Training Air Traffic Controllers, whether for new ratings, new equipment or just for updating skills, is an on-going requirement for all ATS providers throughout the world. Classroom work, simulation and on-the-job training, all require resources in man-power and equipment which are beyond the capability of some of these ATS providers, even when they are only training a small percentage of their staff at a time. Now imagine the organization and resources required to train all of your staff, within a limited time frame, for not only a new radar system, but a new airspace structure, an increase in the number of operational working positions, a new tower with its associated new equipment, a completely new airport layout, a new geographical location, and, to do all of this while keeping the third busiest international airport in the world operating in an efficient and safe manner. Imagine also, that you had to change from one system to the other overnight with no loss in traffic handling capacity, and in a safe and orderly manner.

This was the daunting prospect put in front of the Hong Kong Civil Aviation Department, and the Air Traffic Management Division of that department in particular, had to accomplish with the move from Kai Tak, to the new Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok. We did it on time and virtually flawlessly. We have had nothing but praise from pilots operating at the new airport, the airlines and the Hong Kong Government itself. Unfortunately, this professional operation by Air Traffic Management Division, went unnoticed by the local and world press, as it was over-shadowed by Airport Authority computer breakdowns, blocked toilets, unserviceable phones, display systems, aero-bridges and cargo handling systems. Inadequate staff training caused other problems with security personnel, tug and bus drivers. Within a week or so, most of these problems were sorted out and we now have a new airport of which we can be justly proud.

Planning started some 5 years ago with the working out of the requirements of the most valuable ATC resource, controllers. Hong Kong’s ATC staffing levels had been almost static for many years at around 120 controllers, including management. Even with the huge increase in traffic since 1990, the number of working positions in the ATC Centre and Tower had remained static due to physical constraints. ATMD could not unilaterally increase staff numbers without taking a structured plan of their requirements to Government. It wasn’t just a matter of working out the number of teams X the number of working positions, with additional staff for leave and sickness. ATMD also had to take into account the training requirements of new controllers to rating standard at Kai Tak. This was to allow the transfer of experienced staff from the then current operational pool, to fill positions to be created for the new airport. These new positions included operational planning, evaluation, acceptance testing and training. Management had to be very convincing to Government as all of this was occurring during a time of Civil Service staff ceilings. All of this, of course, took time. Government approved the controller resources and the next step was to obtain them. Now you can’t just walk out on the street and pick up fully trained controllers, even when you have the permission to do so. This meant the recruitment of fully trained experienced overseas controllers. This again was unique for the Civil Aviation Department as all other Government Departments were localising their staff with the run up to the hand-back of Hong Kong to China in 1997. The net result of this recruitment is that a little over 3 years ago we had 9 expatriate controllers. Now we have 90. Local recruitment of student ATCOs’ and ATFSOs’ (assistants) also rapidly increased, requiring an increase in resources for the training section. There was no shortage of applicants for the overseas ATCO positions on 3 year renewable contracts. Hong Kong was well known around the world as a great place to work in ATC with the Civil Aviation Department being a good employer. This allowed management to choose from some of the best, and also allowed them to choose people with the sort of background that would be useful for the future training and evaluation required for the new airport.

The first step in the training program was to restructure the Training Unit. A Senior Training Officer who was responsible for training only, previously ran this Training Unit. A new position at Deputy Air Traffic General Manager level was created in charge of Training and Evaluation. As an initial structure, the Training Unit became responsible for on-going training for Student ATCOs and ATFSOs for Kai Tak as well as training to rating standard for the overseas controllers. The Evaluation team became solely responsible for the evaluation of systems and procedures for the new airport as well as all of the subsequent training requirements for that airport.

About 2 years before opening, a small team was put together to look at the way we would handle traffic at the new airport, bearing in mind that the new structure would have to have the capacity for at least twice the current traffic levels, and last us well into the future. These personnel were all volunteers and both local and overseas controllers were involved. Within the expatriate controller ranks were people with previous experience in training and evaluation in other countries including USA, New Zealand, Australia, U.K., Switzerland and the Middle East. The local controllers were all senior ATCOs with previous training experience in Hong Kong and who had attended specialist courses in subjects such as Pans Ops airspace and instrument procedure design. It was realised very early on that the key to successful conversion training was going to be good simulation. To this end, the radar contract included a full radar simulator from the manufacturer of our prime radar system, Raytheon. As with the radar equipment itself, the Civil Aviation Department included exacting requirements with the manufacturer to ensure we got what we wanted. This included input into the design of the software for the pilot positions to make the system more user friendly and to allow exercises to be more easily programmed. The physical location of the simulator in the main radar room, divided from the operational area by a glass partition was also deliberate. This facilitated those controllers not taking part in an exercise to be able to sit at an operational console, which had a live radar feed, and familiarise themselves with the equipment in the positions they would be working. It was also decided very early on, that we had a requirement for a full Tower Simulator for controller conversion training. This was a very expensive investment for an ATS provider with only one airport. It turned out to be a very wise investment, as it enabled us to train all tower controllers on taxi routes, helicopter operations, coordination, runway changes and inter-arrival spacing judgement, before any aircraft had ever operated at CLK. In addition, we now have a tool for training ab-initio local students for tower ratings. In fact the first course of 6 students completed their course last Friday. It will also enable us to train all tower controllers for the opening of our second runway and training other controllers for their second rating (A second rating is a requirement in Hong Kong) Both radar and tower simulators were also used for trying out new procedures and validating them prior to implementation.

As we got closer to opening and as more expatriate controllers were rated at Kai Tak, we were able to take controllers from the operational pool to join the Training and Evaluation Unit. A local controller, was assigned the position of Senior Operations Officer for the Chek Lap Kok project. As well as being a very experienced controller, who had worked both here in Hong Kong and Australia, he had a degree in computing which made him the ideal choice for the work ahead. The first building built at the new airport was the ATC complex. The team moved out to Chek Lap Kok some 18 months before the opening to commence the huge amount of work needed for acceptance testing, airspace design and training. They moved into a building with no lifts, no toilets, no running water, no regular transport (CLK was still an island then with no bridge to the mainland), and nowhere to eat. They were virtually marooned there. Travel time to and from each day was about 2 hours each way. It is thanks to the team and their sacrifices that the project succeeded.

Once the framework of the new procedures was in place, the T & E team split into separate Training and Evaluation groups. The training group became  known as the Chek Lap Kok conversion team. A further split in the training group was made into Radar and Tower teams. Individuals within these teams further divided into specialists areas to teach Approach, Enroute, Tower, En-route Procedural and also specialised in the equipment with individual instructors taking on the task of classroom teaching on the radar system, speech processing equipment, surface movement radar, windshear and turbulence warning system, airport meteorological observation system, airport lighting system, airport information data base, etc. In parallel with the ATC training and evaluation group, we also had a team of Air Traffic Flight Service Officers looking after the training of our assistants. This group had their own set of requirements and they also required equipment and procedures training. They had the additional task of operating the flight data and strip printing systems. They also provided a pool of people, who in conjunction with their ATCO colleagues, programmed and ran the simulators. Suffice to say that their work was invaluable and contributed in large percentage to the successful transition to the new airport.

As previously stated , Hong Kong has always required senior ATCOs to hold two ratings. Either Tower & Approach or Approach and En-route Radar. A decision was made very early on that it would be impossible to train all of our controllers for two ratings in the time we had available to us. As a result, all controllers were streamed into one of 3 categories. Tower, Approach or En-route. To the extent it was possible, controllers were able to choose which stream they would do. Even the fact of doing one rating did not make things easy as for each rating there are a number of different working positions (up to 8). Another decision made was that from our October 97 intake of expatriate controllers, we would no longer train them for a rating at Kai Tak. This was because after obtaining the required 2 ratings, there would be very little time left at Kai Tak to exercise them. Instead, it was decide to take them out to Chek Lap Kok to help with the training and evaluation process. This on the surface may seem like a waste of valuable manpower, but it worked out just the opposite. By April of 1998 we had a total of 19 expatriates at CLK helping us out. 3 were attached to the testing and evaluation team. One of these had in fact worked with the same Raytheon radar in the Middle East and Norway and was very useful to us. The remaining group became simulator pilots. These controllers came from all over the world and along with our ATFSO pilots injected realism into the exercises. In other words they acted just like real pilots. None of their time was waisted as by operating as pilots, they became totally familiar with the airspace and the equipment. This has enabled them to quickly obtain their first rating after the airport opened. All radar exercises were networked i.e. they included Approach and En-route positions working in the same exercise allowing proper coordination and hand-off and accept procedures. We also deliberately operated with traffic levels far in excess of what was expected on day one. This gave the controllers confidence in the system structure and radar system itself. The exercises and simulator were so realistic that we were able to rate all controllers on the simulator prior to airport opening. Those controllers not taking part in simulation exercises were encouraged to go next door into the ATC Centre and "play" with the radar and the speech processing equipment.

The Tower stream had their own training program with a great deal more classroom work than the radar streams. Their working environment was completely changed from Kai Tak and they had to become familiar with many more pieces of new equipment and a completely new airport layout. As advised above, certain instructors became specialists in certain equipment and traffic handling procedures and they were tasked with passing this knowledge on. Every opportunity, subject to equipment availability, was taken for hands on practice, (much of the equipment was still being installed and tested). The lighting operational panel was simulated by computer and very realistic training on this equipment was able to be given. In parallel with all this training, there was a close relationship between the Conversion Training Unit and the Evaluation Unit. This was necessary because the airspace structure, SIDs, STARs, instrument approach and departure procedures, were constantly being fine-tuned. Agreements with adjacent FIRs on procedures, boundaries etc. also had to be taken into account and caused some last minute changes.

All training documentation for controllers was produced in house by the instructors. This was done in the short time they had available between courses. A very small administrative group handled the printing and distribution. The training itself was all carried out at Chek Lap Kok and comprised four phases, parts A,B,C, & D. This was a major headache for rostering as all controllers had to be taken off the watch at Kai Tak and cycled through the CLK training. Training had to be done without affecting staffing numbers at Kai Tak and also had to take into account leave and sickness provisions. Part "A" comprised of a very basic two day introduction and took place in October 1997. This was the same for everyone and familiarised controllers with the airspace concept and demonstrated how everything would work. Part "B" lasted 10 working days with full time classroom and simulator training but no testing or examination. This segment lasted from February to April 1998. Part "C" lasted 5 working days and all of the latest changes to equipment and procedures were explained. The end of this segment included a rating check and examination for licence endorsement. The Tower stream had an additional test of the operation of the various pieces of tower equipment. This phase lasted from late April until mid-June. Part "D" was simply a 2 day refresher course which was completed just prior to the opening and was mostly to update the controllers with the latest information and allow them to feel comfortable in the new working environment. Separate courses were given to the Supervisors with this group being split into Tower and ATC Centre groups. The supervisors had some equipment unique to their positions they had to learn about but only required a few days in total. The over-all training program was structured to teach controllers what they needed to know to do the job and no more. For instance, some of the technical parameters of the equipment they would work with have no bearing on their day to day work, so why teach it. I think many ATS managers create training programs, which are too long, too technical, and not relevant to the working controller. As far as I am aware, Hong Kong is one of the only places in the world that has managed a training program like this and has had such a smooth transition from one airport to another. Other places have moved to new airports but the ATC Centre was the same. Only the Tower controllers required training. In Hong Kong, everything changed. It must also be one of the only places in the world where the radar system was delivered on time and worked as advertised. This training success story is a success because of the people involved. From the instructors to the assistants and the controllers themselves, everyone wanted to make it work. We only got one chance at it and we did make it a success. It’s a pity that no one else in the industry knows about it.

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Twodogs' Territory - Controller training for Chek Lap Kok