Thursday, May 28, 2009

Training Times

We're getting shorter here with lots of retirements and people moving on to staff positions. Developmentals are getting used more and more for staffing coverage. That cuts back on our training times of course. Whenever I do get to train, it seems to be smack dab in the middle of our slow times. It's very frustrating.

I don't know about you guys, but I broaden my capabilities when it's busy, not when it's slow.

Yesterday, for example, I was training on the Pensacola bank. I had two training sessions where I literally talked to three airplanes in the space of each hour. I even remember what they were on the first one: a JetLink regional jet landing here, a Seneca overflight, and a T-34 transitioning from NAS Whiting to NAS Pensacola for practice approaches. The rest of the time, my airspace was devoid of any traffic. The second session was more of the same.

Later on, I was assigned to work Flight Data. My instructor was assigned to work the Pensacola East bank. He ended up having an extremely busy, complicated session with all kinds of strange requests and general funky stuff. And there I was, running strips while my instructor was handling the best traffic we've seen all day by himself. That's the kind of traffic I need to experience, and I was annoyed that I wasn't working it.

On a good note, he says he's recommended me for checkout on the bank. However, I'd like to see a few more crazy sessions before the checkride to help boost my confidence level. I'm comfortable on the West sector. It's the East sector that still chews me up some.


Anonymous said...

It is refreshing to see a trainee annoyed by not being on for the busy, complex traffic. I think you have the makings of a good controller.

25 yr fpl

Dave said...

I'm from ZAB. We have the same problem. We're fond of saying "training will cease until staffing improves......"

r9s said...

wicked - did you find that once you were certified on one sector that learning a new sector was easier since you "already knew how to work RADAR"? that is instead of thinking about RADAR IDing and squawking and good headings, you were mostly learning the nuisances (airspace, LOAs, typical traffic flow) of your new sector - or does it take you just as long on each new sector?

Kevin said...

We're also seeing trainees chew up precious hours on sectors with little to no traffic because we're supposedly increasing productivity by opening as many sectors as possible.

I tell those new to the agency that it can only get better but sometimes I wonder if I still believe that.

The change we need can't come soon enough.

Anonymous said...

I'm feeling the same frustration. On my shift I see so little traffic that when they do decide to show up I just end up in the shitter and just as quickly they are gone. I do my best to work 2 like they are 10 but when you work 2 departures and 2 arrivals an hour there is no way to run them closer after 6,000 and up. I feel like I learn very little during those sessions.

Anonymous said...

Our facility just checks them out even if the trainee isn't ready. So far, just one proximity event and one operational error. I am sure more will follow. Good for you by saying you aren't quite ready.

Wicked Penguin said...

@Anon#1: As they say, "No pain, no gain."

@r9s: Not necessarily. As I've mentioned on here before, we have three Class C airports, each of which comprises one bank of scopes. The first one I certified is mostly Navy prop trainers, helicopters, and low-level GA operations. It has its own set of complications (tight airspace, frequency congestion, inexperienced pilots, and much more), but it's mostly low/slow traffic. It simplifies sequencing and general operations.

The bank I'm training on now is our most complicated bank, because it's a mix of all types of traffic. Airliners, GA, military trainers, helicopters, etc. It really forces you to learn to sequence well, count miles-per-minute, and be on your A-game. You're constantly sequencing Boeing 757s and 717s behind 90 knot helicopters. Your scan needs to be going full-on because there are VFR Navy trainers flitting around like mosquitoes, ready to cause Resolution Advisories. All of the stuff from the other sectors applies: radar identification, general phraseology, etc. However, your working speed, scan, proactiveness, and reaction time need to be cranked to 11.

Also, because it's the scope bank central to the entire facility, EVERYONE inside and outside the facility wants to coordinate with you. Jacksonville Center, Eglin AFB, Mobile approach, Houston Center, and every other sector in the room. Your landline coordination needs to be fast and accurate. Automation problems need to be solved NOW because you simply don't have the time to screw around. It's a different, demanding beast.

Let me put it another way: my first certified bank was bordered by 2 in-house sectors and 2 facilities. My current OJT bank is bordered by 6 in-house sectors and 4 external facilities. That's a lot of coordination going on.

@Kevin: Yup! Same thing happening here. We split off multiple sectors, sometimes leaving controllers with one airplane each. It's ironic, because all the stats say that most errors happen when traffic is slow and the controller is complacent.

@Anon#2: Back when I played in live bands, we had a saying: "Practice like you play." If you screw around while you're rehearsing, it's going to reflect in your live show. My trainers tell me to do the same: work the light traffic as you do the heavy traffic. That way, when things get busy, you'll work more efficiently.

@Anon#3: It would be disingenuous of me to say, "I'm ready to go," when I'm not. ATC involves so much trust between controllers and pilots, and I need to trust myself before I require others to trust me.