The Operational Role of the OJTI

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The Operational Role of the OJTI

54TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE, Sofia, Bulgaria, 20-24 April 2015

WP No. 157

The Operational Role of the OJTI

Presented by PLC


This paper aims to present the role and the responsibilities of OJTIs and trainees, in everyday operations as well as in case of incidents/accidents.


1.1.  Numerous ATC incidents have occurred in on-the-job training situations, with a trainee and an OJTI involved. There are differences in the aftermath of these incidents, especially when legal action is taken.

1.2.  IFATCA has recognised the need to discuss the legal and operational role of an OJTI and a trainee in case of an incident or accident. Since legal responsibility is subject to national law, it was decided that only the operational role would be defined. Nevertheless, the legal part of the subject, and Just Culture in particular, is highly relevant. This will therefore be mentioned in the examples and discussed in this paper. IFATCA policy on the legal liability of the controller can be found in the Legal Matter Polstats, IFATCA Technical and Professional Manual, LM 11.1.

1.3.  To define the operational role of an OJTI and a trainee, the following questions arise:

  • How are the responsibilities of the OJTI described in official documentation and regulations?
  • What are the differences regarding the responsibilities of OJTI and trainee in case of an incident / accident?
  • How should OJTIs and trainees be protected in case of an incident / accident?

1.4.  This paper will try to answer these questions.


2.1. On-the-Job Training (OJT)

2.1.1.  On-the-Job Training can be defined as:

the integration in practice of previously acquired job- related routines and skills under the supervision of a qualified coach in a live traffic situation.

(European Manual of Personnel Licensing – Air Traffic Controllers, version 2.0, 2004)

2.1.2.  Training in general must be well prepared. However, training for a specific occupation, such as air traffic control, and in live traffic, with constantly altering conditions, is quite unique. Unlike the simulator, real-life situations cannot be programmed or anticipated. That is why good theoretical knowledge of procedures and agreements is essential for successful on-the-job training. OJT should be carried out gradually and the traffic level should always match the trainee’s experience and skill.

2.1.3. Training adults may require different approaches and a different instructor–trainee relationship. There are many factors which affect adult learning – the trainee’s social background, educational experience, expectations, inhibitions, emotional responses to transitional events in their lives, and so on. All these factors should be taken into account while training on-the-job.

2.2. On-the-Job Training Instructor (OJTI)

2.2.1.  The IFATCA manual gives the following definition of OJTI:

This is a specialist task demanding knowledge and experience of Air Traffic Control coupled with the desire and ability to teach.


2.2.2.  An OJT instructor should possess several qualities:

  • highly motivated towards training;
  • objective;
  • credible;
  • operationally and procedurally knowledgeable;
  • possess good interpersonal and communication skills.

An OJT instructor should also be a good motivator, know how to adjust to the trainee, and set up a good learning atmosphere.

2.2.3.  Being a good instructor means constant self-analysis. Not all trainees react in the same manner, and sometimes the instructor needs to adjust their approach. If a trainee has a problem, the instructor should do what they can to help.

2.3. Licensing

2.3.1.  ICAO Annex 1, Chapter 4, Paragraph requires the licensing authority to authorise an air traffic controller before they can carry out instructions in an operational environment as OJTI:

A Contracting State having issued an air traffic controller licence shall not permit the holder thereof to carry out instruction in an operational environment unless such holder has received proper authorization from such Contracting State.

2.3.2.  On the European level, the following is stated in the EU Regulation 805/2011 – Rules for Air Traffic Controllers’ Licences, article 14:

Instructor endorsement

1. Holders of an instructor endorsement shall be authorised to provide on-the-job training and supervision at a working position for areas covered by a valid unit endorsement.

2. Applicants for the issue of an instructor endorsement shall:

(a) hold an air traffic controller licence;

(b) have exercised the privileges of an air traffic controller licence for an immediately preceding period of at least one year, or such longer duration as is fixed by the competent authority having regard to the ratings and endorsements for which instruction is given and

(c) have successfully completed an approved on-the-job training instructor course during which the required knowledge and pedagogical skills were assessed through appropriate examinations.

3. The instructor endorsement shall be valid for a renewable period of three years.

2.3.3.  This is further developed in the European Manual of Personnel Licensing (EUROCONTROL) 2.0, chapter 7, paragraph 7.4.1:


To be issued with an On-the-Job-Training instructor licence endorsement the applicant must:

a) hold an air traffic controller licence;

b) have successfully completed an OJTI training course and passed any associated assessment or examinations as required by the Designated Authority;

c) have held a valid rating in the rating discipline in which he will instruct for a period of at least two years;

d) hold and have held a valid rating on the sectors or operational position on which he will instruct for a period of at least six months.

OJTI training courses shall satisfy, or be equivalent to, the objectives detailed in the guideline document ‘Air Traffic Controller Training at Operational Units’ (EATMP, 1999 – T10).

2.4.  Trainee

2.4.1.  Just like instructors, trainees also have responsibilities. The trainee is responsible for being mentally and physically fit for work, and for being up-to-date with all the documentation, rules and regulations relevant for the job. Naturally, a trainee should follow the OJTI’s advice and instructions. Trainees should also strive to develop a good working relationship with other colleagues.

2.4.2.  Licensing

ICAO Annex 1, Chapter 4, Paragraph briefly sums up the requirements for a trainee air traffic controller:


The applicant shall have:

a) satisfactorily completed an approved training course;

b) provided, satisfactorily, under the supervision of an appropriately rated air traffic controller:

1) aerodrome control rating: (… requirements for duration of OJT training)

2) approach control procedural, approach control surveillance, area control procedural or area control surveillance rating: (… requirements for duration of OJT training)

3) approach precision radar control rating: (… requirements for duration of OJT training)

2.5. The responsibilities of an OJTI

2.5.1.  International regulators have agreed on the fact that a trainee working with live air traffic constitutes a sensitive operation which should therefore be supervised appropriately. ICAO Annex 1, chapter 4, paragraph 4.3.1 reads as follows:

Student air traffic controller

Contracting States shall take the appropriate measures to ensure that student air traffic controllers do not constitute a hazard to air navigation.

2.5.2.  In the above mentioned licensing requirements for OJTIs and trainees, the word ‘supervision’ is repeatedly used to indicate the professional relationship between the OJTI and the student. This term implies that the OJTI is responsible for all the decisions the trainee makes and thus is also responsible for the safety of ATM at the working position. In all the high-level documents, however, the OJTI’s end responsibility for safety is not literally mentioned.

2.5.3.  In Annex II (Training Requirements) of EU Regulation 805/2011 – Rules for Air Traffic Controllers’ Licences, MAs are advised to describe the training in more detail in a Unit Training Plan:

Unit training requirements for air traffic controllers

Unit training plans shall detail the processes and timing required to allow the application of the unit procedures to the local area under the supervision of an on-the-job training instructor. The approved plan shall include indications of all elements of the competence assessment system, including work arrangements, progress assessment and examination, together with procedures for notifying the competent authority. Unit training may contain certain elements of the initial training which are specific to national conditions.

During unit training air traffic controllers shall be sufficiently trained in safety, security and crisis management.

The duration of unit training shall be determined in the unit training plan. The required skills shall be assessed through appropriate examinations or a system of continuous assessment, by approved competence examiners or assessors who shall be neutral and objective in their judgment. To this end, the competent authorities shall put in place appeal mechanisms to ensure fair treatment of candidates.

It is known that some countries have included the OJTI’s end responsibility for safety in their Unit Training Plans.

2.5.4. The training process is a joint responsibility of the trainee’s designated OJTI, the training team, and shift supervisors. Traffic levels in real-life situations should always match the trainee’s skill and experience, and if the traffic situation exceeds this, the OJTI should take over. Also, if a trainee does not exhibit satisfactory progress and the continuation of the training is in question, the decision about the possible termination of training should rest with the instructor and the training team.

2.5.5. The OJTI is operationally responsible for the safety of air traffic when supervising a trainee, and should not be involved in other activities (discussion) or have other operational tasks (eg. shift supervisor) at the same time.

2.6. Protection of the trainee

2.6.1.  In order to increase the learning opportunities for the trainee, while decreasing the chance of incidents, the training environment on the job should be safe for both the trainee and the OJTI.

2.6.2.  Ideally, a trainee should be coached by a small group of instructors (coach group). Company management should not be directly involved in the decision about continuation/termination of the training.

2.6.3.  It is possible that the instructor and the trainee may not get along with each other. Also, the instructor might doubt or mistrust the trainee’s work. These issues can be discussed within the coach group. Since the OJTI is responsible for the trainee’s actions, they should be able to refuse to coach a trainee. Similarly, the trainee should be able to request another instructor when they do not feel comfortable in the training environment.

2.6.4.  A safe learning environment and company culture can increase the trainee’s chances of obtaining the licence. At the same time, company culture should also ensure that trainees realise that working with live air traffic is not a game. This could decrease the risk of reckless decisions.

2.7 Protection of the OJTI

2.7.1 As stated in 2.5.6, the OJTI has the operational responsibility for the safety of air traffic at all times. This way, the trainee is protected and a safe learning environment is guaranteed. However, there are conceivable situations whereby an error may inadvertently result in an incident. For example the OJTI may not be able to react quickly enough to restore the error the trainee made, for example due to problems with the microphone (override or frequency). While the OJTI is trying to take over, a loss of separation could occur.

2.7.2.  The situation described above could be compared to any ATCO working solely. It is possible that a mistake has been made and the ATCO will do everything to repair the fault and continue to work safely. As long as there is no wilful intent or gross negligence, the OJTI shall be protected.

2.7.3.  In order to be able to be released and debrief directly after a mistake or an incident, it is desirable that the OJTI is supernumerary, that is, additional to the regular ATCOs in the daily roster.

2.8 Just Culture

2.8.1.  Just Culture is defined as:

a culture in which front-line operators and others are not punished for actions, omissions or decisions taken by them which are commensurate with their experience and training, but where gross negligence, wilful violations and destructive acts are not tolerated.


2.8.2.  In high reliability environments where a safe operation is vital and human error plays a major role in incidents/accidents, Just Culture – an atmosphere of trust in which ATCOs are encouraged to provide safety-related information – is considered a means to implement safety. Individuals are not blamed for honest errors, but are held accountable for wilful violations and gross negligence.

2.8.3.  Protection of the trainee, as well as the OJTI, is safeguarded by applying the principles of “Just Culture”. The trainee does not have to be afraid to make mistakes and the OJTI will not encounter loss-of-license or other punishment when reporting, assessing or correcting the mistakes.

2.9. Examples of incidents involving a trainee

2.9.1.  The Delta incident at EHAM

In 1998 a serious incident took place at Amsterdam Schiphol airport. Three people on duty were involved: the Assistant Controller, a Trainee Runway Controller, and the OJTI – who was also the shift Supervisor. In low visibility procedures a Delta flight was getting ready for take-off from runway 24. At the same time, a tow truck towing a KLM Boeing 747 was requesting to cross the runway. The OJTI/Supervisor was at that time engaged in a discussion with another colleague. The trainee observed the tow truck on ground radar well clear of the runway, at exit 2 and concluded that the tow truck had already crossed the runway. He cleared the Delta flight for take-off. Some twenty seconds later Delta reported aborting take-off. The pilots reported that there was a KLM in front of them being towed across the runway. Only then did the trainee realise that the tow truck was crossing in the direction opposite to what he had been expecting. The OJTI, being in the middle of a discussion, had not heard the clearance for take-off, and was surprised by the ‘’alert’’ announcement.

After the investigation, one of the conclusions was that the staff on duty were not working as a team and that the OJTI did not adequately supervise the tower operations. Also, certain procedures proscribed for runway change and low visibility had not been carried out.
In October 2000 the case was taken to court. All three controllers were sued. The court found the offense legally and convincingly proven, but imposed no penalties.

After the Delta Incident, procedures changed at Amsterdam Schiphol airport. For example the crossing runways procedure was improved and a Runway Incursion Alerting System (RIASS) was installed. In the years following the incident Just Culture was established in the Netherlands aviation system. The company and prosecutors now work together and have agreed that an air traffic controller should not be prosecuted when an ‘honest’ mistake is made and that ATCOs should be given the opportunity to learn from an incident and improve the system. Only if there is gross negligence involved, might a controller be prosecuted.

2.9.2.  Vnukovo airport accident

On October 20th 2014 a private jet hit a snowplough as it lifted off at Vnukovo airport, killing four people. The Falcon 50 was cleared for take-off from runway 06. About 10 seconds later a surface movement radar in the control tower showed one of the snowploughs to be moving towards the

intersection of the runways 19 and 06. Four seconds after that the aircraft crew noticed a ‘’car’’ crossing the runway. Take-off was continued. Moments later the aircraft hit the snowplough and burst into flames, killing everyone on board.
After the accident several people were detained, among them the trainee-controller on duty at the time of the accident and her supervisor. So far the trainee is the only person who has been charged with causing multiple deaths through negligence by breaching air safety rules. She faces up to seven years of prison if found guilty.

IFATCA has issued a press release condemning the Russian prosecutors’ decision to charge the trainee. The investigation is still ongoing, there are still no formal conclusions and already a person is identified, publicly exposed and charged with criminal offense! This act is also inconsistent with Just Culture for which the Russian Federation signed up under ICAO.


3.1.  The legal responsibility of the OJTI in case of an incident/accident is subject to national law. IFATCA cannot regulate national judiciary systems. However, when it comes to operational responsibility, IFATCA considers that the OJTI is responsible for the actions of the trainee under their supervision.

3.2.  In case of an incident/accident and subsequent investigation, the principles of Just Culture shall be applied. OJTIs and trainees shall be aware that at all times the national Judicial system applies.


4.1.  It is recommended that IFATCA policy is:

The OJTI is responsible for maintaining the safety of air traffic services to air traffic on the position where OJT is provided.

In case of investigation following an incident/accident involving an OJTI and a trainee the principles of Just Culture shall be applied.


ICAO Annex 1, Personnel Licensing, eleventh edition, ICAO, 2011.

EU Commission Regulation 805/2011 – Rules for Air Traffic Controllers’ Licences, European Commission, 2011.

European Manual of Personnel Licensing 2.0, EUROCONTROL, 2004.

Inconsistency under the law, E. Pooley, Eurocontrol Hindsight #18, 2013.

Study Reports on Selected Safety Issues for Staffing ATC Operations, Eurocontrol, 2006.

Final report N 193 DN, Boeing 767 (Delta Incident), Dutch Safety Board, 2001.

IFATCA Press release on Vnukovo accident, IFATCA, 30-10-2014.

MAK report on Vnukovo accident, Interstate Aviation Committee Russia, 24-10-2014.

Last Update: May 13, 2020  

May 13, 2020   54   Jean-Francois Lepage    2015    

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