATC. Therefore such staff must have relevant experience in at least Area and/or Approach Control.

To ensure that the operational background of controllers selected for planning and supervising levels is maintained, it is suggested that the need of an ATFM rating be explored. Licensing of ATFM specialists (=ATFM-personnel in planning and supervising levels) should require previous practical experience as active, licensed ATCO’s. The minimum duration of this period should enable the future ATFM-staff to obtain adequate operational experience in handling actual air traffic. ATFM-specialists should be obliged to return to ATC-units for a considerable period of time in case major changes in ATC-procedures and/or airspace structure are implemented. (familiarisation without keeping/getting an ATCO-licence). Furthermore a constant co-operation between ATFM specialists and ATCO’s should be mandatory at ATC-units, where ATFM measures have to be applied frequently.

Medical fitness should also be considered for ATFM-staff. ATFM staff will be dealing directly, both nationally and internationally, with industry representatives and operational ATC staff at the highest levels. To be successful will require a degree of credibility commensurate with the responsibilities of the position. This can only be achieved realistically by ATFM staff having a considerable knowledge of, and, experience in, the ATC system.


ATFM will assist and support ATC as ATFM strives to achieve acceptable levels of traffic able to be handled by individual ATC units. The credibility of the unit will be severely tested as a compromise between airline demand and system capacity must be reached. It is essential in this situation that ATC retain control over ATFM activities and that decisions on available capacity of a particular ATC system must remain with the controllers at the unit concerned.

An ATFM-specialist should have relevant experience as an active ATCO.

ATFM-specialists have to familiarise themselves with major changes in ATC and get acquainted with problem areas in relation to ATFM. Medical fitness should be maintained throughout ATFM- work in planning and supervising levels.

The IFATCA policy for the staffing of ATFM units requiring currently licensed ATCOs is impracticable. As long as no ATFM-rating is introduced, this would mean, that ATFM specialists have to keep their ATCO-licenses valid, which would be impossible to achieve.


The existing IFATCA policy for the staffing of ATFM units be replaced by the following:

“ATFM flow management staff not performing clerical or administrative functions must be qualified as active civilian ATCOs in Area or Approach Control or must have undertaken the duties of a qualified civilian ATCO in Area or Approach Control functions.”

“The responsibility for aircraft in flight remains solely with ATC and any subsequent ATFM involvement shall be at the request of ATC only.”

“In order that ATC is able to maintain its presence and control over ATFM units, an ATFM rating or ratings should be introduced.”

“ATFM staff not performing clerical or administrative functions should be obliged to familiarise themselves with major changes in ATC procedures and maintain their acquaintance with problem areas with relation to ATFM within their region.”

Last Update: September 20, 2020  

December 4, 2019   681   Jean-Francois Lepage    1991    

Comments are closed.

  • Search Knowledgebase