FAA Updates ATC Training Program

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The next crop of air traffic controllers might be well-advised to brush up on their PlayStation or Xbox skills before applying. The FAA unveiled its new air traffic controller training school last week in Oklahoma City, prompting one newspaper to report that the training simulator "looks like a video game on steroids." Indeed, it looks like a lot of fun. The realistic console is surrounded by screens that present varying weather, traffic and other exterior conditions. "Any situation they will encounter in the field we can duplicate it here," FAA Course Manager David Colburn told The Associated Press. But, as entertaining as it might be, the new training system has the singular purpose of pumping out more controllers, better trained and in a shorter time than the old regimen. The FAA is facing a critical shortage of controllers and has committed to hiring 12,000 over the next 10 years. Congress is now considering an appropriations bill that would start the ball rolling with 600 hires in fiscal year 2006. As part of its hiring plan, the agency pledged to update and streamline training while reducing the number of washouts. The simulator allows students to experience realistic scenarios, including interaction with aircraft and between tower and radar controllers. There's even voice-recognition software helps them use the correct phraseology. But there's one feature on the simulator they'll never see on a real console and that's the pause button that lets them back up and try again.