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ATC Training

VATSIM and IVAO

Both VATSIM and IVAO provide training and promotion schemes for those who wish to make providing virtual Air Traffic Control for online flight simulator pilots one of their hobbies. They operate in slightly different ways as set out below. The quality of training can be influenced by how serious the training department of each respective division is. IVAO's documentation is superb and centralized unlike VATSIM where each division writes their own documentation.

As a generality, VATSIM has more pilot traffic (the "food" of controllers everywhere!) In the USA and UK, whereas IVAO has more traffic in mainland Europe. Other parts of the world are more mixed.

The word "virtual" should perhaps be explained here. In the Flightsim world it simply means "not real world". Both IVAO and VATSIM try to be as realistic as possible, and in so doing, often use the same titles for documents as those in the real world which they mimic, so they put the word "virtual" in front of the title to make it clear it's not the real thing.

VATSIM

After registering with VATSIM, the student air traffic controller has to select the region and an area within this region in which they wish to progress as a controller. A careful selection is required, as moving regions takes time if you change your mind about where you wish to operate. The area selection may be based on your actual location in the world, the number of large airports and the amount of virtual traffic.

The controller’s career starts with an "Observer" rating(OBS). This allows the student to log onto the VATSIM servers using the Euroscope radar client to view the traffic and listen to the radio dialog between pilots and controllers. It permits nothing more, but a lot can be learned in this phase, including how to use Euroscope.

There are several ratings which increase the area of responsibility of the holder.

There is no C2 rating.

The first step up the ladder is to meet your trainer, or Mentor on Teamspeak or Discord and progress through the learning material. The documents available include: Airport charts, Virtual Manuals of Air Traffic Services (VMATS), and the Mentor’s written notes. To achieve the S1 rating one must attend an OBS session, pass a theory exam (online course), complete an aerodrome Delivery/Ground course and quiz, and have one or more sessions with a mentor. After being deemed satisfactory one is awarded the S1 rating and is authorised to control Ground/Delivery at any UK airport other than Heathrow and Military airports. However, the recent addition of Aerodrome Flight Information Service Officer (AFISO) courses, allows the S1 student to control at small non-towered airfields. As part of the student controller’s progression, his knowledge is tested at each level by means of a written test, which will need to be passed to progress through the ratings.

The S2 or Tower controller rating is gained by successfully passing a practical examination live on the network, and is a major step in the students training, being able to control departing and arriving traffic within the Aerodrome's Aerodrome |Traffic Zone (ATZ) or for larger airports, the Airport Control Zone.

After about 50 hours of controlling as an S2 rated controller, progression can be started towards the S3 rating or Approach Controller. The Approach controller can control inbound and outbound traffic typically up to 50 miles radius around the airport. Again, this means arranging training time with your mentor and learning the material to be able to pass the written test. After a couple of solo tickets, the student will be ready for the big test; the S3 rating practical which will be conducted live on the network.

After approximately another 50 hours online, the student will be ready for the final test, learning the Centre CTR position, or En-route controller’s role. A C1 rating is a step up from the approach controller’s role simply due to the size of the area for which they are responsible, number of the airports controlled and the consequential increase in traffic and workload. Once ready, the student will finally gain the Controllers title by passing the C1 written and practical examinations. One thing which may frustrate the potential student is the time it takes to progress through the early ratings, particularly towards the S2 rating, which may realistically take 1 to 2 years to achieve.

IVAO

The ATC structure on IVAO is almost identical to that of VATSIM. Generally, the wait for members to commence ATC training is short and you can gain a rating much faster than on VATSIM. This is at least in part a function of the level of demand, as VATSIM has far more members than IVAO.

The IVAO Controller ratings are: -

The ATC Trainnee rating is automatically achieved after 10 hours online as a controller.
The Advanced ATC Trainnee Rating requires at least 25 hours online as a controller and a successful theoretical IvAc test
The Aerodrome Controller rating requires at least 50 hours online as a controller and a successful theoretical and practical test.
The Approach Controller rating requires at least 100 hours online as a controller and a successful theoretical and practical test.

So you can see that the two networks are similar in the levels of experience required.

The main difference from VATSIM is that on IVAO you can start controlling instantly on smaller airfields and some larger regional airports, at Ground and Tower levels without formal training. Once you pass your theory exam for Advanced ATC Trainee, you can control Ground and Tower at major airports as well. Before being allowed to control Approach, there is a practical and a theory test to achieve the Aerodrome Controller (ADC) rating. This is a Tower rating equivalent. to VATSIM's S2.

With IVAO, you are not restricted to controlling only in one division. Heathrow can be controlled unsupervised to one level above ones rated position, for example, an AS3 can control Heathrow Tower (EGLL_TWR), and ADC can control EGLL_APP. This is the case for most, if not all UK airports.  Although this is less strict than VATSIM, it goes without saying that in order to control competently in this system, you do need to know what you are doing before connecting and providing an ATC service. This rule prohibits newbies from controling and making a hash of it if they have not done their homework or do not have prior controling experience.

To control international positions, you can get a Visiting Controller approval. Visiting Controller approval is valid only in the issuing division, although one can of course apply to visit more than one division. Each division has its own requirements which must be met.

If you have a VATSIM S3 or higher qualification, you can transfer it to IVAO which enables you to control positions one lower - so a VATSIM S3 can control Tower on IVAO, and a VATSIM C1 can control Approach. VATSIM qualified controllers can only control Centre positions as a student without further training with IVAO..

CIX VFR Club members who control on IVAO say that the IvAc controller software is easy to learn and use. (VATSIM's Euroscope does take a lot of learning to use confidently and competently), and the supervisory staff are friendly and tolerant of errors.