Air traffic control students at Airways New Zealand’s training centre used to use a mechanical simulator, made up of runways painted onto ping-pong tables and sewing machine engines which drove wooden aircraft suspended on wires, to practise their skills.
Not surprisingly, the mechanical simulator could not simulate weather or real aircraft performance, or provide a realistic 3D view of an air traffic environment. This meant that students could only acquire the most basic of skills before starting their on-the-job training.
Airways New Zealand has, in collaboration with Animation Research, now developed a much fuller system in Total Control, which allows students to train in a fully functional simulated tower environment, with a 360 degree field of view.
Total Control incorporates real-time aircraft depiction and performance, and emergency and complex traffic scenarios, and has the ability to simulate any combination of weather.
One of the key improvements making Total Control an innovative solution to Airways’ training needs is its ability to simulate multiple locations, and to switch rapidly between them. The system can simulate nine New Zealand aerodromes, in addition to the imaginary training environment that forms the basis of the core training course.
Other innovations include Total Control’s visual graphics, which are not modelled but perspective-mapped. There is also a “re-wind” tool that allows students to go back and have another go, and the SimPilot interface, which allows for easy manipulation of data. Exercises are easy to create too.
Another innovation is that students can record visual graphics and communications on a DVD, which can then be used to review and repeat exercises outside training hours.
The goals for Total Control included a higher level of skill transfer — from the training-centre phase to the on-the-job training phase — increasing security, and cost reduction.
While off-the-shelf simulation tools are expensive to buy and maintain, Total Control was designed to be affordable, through the use of standard PCs and low-cost LCD screens. The need for specialist simulator technicians was also reduced – the SimPilot application interface allows trainees to control and “fly” aircraft themselves.