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Essential skills profile

This profile contains a list of example tasks that illustrate how each of the 9 essential skills is generally performed by most workers in this occupation. The levels of complexity estimated for each task are ranked between 1 (basic) and 5 (advanced).

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Air Traffic Controllers and Related Occupations(2272)

Air traffic controllers direct air traffic within assigned airspace, and control moving aircraft and service vehicles at airports. Flight dispatchers authorize airline flights over assigned routes. Flight service specialists provide pilots with flight information essential to aviation safety. Air traffic controllers and flight service specialists are employed by NAV Canada and the armed forces. Flight dispatchers are employed by airline and air services companies and by the armed forces.

Reading Help - Reading
Air Traffic Controllers and Related Occupations
  • Read short memos and notices about administrative and procedural changes from supervisors and co-workers. For example, they may skim memos about the designation of aircraft parking areas and elevator closures. They may also read notices about recent changes to noise abatement rules at specific airports. (2)
  • Read text entries in forms. For example, they may read about runway closures during specific hours and changes to departure routes on 'notice to airmen' forms. They may also read about temporary changes to airspace availability due to military training exercises in notices to airmen and operations order forms. They may have to confirm that they have read and understood the information in these forms. (2)
  • May read articles in newsletters and trade publications such as NAV Canada News, The Controller and Airport Business. They read these publications to stay abreast of their organizations' activities and changes in the aviation industry. (2)
  • Read bulletins and reports from regulatory bodies, government departments and other organizations involved in air transportation. For example, they may read weather bulletins issued by Environment Canada. They may read Aeronautical Information Publication supplements from NAV Canada to learn about events and changes affecting their airspaces and aircraft. They may also read airplane accident investigation reports from the Transport Safety Board of Canada, paying particular attention to recommendations that may affect their work. (3)
  • Read operations and weather manuals for information about policies and procedures. For example, air traffic controllers may read the operational procedures manual to learn correct protocols for the landing and takeoff of different commercial and private aircraft. Flight service specialists read weather data collection manuals to refresh their memory on proper procedures for the collection and documentation of weather data. (3)
Air Traffic Controllers and Flight Service Specialists
  • May read entries in logbooks. For example, flight service specialists may read short descriptions of unusual events and equipment failures which occurred during preceding shifts. (1)
Document use Help - Document use Air Traffic Controllers and Related Occupations
  • Enter data into lists, tables and schedules. For example, flight service specialists enter hourly weather observations, runway surface conditions and air traffic statistics into tables. Air traffic controllers enter pilots' frequencies into electronic schedules as aircraft approach airports. (2)
  • Locate data in lists, tables and schedules. For example, they retrieve and interpret alphanumeric weather data such as wind speed, temperature, cloud ceiling and visibility readings from tables. Air traffic controllers read flight itinerary schedules to locate numbers of incoming flights by intervals of fifteen minutes. Flight dispatchers scan minimum equipment lists to find restrictions relating to missing and faulty equipment on aircraft. (2)
  • Locate and interpret data on forms. They read flight progress strips to learn aircraft types, identifications, destinations and other flight details. They interpret colour-coded symbols denoting aircraft departures and landings on these forms. Flight dispatchers read flight plans to locate planned altitudes, average speeds and projected fuel consumption of each aircraft. Flight service specialists read runway surface condition reports, searching different sections of these forms to locate quantities and types of precipitation and indices of runway friction. (3)
  • Complete forms for operational and administrative reporting. For example, they fill out forms to report on unusual occurrences, incidents and emergencies. They may complete training evaluation forms and co-worker performance reports. They check off items and enter dates, hours, phases of training, ratings and remarks on performance. Flight dispatchers enter numbers of passengers and cargo weights on flight plans. (3)
  • Locate, retrieve and interpret data from scale drawings and maps. For example, they may take data such as distances between gates and runways from scale maps of airports. They may identify and interpret weather data such as the boundaries of high and low pressure systems on meteorological radar maps. They may view maps which have been overlaid with satellite photographs and radar plots to study the effects of weather conditions such as cloud cover on flight paths. (3)
Flight Service Specialists
  • Observe hazard, warning and regulatory signs and symbols. For example, they may scan icons and phrases on signs which restrict access to runways and weather stations. (1)
  • Draw to scale. For example, they may enter data onto maps to illustrate en route obstructions such as forest fires areas and zones subject to temporary military flight restrictions. (3)
  • Locate data on graphs. For example, they locate data such as pressure, moisture, temperature, humidity and wind velocity on tephigrams to forecast weather patterns including types and intensities of freezing, areas of moisture, winds and pressure gradients. (4)
Air Traffic Controllers and Flight Service Specialists
  • Locate data on labels. For example, they may scan aircraft labels on radar screens to identify aircraft types, altitudes, speeds, coordinates and destinations. (2)
Writing Help - Writing
  • Write brief notes in logbooks and short reminders to themselves. For example, they may note unusual occurrences, emergencies and problems with equipment in logbooks. Air traffic controllers may keep rough notes about ground vehicles working on specific apron areas and runways. (1)
  • Write short advisories and text entries on forms. For example, flight service specialists may advise flight crews of temporary closures of runways in notice to airmen forms. Air traffic controllers attest to pilots' failure to comply with their instructions on aviation occurrence forms. Flight dispatchers report bird collisions on incident forms. (1)
  • Write detailed observations and explanations of events in reports. For example, they write about major incidents in which they were involved in accident and incident reporting forms. They write factually about the circumstances and events in sufficient detail for proper investigations by NAV Canada Transport Canada, the Transportation Safety Board and authorized police agencies. (3)
  • May write evaluations of the work carried out by trainees and co-workers. They discuss co-workers' strengths and weaknesses. They make comments on topics such as disciplinary and corrective actions taken. They may make recommendations for future job assignments and training. (3)
Numeracy Help - Numeracy Money Math
  • Calculate claim amounts for travel to training sessions and isolated work locations. To calculate total travel expenses, they multiply distances travelled in personal vehicles by per kilometre rates and add amounts for meals, hotels and incidentals. (2)

Scheduling, Budgeting & Accounting Math

Air Traffic Controllers and Related Occupations
  • May prepare work schedules for their work units. They may prepare work schedules, taking into account twenty four hour a day staffing requirements, variations in volume of air traffic, rotation of night and weekend shifts and pertinent clauses in labour-management contract. For example, air traffic controllers may prepare work schedules which honour contract agreements such as minimum time off between shifts and maximum working hours per week. (3)
Air Traffic Controllers
  • May calculate time intervals and identify precise times to prepare aircraft movement schedules. For example, tower controllers sequence aircraft for landing taking into consideration runway availabilities and aircraft priorities, locations, speeds and required stopping distances. They may need to reorder schedules to adapt to weather conditions and unexpected events. Area controllers sequence aircraft for their passage to subsequent sectors taking into account speeds, altitudes and locations as well as weather conditions and other factors affecting speeds and priorities. (4)

Measurement and Calculation Math

Air Traffic Controllers and Related Occupations
  • Calculate distances, speeds, times and amounts of fuel. For example, air traffic controllers calculate positions of aircraft in given amounts of time based on speeds and trajectories. They may also calculate at what time two airplanes would meet given current positions and speeds. Flight dispatchers calculate how much fuel to add to an aircraft given current and required amounts. (3)
Flight Service Specialists
  • Take precise measurements to describe the weather at airports and airfields. For example, they use thermometers, barometers, anemometers and gauges to measure weather data such as air temperature, barometric pressure, wind speed and precipitation. (3)
Data Analysis Math
  • Verify data in documents with observations, counts and estimates. For example, tower controllers compare the numbers of aircraft they see from air control towers with expected numbers according to flight progress strips and radar screens to ensure that all aircraft are accounted for. (1)
  • May collect and analyze data on air traffic, fuel consumption, weather and runway conditions. For example, military air traffic controllers may tabulate data about air traffic at airports such as the numbers and types of aircraft and the types of operations per day, month and year. Area controllers may collect data on numbers of aircraft controlled in their sectors per month and per worker, and calculate averages such as aircraft controlled per day. Flight dispatchers analyze differential fuel requirements for alternate flight routes. Flight service specialists collect daily weather data including air temperatures, barometric pressures, wind speeds and amounts of precipitation. They calculate average daytime temperatures. (3)

Numerical Estimation

Air Traffic Controllers and Related Occupations
  • Estimate time and intervals. For example, they estimate the number of minutes of delay for departures and arrivals of aircraft given weather conditions, winds and traffic volumes. They estimate the expected arrival times for weather systems taking into account weather bulletins and their own observations. (2)
Air Traffic Controllers and Flight Service Specialists
  • Estimate distances, angles, trajectories and positions. They may take into consideration data, such as aircraft bearings, and speeds, and wind directions and speeds. For example, air traffic controllers estimate the approximate shift in flight angles needed for two aircraft to maintain minimum separation distances. Tower controllers estimate available distances between aircraft on approach to allow others to land. (4)
Oral communication Help - Oral communication Air Traffic Controllers and Related Occupations
  • May listen to radio exchanges between aircraft and air traffic controllers to obtain information about aircraft arrivals. Air traffic controllers in smaller control centres may monitor continuous airport terminal broadcasts to learn about weather and runway conditions at nearby larger airports. (2)
  • Train and give directions to junior co-workers. For example, air traffic controllers may coach new controllers on how to communicate with pilots and other personnel more precisely to ensure clarity and brevity. They may help trainees recover their composure after errors and emergency situations. (2)
  • Inform supervisors about heavy traffic, pilot errors, bad weather and any unusual situations for which they need guidance and assistance. For example, area controllers inform their supervisors when they reroute aircraft to other sectors to limit traffic in their own. (2)
  • Discuss operational and administrative matters with their co-workers. For example, tower controllers may discuss how much to adjust separation distances between aircraft and whether to close runways during worsening weather conditions. Flight dispatchers may clarify the meaning of particular equipment codes with head pilots in their organizations. Flight service specialists may brief incoming co-workers about runway conditions and incoming flights. (2)
  • Exchange information with co-workers and colleagues in order to coordinate traffic control. For example, they alert them to unusual situations of aircraft such as medical emergencies and equipment failures. They exchange requests and permissions to redistribute air traffic as required. Area controllers speak to colleagues in other sectors when they hand over responsibility for aircraft, providing essential information such as identifications, speeds and altitudes. Tower controllers speak to ground controllers to coordinate usage of runways. Flight dispatchers may request priority for specific flights from flow controllers in central control offices. (3)
  • Speak to pilots to provide advisories and instructions. For example, tower controllers and flight service specialists advise all pilots on incoming aircraft of adverse runway conditions. They also communicate with them prior to takeoff, listening as pilots provide aircraft types, identification numbers, destinations and estimated arrival times. In turn, they give winds, altimeter readings and taxiing instructions. Area controllers may direct pilots to change altitudes to maintain safe distances from other aircraft. Flight service specialists advise flight crews of relevant weather conditions. All air traffic controllers and those in related occupations communicate with pilots according to precise protocols and regularly use abbreviations and codes. (3)
  • Coordinate instructions to pilots, co-workers, their supervisors and first responders during emergencies. They respond calmly to emergency calls from pilots and request information to determine the nature of the problems. They inform pilots how to proceed while alerting emergency services to be on hand as needed. Flight dispatchers also coordinate telephone communications between emergency services and cockpit crews, as needed. (4)
Air Traffic Controllers and Flight Service Specialists
  • Speak with airport personnel to coordinate ground traffic control and exchange information. For example, they speak to maintenance crews to coordinate the access of vehicles such as snow ploughs to runways. They talk to airport managers to transmit relevant information during emergencies and situations requiring airport closures. (2)
Thinking Help - Thinking

Problem Solving

Air Traffic Controllers and Related Occupations
  • Experience loss of communications and data. For example, tower controllers may lose radio contact with pilots because of power outages. They use battery-operated light guns to direct pilots to safe landings, monitoring the pilots to ensure they are able to follow the signals. Area controllers may lose data on radar screen displays. They contact data systems coordinators to request repairs to their equipment and they switch to backup units. (2)
  • Find that accidents, incidents and bad weather complicates arrivals and departures and occasionally closes airports. For example, when pilots flying with visual flight rules lose visibility in cloud cover, tower controllers may direct the pilots to set courses for directional lights to help them land safely. They may also monitor the aircraft movements on radar equipment to ensure the pilots stay on course. When winds make particular runways unsafe for aircraft, they coordinate traffic with other controllers to make alternate runways available for landing. Flight dispatchers may need to find alternate airports for their flights in cases of airport curfews and closures and in-flight emergencies. (2)
Air Traffic Controllers and Flight Service Specialists
  • Have difficulty communicating with pilots whose command of the English language is limited. They simplify instructions as much as possible to help pilots understand and they ask them to repeat back instructions more than once to ensure comprehension. (1)
  • May encounter periods during which their airspaces become saturated. They coordinate with controllers in other sectors and airports to pass off some aircraft. They may ask pilots to fly in holding patterns and redirect them to other sectors to alleviate the saturation. (3)
  • May find uncontrolled aircraft, off-course balloons and other hazards in their airspaces. For example, they may spot small airplanes moving into airport airspaces and realize the pilots have not made contact with tower controls. They may try unsuccessfully to communicate with the aircraft and conclude the pilots do not have the proper radio frequencies. They may monitor the pilots' movements while warning all other aircraft in the area as well as airport ground crews. (3)

Decision Making

Flight Dispatchers
  • Select routes, altitudes and speeds for aircraft flight plans. They take into consideration fuel requirements, weather, prevailing winds, traffic flows and crew work schedules to develop cost-effective flights and ensure timely arrivals. They make adjustments to flight plans to manage delays and unusual circumstances such as severe weather and airport closures. (2)
Air Traffic Controllers and Flight Service Specialists
  • Set conditions for access to airspaces, runways and taxiways. They consider factors such as weather conditions, maintenance crews' activities and the needs of air traffic. For example, during high winds tower controllers may choose to use only runways which run in the direction of the wind. They choose times for runway maintenance tasks such as snow clearing and friction tests. Area controllers may permit more direct routes and redirect aircraft around airspaces temporarily closed. (3)
Air Traffic Controllers
  • Set the order, times, distances between aircraft and runways to be used for arrivals and departures. They take into consideration weather, runway conditions and availabilities, flight plans, traffic and air traffic regulations. They may impose changes to the scheduled order of aircraft to deal with emergencies and other incidents. For example, they may decide to delay or reorder departures so that smaller aircraft can avoid turbulence caused by larger planes. They may cancel departure authorization for pilots who take too long to prepare. (3)

Critical Thinking

Air Traffic Controllers and Related Occupations
  • Evaluate the performance and competence of trainees in key aspects of the job such as communication skills, spatial logic, ability to stay calm under pressure and knowledge of regulations. They gather data on errors they repeat and the regulations they breach. (2)
  • Evaluate the safety of air traffic. They consider the capacity of the air traffic control teams on duty to manage traffic volumes. Flight service specialists and air traffic controllers at airports evaluate the safety of runways using data on conditions such as wind and precipitation and reports from ground crews and pilots. Flight dispatchers evaluate the safety of alternate airports for emergency landings using criteria such as flying distances, presence of mountains and other obstacles, weather conditions and lengths of runways. (3)
  • Evaluate the severity of in-flight emergencies. They take into account the nature of the situations, types of aircraft involved, numbers of passengers, amounts of fuel and presence of dangerous cargoes. They consider whether only on-site emergency crews are required or whether additional crews and equipment should be requested from municipal authorities. (3)
  • Assess the severity of current and developing weather conditions and the level of risk they pose for aircraft they are monitoring. For example, they judge the safety of allowing aircraft to fly through severe turbulence and thunderstorms where they will encounter high wind speeds and lightning strikes. Flight service specialists may evaluate storms as sufficiently severe to warrant closing their airports. (3)
Flight Dispatchers
  • Evaluate the suitability of computer-generated flight plans. They consider proposed routes, altitudes and speeds. They weigh factors such as weather conditions, jet streams, pilots' opinions and unusual circumstances such as temporary closures of airspaces. (3)
Job Task Planning and Organizing

Own Job Planning and Organizing

Air traffic controllers and those in related occupations respond to the often complex demands of air traffic. They need to respond quickly to requests, sequence tasks effectively and change priorities when necessary. In periods of high traffic volume, air traffic controllers may answer three or four requests in rapid succession. When traffic levels are low they organize and attend to secondary duties such as evaluating trainees and reading reports. (2)

Planning and Organizing for Others

Air traffic controllers and those in related occupations may plan and organize shift schedules and breaks for their work units. (2)

Significant Use of Memory
  • Remember numerous acronyms and abbreviations for identifying equipment, documents, procedures, co-workers, aircraft, navigation aids, airports and control sectors.
  • Remember exacting procedures and protocols to manage diverse situations. For example, they memorize take-off and landing protocols for various types of private and commercial aircraft. They remember emergency procedures for medical emergencies, fuel dumps and hijackings.

Finding Information

Air Traffic Controllers and Related Occupations
  • Find information on weather and runway conditions by searching Environment Canada weather bulletins, scanning meteorological maps, reading runway surface reports, observing instrument displays, analyzing tephigrams and talking to pilots. They may also speak to their co-workers, air flight specialists and workers in airports to complete their knowledge of local conditions. Flight service specialists take daily readings of weather conditions at airports. (2)
  • May find information about the geography, temperature and precipitation patterns of new locations by studying weather tables, maps and satellite images. Military air traffic controllers may also consult with meteorologists to learn about weather conditions as part of their planning for air traffic control centres in new locations. (3)
Flight Dispatchers
  • Find information about airports by visiting airport web sites and reading flight supplement manuals. They find information such as distances and flight times, weather conditions, curfews, control tower radio frequencies and official notices of restrictions for airports all over the world. (2)
Digital technology Help - Digital technology
  • Use databases. For example, air traffic controllers may update aircraft movement system databases by entering aircraft identification, origins, destinations and runways used for the aircraft under their control. Flight dispatchers enter data such as total remaining fuel on arrival and times of departure from gate and runway, as well as arrival times, into airline information management system databases. (2)
  • Use communications software. They exchange e-mail and attachments with supervisors and receive notices from co-workers in other departments and government offices such as Environment Canada. They use features such as address books to facilitate their correspondence. (2)
  • Use the Internet. For example, they may access corporate intranet sites to view their schedules and consult reference manuals. Flight dispatchers also conduct keyword searches on web sites of governments, air traffic authorities and airports for updates on flight routes, weather conditions and runway surfaces. (2)
  • May use spreadsheets. For example, controllers and flight service specialists may use spreadsheet software such as Excel to create staffing reports and forms to record and analyze air traffic statistics. (3)
  • May use other computer and software applications. For example, controllers working in larger airports use electronic air traffic control systems to obtain real time flight data including altitude, speed and bearings of specific aircraft. They may verify the safety of aircraft trajectories using tools such as predicted track lines. They may access weather bulletins, flight plans, maps and satellite images in visual information systems. They may also use human resource management software such as Shift Logic to organize workers' schedules by shifts. (3)
Additional information Help - Additional information Other Essential Skills:

Working with Others

Air traffic controllers and flight service specialists typically work in teams, coordinating tasks with supervisors and co-workers to control the safe movement of aircraft. In smaller airports, they coordinate work with partners. Whatever the size of the airport, they maintain regular communication with maintenance, safety and airline crews to ensure the timely and safe delivery of passengers and cargo. Air traffic controllers often train and monitor junior air traffic controllers who assist them with job tasks. Flight dispatchers primarily work on their own to assess flight plans and monitor and support individual flights. They communicate regularly with co-workers, supervisors and other flight specialists within their organizations to coordinate support for cockpit crews and ensure cost-effective, safe and punctual flights. (3)

Continuous Learning

Air traffic controllers and those in related occupations are required to continually update their skills and knowledge. On a daily basis, they must read notices to airmen, memos and bulletins pertaining to current flight conditions and changes to operational procedures. They read trade publications to stay abreast of industry and occupational trends. They attend training sessions to learn how to operate new equipment and practise skills during simulated emergencies. They take mandatory refresher training yearly to learn about changes to aviation regulations. (3)

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