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NAS (National Airspace System) Human Factors Safety Research Laboratory

Strategic job analysis: Selecting the controller of the future

Dana Broach, Ph.D. (PDF)

Air traffic controllers are responsible for the safe, efficient, and orderly flow of air traffic in the U.S. National Airspace System (NAS). Many work at airports, in a glass �cab� on top of the air traffic control tower (ATCT). Others work in windowless rooms at the bottom of the tower, and in some cases, buildings far away from the airport, using radar and radio to direct air traffic into and out the area around the airport (or airports in some major metropolitan areas such as Dallas/Fort Worth, New York/New Jersey, Atlanta, and Los Angeles). And other controllers work in non-descript, almost industrial-looking buildings far from any airport, directing air traffic between airports.

However, the tools and procedures controllers use today might change significantly as the FAA develops and implements new technologies and procedures under the umbrella of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (known as �NextGen�). At the same time, between now and 2018-2020, the controllers hired after the 1981 PATCO strike will retire, and a new generation of controllers will have to be trained. The agency�s selection criteria might need to change to reflect NextGen requirements. The research question for this project is �What are the abilities and other personal characteristics needed by persons to enter into the controller occupation as the NAS evolves into NextGen?�

To answer that question, we have to understand how NextGen changes the job controllers do. The first step in the Strategic Job Analysis is to analyze how � and when - NextGen technologies and procedures are likely to impact the work performed by controllers. The second step is, given those changes in work, to infer the abilities that will be needed to perform the work. Abilities, in this context, refer to basic or fundamental attributes of a person, such as short-term and long-term memory, perceptual speed, and stress tolerance. The product of the Strategic Job Analysis will be specifications for the abilities needed by future controllers. These specifications will then be used in the selection research program to drive the development and validation of new controller selection procedures (tests and other assessments).

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