Eye Tracking in Air Traffic Control

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Consulting firm Human Factors Consult used mobile eye tracking to conduct field research into tower-based air traffic control at small and regional airports.

Challenge

Small and regional airports face unique challenges: the heterogeneity of equipment and infrastructure and a large portion of hard-to-schedule traffic sets them apart from larger international airports. This means the workflow and in turn, the gaze behavior of air traffic controllers, differs.

Solution

In order to develop requirements for a new controller workplace, the German Air Traffic Control and the usability consultancy Human-Factors-Consult GmbH (HFC) performed a workplace analysis at three regional German airports.

The analysis of gaze behavior of tower controllers conducted with SMI headmounted mobile eye tracking technology was a key method within this user-centered approach.

SMI Eye Tracking

The SMI mobile eye tracking provided data on the gaze behavior of tower controllers. The wide angle objective was used to cover the large field of view within the tower and out of the window.

Eye tracking was essential to objectively assess the role of different sources of information for air traffic control tasks. Only with this information, valid requirements for instrumentation of a remote ATC workplace could be defined.

Benefit

Based on the workplace analysis, a catalog of requirements for the new controller workplace was developed. Eye tracking data was used to weight the importance of pieces of visual information for air traffic control tasks. Besides the traffic volume, gaze behavior seems to depend on the technical inventory present in the tower.

Information and assistance systems are looked at frequently when available at the workplace. If equipment is scarce, the view out of the tower window is the major source of information. In order to establish processes of air traffic control independent from visual surveillance, the development of special instruments with sensorbased data is essential.

Background

For nearly a century, air traffic control has been based on visual surveillance of the airport premises and the adjacent airspace out of the tower window. However, this approach is limited by the expansion of airports, where visibility is more likely to be obstructed, and limited by inclement weather. These challenges triggered efforts to build a controller workplace independent of visibility conditions and location.

The project VICTOR (Virtual Control Tower Research Studies) is concerned with the development of a remote tower facility especially for small and regional airports. VICTOR is part of the German Aviation Research Program, iPort. The first step of the overall research plan within VICTOR was a workplace analysis conducted by the German Air Traffic Control and the usability consultancy Human Factors Consult GmbH.

Benefit

Based on the workplace analysis, a catalog of requirements for the new controller workplace was developed. Eye tracking data was used to weight the importance of pieces of visual information for air traffic control tasks. Besides the traffic volume, gaze behavior seems to depend on the technical inventory present in the tower.

Information and assistance systems are looked at frequently when available at the workplace. If equipment is scarce, the view out of the tower window is the major source of information. In order to establish processes of air traffic control independent from visual surveillance, the development of special instruments with sensorbased data is essential.

Customer name Human-Factors-Consult GmbH (HFC)
Customer website http://human-factors-consult.de/