Roles and Responsibilities of the Controller-In-Charge (CIC) in Regard to Liability and Operational Responsibility

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Roles and Responsibilities of the Controller-In-Charge (CIC) in Regard to Liability and Operational Responsibility

55TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE, Las Vegas, USA, 14-18 March 2016

WP No. 306

Roles and Responsibilities of the Controller-In-Charge (CIC) in Regard to Liability and Operational Responsibility

Presented by PLC


This paper deals with the position of the controller-in-charge (CIC), which exists in many units in many different countries around the world. The paper discusses differences between the supervisor’s roles and those of the controller-in-charge, and addresses questions regarding responsibilities and legality of this position.


1.1  In almost every ATC unit around the world there is an ATCO who is in charge and responsible for the operational process. This is an integral and necessary managing function.

1.2  Different names are used to define this position of a responsible ATCO: supervisor, substitute supervisors, CIC, etc. There are places (Israel, for example) in which both supervisor and a CIC are in place at the same time. Therefore a distinction should be made with regard to the division of functions and responsibilities of the two positions.

1.3  This paper aims to define the position of the CIC including duties, functions and responsibilities.


2.1 Background

2.1.1 A general mission of ATS providers is to promote safe, orderly, and expeditious flow of air traffic all over the world. To accomplish this, ATC services are provided wherever and whenever they are requested and needed.

In the U.S the FAA’s standards for its facilities require “watch supervision” to be maintained over air traffic operations at all times. To do this, the FAA employs supervisors who have a range of operational, managerial, and administrative responsibilities (GAO-02-55 Air Traffic Control, Report to the Chairman, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, House of Representatives, 2001).

2.1.2 Oxford dictionary defines “supervisor” as:” A person who supervises a person or an activity”. In ATC the supervisor does both. A supervisor is responsible for the ATCOs (“a person”) and their ATM work and performance (“an activity”)(Oxford Dictionary).

2.1.3 No specific definition can be found for “supervisor” and for “CIC” in ICAO documentation.

2.2  Supervisor’s duties

Although there is no universal definition for a supervisor in ATC, it is quite common to find the same functions and responsibilities for this position among different ATS units. As we can see in many ATS units a supervisor is usually responsible for the tactical management of traffic capacity, managing safety, making sure that ATM tasks are running, managing teams and all unit performance, managing systems and complex situations, and reporting, coordinating and relations with the management.

According to the FAA, supervisors provide oversight of the control area and ensure operational awareness among the controllers directing air traffic in different areas or positions within the facility. They monitor and manage the flow of air traffic, distribute workload among controllers, and adjust and monitor the equipment on which the controllers depend. Supervisors are also responsible for other duties such as evaluating performance, considering promotions, granting awards, taking disciplinary actions, and coordinating testing for drugs or alcohol.

Usually controllers who become supervisors complete a training process and get paid a higher salary reflecting the role and the responsibility they have. In order to maintain high levels of safety and due to shortage of supervisors, the position of substitute supervisor was created. In those cases the substitute supervisor has mostly the same duties as a supervisor.

2.3  In the late 90’s in the U.S. the main driver for starting to use CICs was to reduce the number of supervisors and substitute supervisors. In 1998 the FAA settled an agreement between ATCOs, members of the Congress, the Federal Managers Association (FMA), and others which raised concerns about the potential safety implications of reducing the number of air traffic control supervisors. In response to these concerns, the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) reported that the agreement to reduce the number of supervisors would not have an adverse impact on the safety of air traffic operations as long as FAA enhances the program by (Reductions in the Number of Supervisors Will Require Enhancements to FAA’s Controller-in-Charge Program, Office of Inspector General, U. S. Department of Transportation, Report number AV-1999-020, November 16, 1998):

    • Identifying the duties CICs will assume from supervisors
    • Ensuring that FAA management retains the right to select CICs
    • Developing and providing CIC training courses
    • Developing quality assurance procedures to measure the impact of supervisory reductions.

2.4  By the end of March 2001, managers at FAA’s facilities decided to select and certify most of FAA’s ATCOs as CICs. A total of 8,268 controllers- over 55 percent of the 15,000 controllers at FAA facilities- have been certified as CICs. The percentage of controllers selected to be CICs varied depending on facility size. Many FAA’s facilities selected all of their controllers to be CICs.

2.5  In many countries in Europe the CIC replaces the supervisor only during night shifts. Usually the senior controller takes the CIC position. However, there are also places in which a CIC function doesn’t exist at all.

2.6  A supervisor is a higher hierarchy than a CIC. Nevertheless, as far as PLC has found, in many units a CIC has a similar role, meaning and responsibilities as the substitute supervisor or the supervisor. The position of CIC usually becomes relevant in the absence of a supervisor. In this case the CIC is taking the supervisor’s place and assumes the responsibilities in real time of managing the operational functions mentioned above (section 2.2). These duties have to be completed with no delay (evaluating performance, for example is not a CIC’s responsibility and can be delayed). Therefore, a formal structure of who can be a CIC and what are the minimal requirements for it has to be set. Moreover, as for other functions in ATC (OJTI, Safety manager and QA, for example), appropriate and suitable training is required for CICs. Each ANSP should provide appropriate education for any function, especially if it has safety aspects and responsibilities in it.

2.7  Education and training for the CIC

In the USA a CIC training course has been provided since May 2000. A course based on the task and skill requirements contained in supervisor training courses and in CIC training courses developed by various regions and facilities. Ultimately, they developed a minimum 21⁄2 day training course that includes a 3 to 5 hour computer-based instruction program and 2 days of classroom training. The training was to end with a minimum of 2 hours OJT overseen by a supervisor. In general the training materials cover areas such as watch supervision requirements, human relations, communications, operations management and the handling of unusual situations. It is very important to evaluate the effectiveness of the CIC training program to verify that it develops the knowledge and skills controllers need to perform watch supervision duties.

2.7.1 Regardless of the effectiveness of the CIC training, some controllers were getting little experience performing CIC duties. No such minimum time requirement existed for controllers serving as CICs. According to FAA officials, a minimum number of hours for controllers to spend as CIC each month are not practical because in some cases only a small number of hours are available. That brought to the understanding the quality of time performing CIC duties, and a mechanism to provide additional training to ensure skills are retained, is more important. Therefore refresher training courses might be a more effective means of reinforcing and increasing knowledge and skills.

2.8 Minimum requirements

Many parameters may affect an ATCO’s ability to be in a CIC position. In the USA, when they first put controllers in the CIC position, a significant issue to deal with was how CICs would be selected. The competencies for a CIC position should be clearly defined so the right person is selected. A collective bargaining agreement between FAA and NATCA (1998) stated that a panel of managers and union representatives will recommend controllers for CIC duties, but the FAA retains the right to select CICs. Therefore, the field level managers were informed that choosing CIC designates is a cooperative process, the final selection, however, will remain a management right. Thus PLC is in the opinion that each ANSP should determine the process of how to choose CICs and define, if needed, the minimum requirement (such as year of experience, age, OJTI rating, etc.) for this position.

2.9 Legal Validity of the CIC position

As soon as an ATCO has a role with an operational responsibility their decisions and recommendations have to be legally valid. Therefore, from a safety and operational point of view, any intervention of a CIC in other ATCO’s work has a legal meaning and responsibility.

2.9.1 In cases where both a supervisor and a CIC are available and in charge, the supervisor has a higher seniority in most cases. In turn the supervisor’s decision/ recommendation/ instruction should determine the attitude and the performance.


3.1  It is well understood that a CIC has duties and responsibilities for the operational process.

3.2  As far as PLC found, in many cases a CIC has a similar role and responsibilities as the substitute supervisor or even the supervisor himself. They all have a formal structure and these positions have to be set.

3.3  The CIC has direct relation to safety and responsibility for operational process, therefore a formal training course and/or minimum requirements for CIC are needed and recommended.

3.4  PLC is in the opinion that a generic policy in regard to a CIC’s position should be addressed.


4.1 It is recommended that IFATCA policy is:

The roles and responsibilities of the controller-in-charge (CIC) are to oversee air traffic control operations. They shall be clearly defined and appropriate training will be provided.

and is included in the IFATCA Technical & Professional Manual.


Reductions in the Number of Supervisors Will Require Enhancements to FAA’s Controller-in-Charge Program, Office of Inspector General, U. S. Department of Transportation, Report number AV-1999-020, November 16, 1998.

GAO, Report to the Chairman, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, House of Representatives; Air Traffic Control, FAA Enhanced the Controller-in- Charge Program, but More Comprehensive Evaluation Is Needed, November 2001.

Department of transportation USA, Office of Inspector General Audit Report, Staffing: Reductions in the Number of Supervisors Will Require Enhancements to FAA’s Controller-in-Charge Program, November 1998.

Last Update: October 1, 2020  

January 24, 2020   965   Jean-Francois Lepage    2016    

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