Monday, December 16, 2013

Increased Risk of Aircraft Collision Due to Poor RPL

An Australian Air Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB)  report has found that the use of Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) increased the risk of collisions between aircraft by having Air Traffic Controllers (ATCs) who were not properly trained. RPL allows a student to be certified based on past experience or studies. This saves time and money by not requiring the student to undertake courses where they are already competent. However, this needs to be a carefully documented process to ensure the prior learning is equivalent and this can be shown later.  In this example, a Boeing 737 airliner was not kept the required distance from an aircraft dropping army paratroops. Fortunately in this case there was no collision and no injuries, however the ATSB report found fault with the RPL process used to certify Australian Air Traffic Controllers (ATCs). RPL was also mentioned in a previous loss of separation report concerning an Airbus A330-300, B-HLV and Boeing B737-800 in 2009. The ATSB was unable to find evidence that the controller in question had completed the required written examinations, or passed simulator testing:
Airservices’ recognition of prior learning processes did not adequately consider the variances between the ATC operating systems, traffic complexities and airspace design in the trainee’s previous overseas unit with those in Australia. In addition, the consideration of the trainee’s skill and knowledge levels relative to the Sydney operational environment could have been considered more effectively.

The trainee had not had used a computer-based ATC system before and, on return to the Sydney TCU after a 14-year absence, found the non-standard training program challenging. Their training had been interrupted due to a period of illness but there was no documented review of the training plan following the trainee’s absence due sickness, or of the occurrences in which the trainee was involved in August and November 2011. Though an OJTI is directly responsible for the safe and effective provision of ATC services when conducting training, consideration must be given to the performance of the trainee, particularly when they are involved in an incident.

Ultimately the Airservices’ checking system determined that the trainee should neither be endorsed, nor rated in the Sydney TCU. Whether the trainee might have successfully completed the training had the Airservices recognition of prior learning processes been more effective could not be established.
From page 28 of "Loss of separation involving CASA C212-CC, VH-MQD, operating in the Richmond parachuting area, and Boeing 737-7BX, VH VBP, near Richmond Aerodrome, NSW, 5 November 2011" ATSB, Investigation number: AO-2011-142, 16 December 2013

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