Pilots use cockpit simulators, what about training of air traffic controllers working in control towers?

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Control tower of Québec / Jean Lesage airport (CYQB). Source.

How do they train? Are there full visual simulators with runways, taxiways, radio traffic, etc?

The question is valid for a country with large aerodromes.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm pretty sure I have seen photos/videos of one with giant flatscreens (or maybe they were back-projected movie screens) as windows, so that would be a "Yes" for a fully VR simulation, including windows. $\endgroup$ – Jörg W Mittag Mar 8 '17 at 19:35
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    $\begingroup$ airtrafficmanagement.net/2012/07/… $\endgroup$ – Simon Mar 8 '17 at 19:40
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    $\begingroup$ O'Hare (KORD) has a very realistic 315° simulator in one of the towers. They even have VR simulations for rescue/fire equipment. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Mar 8 '17 at 19:42
  • $\begingroup$ You should have visited the World ATM Congress (last day was today). There were many impressive ATC simulators, including for tower training. $\endgroup$ – DeltaLima Mar 9 '17 at 15:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Michael Yes, but honestly a lot of companies that manufacture the "real world" simulators also have game type ones as well to prop up development costs. For example, VStep Simulation has a highly realistic vessel simulation package that I've used to prove out ship control systems. They also sell a game version. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Mar 9 '17 at 20:15

Absolutely (and not just civil ATC training - military as well). A large part of modern ATC training is simulator training. This is true for all types of ATC - area control, approach and aerodrome (tower).

For area and approach, the simulator is fairly simple, since the essential bit is a radar screen and a screen with flight information. For tower, there is the visual aspect as well, which makes tower simulators quite large and complex. Some tower sims are relatively simple - 4 big TV-screens with a 3D model of the airport, and a couple of computer screens with radar and other equipment. There are also full size, 360 degree sims, where the "windows" are created by an array of projectors or large screens. After working traffic in one of those for a few minutes, you start to forget that you're not in a real tower.

During simulator training, students can run scenarios in the simulator that are either based on generic airports or real airports. The traffic levels and situations can be tailored to match the expected learning curve of ATC students. This makes simulator training a great tool for both initial and recurrent training of air traffic controllers. Much like pilots, after getting our license, we have to go back to the sim once a year to practise unusual situations, emergencies and so on.

For every controller position in the simulator, there are 2-3 connected "blip driver" positions, from where the aircraft movements are controlled. The controller in the simulator will talk to the blip drivers via "radio", and the blip drivers will respond as pilots and provide the necessary input to make the planes move around accordingly.

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    $\begingroup$ Side question: do any training facilities ever hook pilots in flight sims into the same virtual world as the tower sim and make the sim-takers deal with each other? $\endgroup$ – StarWeaver Mar 9 '17 at 8:13
  • $\begingroup$ @StarWeaver yes this happens. I know of at least one ATC / airline combination that does a yearly simulation of an emergency scenario where the simulators of the airline are connected to the ATC simulator. $\endgroup$ – DeltaLima Mar 9 '17 at 15:21

In fact: yes!

Here in Germany the controller training starts off with much classroom lessons to learn the theoretical basics and only some sessions in the tower- or center simulator. During the training the amount of theoretical lessons decreases and the simulator sessions increase. The last few month consist of simulator sessions only, so it's a huge and important part of the training.

A video about the so called "towsim 3D" can be found here.

And here are some pictures taken by me (click each for higher resolution).

Tower Sim

Tower Sim

Tower Sim


For civilian control towers and the assorted radar positions the answer is yes they're available. For the tower:

enter image description here
(Image source + more info) Click image for high-res.

The simulator consists of two modules:

  • Radar control simulator to simulate air situation in area of any complexity level, size and intensity of air traffic; controller’s workstation interface is completely equal to real ATC system interface produced by NITA, and
  • Tower simulator which includes 3D projection system for airfield and landscape image representation (solution based on high resolution wide-screen panels is an option).

There are about 100 models of airplanes and helicopters of various types, colored as aircraft of world and domestic airlines companies, as well as the models of ground vehicles, people, and animals. In order to simulate real environment for Tower controller the seasons, daytime, precipitation, smog, light storm, and various clouds are simulated.

On job training from an actual tower is also very common.

Tower simulators are also available for the military.


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