Global Harmonisation of Air Traffic Control Training

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Global Harmonisation of Air Traffic Control Training

56TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE, Toronto, Canada, 15-19 May 2017

WP No. 161

Global Harmonisation of Air Traffic Control Training

Presented by PLC


The need for global harmonisation of Air Traffic Control training seems obvious. Raising the standard of training and subsequently the standard of operation should be a priority at any Air Navigation Service Provider. This working paper seeks to provide an update on harmonisation initiatives and explain some of the drivers behind them.


1.1. Global harmonisation of Air Traffic Control (ATC) training has long been an ideal of IFATCA. This working paper seeks to provide an update of harmonisation initiatives and some background to the drivers behind these initiatives.

1.2. Traditionally, ATC training has been done by an Air Navigation Services Provider (ANSP) to service their own requirements. Historically, the training received by different ANSP’s would be unlikely to conform to the same standards.

1.3. Globally, as ATC moves toward collaborative and interoperable systems, understanding of the training required and performance expectations will also move in the same direction.

1.4. The International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO) have endorsed competency-based training and assessment as the global standard. While the standards and recommended practices (SARPS) only became effective in November 2016 they were already beginning to be adopted by member states worldwide.

1.5. There are two main drivers behind harmonisation in ATC training:

1) The pursuit of enhanced and aligned training standards and expectations, and the associated increased safety,

2) To allow training organisations to extend their reach beyond traditional boundaries to increase revenue.



2.1.1 In order to achieve global harmonisation in ATC training a common standard and understanding of the elements of competency of an Air Traffic Control Officer (ATCO) is required. Also required is an understanding of the training necessary to achieve that standard.

2.1.2 The role of an ATCO is generally the same in all countries. It is only the conditions and standards in which the service is provided that varies – procedures, airspace, traffic etc. This commonality opens the opportunity to develop a set of performance criteria that can be applied worldwide to all stages of training, giving all training organisations access to “best practice” training methods.

2.1.3 Most of the harmonisation focus so far has been at the initial training phase. It is likely because that is where the majority of ATC training occurs and historically where the focus of commercial ATC training has been. With the advent of strategic alliances, shared ATC systems and collaboration between countries, more harmonisation of advanced training is likely to occur. While it is unlikely to be on a particularly detailed level, a common training framework is an achievable outcome.

2.1.4 The points made in 2.1.2 above are also true for an ATC Instructor, as the attributes that make a good instructor are consistent. ICAO describes this as KSA (Knowledge, Skills and Attitudes). So similarly, common performance criteria and competencies could also be developed for Instructor training.

2.1.5 It is worth noting that ICAO have already flagged instructor training as a future piece of work. ICAO aims to standardise, again through a competency-based training framework, the training of OJTI’s (On the Job Training Instructors). This has been the topic of a past IFATCA working paper (55th IFATCA Conference Agenda Item C 6.12 “Training for On-the-Job-Training-Instructors (OJTI)” (Presented by PLC)) where a suite of competency based training criteria for OJTI was introduced to the IFATCA Technical and Professional Manual (TPM) as guidance material (IFATCA Technical and Professional Manual 2016, TRNG 10.3.2, page 42316).

2.1.6 Before a common understanding of the required competency can be met there must be an adoption of a common language. ICAO defines several key training terms. However, many terms are left undefined. Standardising terminology must be a key objective, as terms such as Basic, Rating, Validation, Endorsement, Ab initio, Initial and even Competent can mean similar or different things in different countries and/or training organisations.


2.2.1 ICAO Doc 9868 – Procedures for Air Navigation Services – Training (PANS-TRG, First Edition 2006) details the procedures to be applied by training organisations when providing ATC training. A February 2015 amendment to PANS-TRG introduced procedures for the implementation of competency-based training and assessment (PANS-TRG Chapter 2).

2.2.2 PANS-TRG defines competency-based training and assessment as: “training and assessment that are characterised by a performance orientation, emphasis on standards of performance and their measurement, and the development of training to the specified performance standards.”

2.2.3 In simple words competency-based training builds the skills and knowledge required to do the job through collection of evidence of competence. Assessment is a continuation of the learning process and focusses on identifying knowledge/skill gaps as learning opportunities.

2.2.4 Through the Next Generation of Aviation Professionals (NGAP) initiatives, ICAO has introduced DOC 10056 (Manual on Air Traffic Controller Competency-based Training, First Edition 2016) to complement PANS-TRG and provide additional guidance and support in the implementation of competency-based training and assessment for ATCOs.

2.2.5 The ICAO Competency Framework is generic enough to be adapted to any air traffic control environment. While the Competency units (CUs) and Competency elements (CEs) will essentially remain the same for all environments, the Performance Criteria (PCs) can be adapted, using the training specification, to include local conditions and standards. In other words, they will be adapted so that Performance is measured under specific conditions, to meet the required standard.”

2.2.6 In order to introduce the competency-based training concept, ICAO held a series of workshops targeted at educating personnel involved in training regulation, auditing, management and delivery. The initial workshop was in Montreal and has since been complemented by regional workshops. IFATCA has had significant involvement in these workshops, both in developing content and workshop presentation through the IFATCA representative to the ICAO Air Navigation Commission (ANC).

2.2.7 ICAO Doc 9841 (Manual on the Approval of Training Organisations, Second Edition 2012) is designed to be used in conjunction with Annex 1 (Personnel Licencing) and provides information and guidance to licensing authorities relating to the implementation of those standards. A 2012 amendment expanded the document to encompass approval of Approved Training Organisations (ATO).

2.2.8 An ATO is defined as any organisation providing training services for the issue of an aviation personnel licence or rating. As well as ATO approval process, Doc 9841 also provides detailed requirements on such things as training and procedures manuals, quality assurance procedures, SMS requirements, staffing and out-sourcing to third party providers. Chapter 12 details procedures for approval of a foreign ATO, acknowledging that this can be driven by cost considerations or lack of specialised local training. Appendix E discusses competency-based training methodologies. Given the recent advances in this area and availability of more detailed information in other ICAO publications, appendix E is of limited value.


2.3.1 IFATCA already has significant policy in the IFATCA TPM regarding training of ATC’s. Many of which have been developed with the goal of promoting worldwide standardisation of ATC training.

2.3.2 The IFATCA Policy Document on Training (IFATCA Technical and Professional Manual 2016, TRNG 10.6.1, Page 42328) compiles IFATCA policy related to ATC training. It covers areas from selection through to refresher and development training. It is however mostly high level policy and does not delve into specific training content.

2.3.3 At the 51st Annual Conference in Kathmandu, PLC presented a working paper (Agenda Item C.6.1) that introduced the IFATCA Initial Training Manual as the IFATCA framework for initial training of ATCOs. This was after a specific request by ICAO and the training manual was to be offered for their consideration to form the basis of an ICAO Training Manual for Air Traffic Controllers.

2.3.4 The content of the manual was sourced primarily from a document produced by The European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation (EUROCONTROL Specification for the ATCO Common Core Content Initial Training). The goal of the manual is to “provide guidance to support global harmonisation” through guidance material for ANSP’s without an advanced training programme and as reference material for other ANSP’s.

2.3.5 While the Initial Training Manual was never adopted by ICAO, similar material has been included in appendices of Doc 10056. These however are mostly high level syllabi in keeping with ICAO’s desire to allow states to tailor their own syllabi.


2.4.1 In February 2015 The European Commission incorporated many elements of PANS-TRG directly into European law (Commission Regulation (EU) 2015/340 of 20 February 2015 laying down technical requirements and administrative procedures relating to air traffic controllers’ licences and certificates pursuant to Regulation (EC) No 216/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council, amending Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 923/2012 and repealing Commission Regulation (EU) No 805/2011) and introduced common competence standards strengthening the certification of training organisations.

2.4.2 In order to facilitate a uniform approach to initial training, Eurocontrol’s Common Core Content for basic and rating training for initial training phase has been set out in Union Law. The regulation however goes further than just initial training. It also outlines requirements to be established for unit and continuation training.

2.4.3 As the European regulations encompass ICAO regulations they may no longer acknowledge them in their own right. For example, in the new release of the Common Core Content – where European law reflects ICAO SARPS then ICAO is no longer referenced.

2.4.4 Annexes I, III and IV of Commission Regulation 2015/340 sets out requirements for European certification of ATC Training Organisations. Once a training organisation is European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA) certified it is then able to provide training in all European member states.


2.5.1 The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is the primary employer of civilian Air Traffic Controllers in the United States and for the most part the sole provider of ATC Training.

2.5.2 The exception being that through the Air Traffic – Collegiate Training Initiative (ATCTI)( the FAA have partnered with several colleges and trade schools to provide aviation degrees. These degrees include basic courses in Air Traffic Control which after successful completion allow a student to bypass the FAA Air Traffic Basics Course.

2.5.3 While the United States aligns quite closely with ICAO, and the FAA being the sole training provider has complete oversight on the standard of training provision, interest is being shown in global harmonisation. The FAA have recently commissioned the Ohio State University to undertake a study into the International Harmonisation of ATC training. Unfortunately, outcomes from this research are unlikely to be available until 2018.


2.6.1 While the work of ICAO is encouraging, for true harmonisation it needs to be adopted worldwide. There are still many challenges to face before a truly standardised international framework is in place.

2.6.2 Adoption of a common set of competencies.

PANS-TRG Chapter 2 Appendix B has for some time contained competency based training templates as guidance, however with the recent publication of Doc 10056 the impetus for states to start adopting the ICAO material is growing.

2.6.3 Establish a language of common terminology.

Terms such as Basic, Rating, Validation, Endorsement, Ab initio, Initial and even Competent can mean the similar or different things in different countries.

2.6.4 A common understanding of the standard of competency to be achieved.

Meaning what needs to be demonstrated in performance criteria and elements of competency. PANS TRG presents an example evidence guide. Unfortunately, it has only partial coverage and is meant as an example. Also lacking are standardised measures or directions to ANSP/ATO. e.g. Guidance in how complex and normal traffic levels are distinguished.

2.6.5 Common Core Content.

CCC is the European terminology for the training academy phase. It is known differently in different countries. ICAO does not stipulate its own common core content for global use, it allows various jurisdictions to use their own CCC which retains the ability for tailoring to local conditions. There is however an opportunity for further harmonisation in the academy phase.

2.6.6 A common approach.

Alignment to one worldwide standard is desirable. Therefore, once a training organisation is certified in one jurisdiction it would then be able to provide training to the same standard in all other member states.


2.7.1 Traditionally ATC training has been done by the national ANSP. Where the provider is unable to provide, or it is not cost effective to provide the training it has been conducted by foreign training providers. As ATC moves from a government provided service into different types of ownership models the demands on these providers to increase revenues are growing and thus ANSPs are looking at new revenue streams. Training being one of them.

2.7.2 Entry Point North Entry

Point North is a training partnership of the state ANSP’s of Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Ireland. While based in Malmö, Sweden, Entry Point North also trains at other campus in different countries. Entry Point North was one of the first training organisations certified in Europe under EU 2015/340.

The cross-border partnership along with a jointly owned subsidiary in Hungary has greatly expanded the reach of the single nations and created one of the largest ATC training organisations in the world with reach far beyond the ANSP ownership group.

Commonality of an ATC platform is another example where commercialisation drives harmonisation. CO-OPeration of Air Navigation Service providers (COOPANS) is an alliance of five ANSPs with a common Thales ATC system ( Through this alliance, Entry Point North is able to access the training needs of other COOPANS partners with the financial advantage of economy of scale.

2.7.3 Airways New Zealand

Airways New Zealand is the state owned ANSP of New Zealand. It has been involved in international training for several years, training students from many countries at its training college campuses in New Zealand. Recently though it has ventured further afield and has established several international training partnerships based outside of New Zealand (

Airways has partnered with Inter American University of Puerto Rico and has established an ATC training campus in Puerto Rico where it is currently training under EASA certification for FerroNATS in Spain and hopes to eventually train for other European countries.

Airways has also partnered with Emirates Aviation College to provide ATC training in Dubai, with Aviation Australia to provide training in Brisbane, with the Civil Aviation Management Institute of China (CAMIC) for the delivery of ATC courses in China and with the Washington Consulting Group Inc (WCG) to provide ATC training worldwide. It is worth noting that of all the students Airways trained in 2016, less than 4% were destined for the domestic New Zealand system (Statistics compiled by author from several public statements).

2.7.4 These are just two of the likely many examples of cross-border and cross-continent ATC training arrangements. As globally ATC becomes more standardised, the opportunities for these kinds of arrangements can only increase.


3.1. The need for global harmonisation is clear. There have been past initiatives however so far, they have failed to create a good international framework. ICAO is attempting to fill this void through the promotion of competency based training. However, given that the guidance material was only recently ratified and is not compulsory it is yet to be adopted by many states. Through the release of the guidance material and accompanying regional workshops it is hoped that uptake will increase and competency based training will become the global standard.

3.2. Worldwide adoption of a certification model similar to what has been introduced in Europe is a worthwhile aim but only if this promoted an increase in training standards. The European model could be replicated on a global scale allowing one certification as a training organisation that is then recognised by all countries. This would allow all ANSP’s access to best practice training methods.

3.3. One undesirable effect of allowing easier access to markets for ATO’s is that it has the potential to create training at the lowest possible cost type scenario. Organisations with access to cheaper labour markets could therefore have a significant advantage. Social dumping should be avoided as it has the ability to compromise the level of training provided.

3.4. With the recent publication of ICAO Doc 10056 and ICAO’s drive towards competency based training, the IFATCA Initial Training Manual no longer naturally compliments ICAO documentation. IFATCA aims to develop policy and guidance for areas where ICAO provide none therefore the Initial Training Manual may no longer be suitable for its intended purpose.


4.1. It is recommended that a review is conducted of the IFATCA Initial Training Manual in relation to exiting ICAO material with the objective of achieving the following:

  • Identifying material that is satisfactorily addressed by ICAO training material and that can be removed from the Initial Training Manual, and
  • Identifying areas where ICAO guidance could be further refined, and
  • Identifying opportunities create new policy or guidance material in areas that ICAO have yet to address.

Last Update: October 1, 2020  

January 17, 2020   755   Jean-Francois Lepage    2017    

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