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NAV CANADA, the country’s Air Navigation Services Provider, encourages its employees to “take charge” of their careers, and with a comprehensive selection and training process, NAV CANADA helps air traffic controllers and flight service specialists do just that.

Richard Thorne received his air traffic controller licence in November 2015 after completing the mandatory training process. Typically, the classroom and on-the-job training lasts between 13–26 months for area controllers.

Prior to starting his training, Thorne lived in Montreal. “I knew that if they offered me the position, I would have to make the decision whether to move from Montreal or say no. The biggest thing was organizing the move and finding a place to live in Toronto.”

Once you’ve gone through two years of intense training, it’s a pretty good feeling to come out the other side with a licence.

Going back to school

Thorne began his  training with NAV CANADA in September 2013 after settling into his new home in Toronto. For the first five months, he reacquainted himself with the classroom—a place he had been detached from for a decade. “From September to February of the next year, we were doing lots of classroom work,” says Thorne. “You gain the most knowledge at this point because it’s all new.”

As students advance through the program, they complete a number of exams. In addition to classroom learning, students also do basic simulator work, which is executed through voice recognition software. “You basically talk to the computer and the computer responds accordingly, playing the part of all the planes.”

Thorne says the next step is the high-fidelity simulator, which closely replicates the actual work environment. “You’re on one side, and a simulation specialist plays the roles of pilots and other controllers on the other line,” he explains, adding that the test runs become more complex over time. “As opposed to before when you talked to a computer, now it’s in real time.”

Upon the successful completion of simulator exams, students move on to the final phase of training—working with live traffic in the operations room. Here, Thorne explains he was assigned an on-the-job instructor, who shadowed and coached him for about a year until he “checked out” and received his air traffic controller licence.

Preparing for the real world

The training experience at NAV CANADA is  different from onboarding processes at other organizations. The process is lengthy, in-depth, and intense. It sets up future air traffic controllers for success, given their great responsibility in keeping the airspace safe.

“In the simulator, they really push the level of traffic,” explains Thorne, “so that you get a chance to practice and prepare not only for regular traffic, but also irregular operations and emergencies. They want to see how you cope.”

The advantage of spending a year in the simulator is that there’s room for error—which is inevitable as a student. “It’s a sterile environment, so there aren’t any real negative consequences besides the debrief,” he says. “If you do something wrong, it’s an opportunity for you to realize it and try to fix it and, if you don’t, the instructor will take you aside or stop the run.”

Although the lead up to becoming a full-fledged air traffic controller takes time and hard work, Thorne encourages students—both present and future—to keep going. “It’s a long, challenging process, but everybody goes through it the same way and goes through the ups and downs. Once you’ve gone through two years of intense training, it’s a pretty good feeling to come out on the other side with a licence.”

NAV CANADA, air traffic control, technology jobs