iFACTS provides NATS controllers with trajectory prediction, conflict detection and monitoring aids.

A study of the impact of iFACTS on ATCOs at NATS from the human factors perspective was conducted last August, 2012. This study aimed to identify any human factors implications that the implementation of iFACTS has brought into the operation for ATCOs in the LACC, and to provide insight for further research about the human factors implications that ATC decision aiding tools may infer.

Forty in-depth interviews were performed with valid area ATCOs working currently on iFACTS, representing circa the 11% of the total population of controllers. Findings reveal that, together with the achieved benefits in safety and increased capacity, the nature of the ATC task might have been somehow changed by the introduction of iFACTS. The main human factors implications according to the interviewed sample of the ATCO population were:

  • Differences in data assimilation and/or interpretation: according to the interviewed controllers the information that is presented is more difficult to assimilate and interpret. The interpretation of information provided by the system seems to be more complex as it requires integration from different sources.
  • Situational awareness (SA): mixed opinions regarding how SA has been affected by iFACTS existed between the interviewed controllers, but the majority of them seemed to believe that the system provides them with snapshots of individual conflictions failing to a certain extent to convey a global awareness of the traffic. Some of the participants suggested that the picture may still be maintained but it is perhaps achieved subconsciously. Controllers might, if this is the case, have better SA than what they actually consider.
  • Change of cues and memory aids: the training received by controllers might not have been successful in bridging the gap between the cues that the system provides to controllers and some of the cues that controllers used to work with prior the implementation of automation. This potential lack of knowledge of the existing tools to memorise incomplete tasks could therefore affect their performance.
  • Lack of a structured way of interfacing and operating the system: one of the major potential problems identified is the absence of a structured approach or method to control air traffic with iFACTS. The lack of a structured way to operate the system and interact with it might have been the explanation to concerns about having missed tasks while controlling expressed by the interviewed controllers.
  • Skill Set changes: iFACTS was designed to shift the ATCOs way of working. Controllers’ perception was that indeed the system represents a significant change and therefore it should be accompanied by a change in the skill set that controllers’ training is based on. It was deduced that some skills related with parts of the ATC task that are delegated to the system may be no longer required. The utilisation of iFACTS may have also introduced the need to train new skills such as acquisition, integration and interpretation of the information that iFACTS provides.
  • Trust: a wide range of perceptions about participants’ level of trust on the system was observed. The level of trust that each interviewed participant put on the system seemed influenced by a myriad of different factors such as the accuracy of the MTCD function, their level of exposure and familiarity with the kit, their level of understanding of system’s way of working and also the amount of spurious alerts that iFACTS’ safety nets trigger.

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