Air traffic controller “fam” trips with pilots a great idea- pilots should also spend time at the control room

This has been a tough spring for air traffic controllers and the FAA who have been literally caught napping,  getting the First Lady's plane too close to another and watching DVD's on night duty and letting alarmed pilots hear the sound of the movie "Cleaner" for three minutes. So the re -institution of"fam" or  "familiarity" trips for air controllers accompanying pilots is a great move.

The fam trips were suspended for security reasons since 911 and will help the air traffic controller "make sense"of the pilot situation in the cockpit as a plane comes in for landing."Sense making" in organizations is a great insight from Karl Weick.

In 1993, Karl Weick and Karlene Roberts published a very influential article as to why on aircraft carriers  decks that are slippery,oily, tilting and dangerous in bad weather there are almost no aircraft  "fender benders" . This despite hundreds of aircraft that are being controlled by only the hand movements of 20 year old air traffic controllers on the flight deck with no radios,mikes or electronics. The many pilots intuitively understood what the controller meant by a particular hand movement and the young controllers seem to have a great intuitive sense of how pilots operate  and "make sense" as they land  on the aircraft carrier deck.

Compared to the challenges of landing on an aircraft carrier, on land airports in good weather are easy.It is likely that all the sleepy air traffic controllers fell asleep because there were no traffic or weather challenges on those days. Getting air traffic controllers to watch pilots landing from the cockpit will create the same kind of "Collective Mind in Organizations: Heedful Interrelating on Flight Decks,"

However, to really get benefit from the fam exercise FAA should also get  night pilots to spend some time at night, at slow airports ,in good weather just to understand how dull and boring the air traffic controller's job can be, at times.

In other words, on an aircraft carrier as in the Weick and Roberts (1993) study the pilots and controllers were  metaphorically  and physically on "the same boat," and thus hugely successful. The fam exercise should also try to achieve  a similar  effect between pilots and controllers on land.

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