The Tower Simulator System (TSS) at the Sierra Pacific District Office was rolled out in 2008, and Camille Danzi, an air traffic controller at the San Francisco International Airport, helped develop the first scenarios that controllers used on the original training simulator. Today, controllers from 13 facilities travel to the district office for initial qualification, refresher and skill-enhancement training in both the classroom and the simulator. With just one simulator, demand exceeded training capacity. In 2015, FAA staff heard about a surplus simulator in Oklahoma City.
“We snapped it up before we were sure where we could put it,” Camille said. “It took a lot of coordination among FAA staff and contractors. We cleared a storage room to make space for the new unit, and with the help of Tech Ops, we made the room compatible for the new simulator. Then it was installed, and our data was loaded for our tower facilities.”
The Sierra Pacific District Office now has two units that are part of the TSS, a high-fidelity, 3D visual display system that emulates operations at specific airports. The system is used to train controllers in a simulated tower environment. TSS uses voice recognition technology and display systems to show a high-fidelity graphic representation of the airport environment, ground radar, communications and airport radar system for airborne movements. Each system is capable of loading visuals and scenarios for any airport in which a visual database has been built. The TSS program is managed by Safety and Technical Training.
L-R: remote pilot operator Elliot Wiechmann, instructor Orrin Shackleford, controller-in-training Amanda Ascherl, OAK Staff Specialist Emily Oxsen and remote pilot operator Alison Page.
Before the use of simulators, controllers trained using Cab Lab, in which an instructor demonstrated airport maneuvers using model aircraft over a map of the airport layout. The simulator is a vast improvement, allowing instructors to pause scenarios to discuss situations. Trainees become familiar with their assigned airport taxiway and taxi routes, and practice and correct their phraseology before plugging in to live traffic.
“In 2016, we had more than 1,000 hours of training on the simulator and more than 1,100 hours of classroom training,” Camille said. “Controllers used the simulators to train on Super Bowl procedures for both the Oakland and San Francisco towers. The simulator training also supports the development of foundational skills and ensures continued attention to safety issues. Air traffic managers are extremely impressed with the simulator training outcomes and consider the TSS to be a valuable tool. The simulators have greatly enhanced our controllers’ knowledge and confidence, and have contributed to the safety of the NAS.”