Raúl Rodríguez is an expert in ATC simulation with more than 25 years of experience. As part of the ATM Training Management team of SENASA, he has extensive experience in simulation systems. Since 1992, when he joined SENASA, Raúl has experienced the evolution of the sector until today, a whole technological and operational change that has adapted to the training and professional needs that the air traffic control sector has been demanding.
What is SENASA’s role and our simulators centre in the field of air control training?
SENASA has a basic and fundamental role in the training of air traffic controllers in Spain. In 1991 SENASA inherited from the Civil Aviation Training School the task of training all the civil air controllers that service providers requested, in order to carry out a highly qualified and demanding job in a safe and efficient manner.
Since the very beginning, it was a complex task full of ups and downs. The first promotion of students from SENASA were the last one whose students ended up with a job as civil servants. Afterwards, there was a period of no training activity until 1995, in collaboration with AENA, when SENASA resumed its fundamental role in air control training. Since that moment until 2010, a total of 1,245 students from 30 promotions graduated from SENASA’s air control school.
In 2010 a new change in the system took place and SENASA was left to its own for the continuity of training in air traffic control. At that time, with the new European regulations in place, any course had to be certified by the Spanish Aviation Safety and Security Agency (AESA) in order to be taught and thus obtain the controller’s student licenses. This involved long and hard work on the part of the ATM training management team that achieved AESA certification.
This new paradigm was also joined by other factors that affected SENASA's ATM training activity. After the privatization of several airports and the inclusion of the AFIS and Platform Service (SDP) in Spain, SENASA played a key role in training the personnel who started these services. Six ADI / ADV control new promotions of students were organized, with a total of 229 students graduates, in order to equip the privatized airports with the number of air traffic controllers necessary to continue with the ATC service in the mentioned premises. In addition, two new courses had to be created to respond to this new situation, AFIS and SDP courses. This fact was a historic milestone for SENASA and for ATM training to impart these trainings and manage to start up both services, without having had prior training in the premises themselves, having their training in the SENASA air control school as the only tool. Despite the difficulties, SENASA managed to train the new controllers in its ATC training centre, without any occurrence in the air traffic situation during this transition.
How has training and tools for air traffic control evolved? In the case of SENASA, what do we offer as an added value compared to other schools or other centres of reference?
SENASA responds to changes in the air control training market and adapts to the technological demand that has required excellent training such as the one taught at our school. We put all efforts to get adapted to unforeseen changes and work hard to offer a quality in training like the one that SENASA offers. Unsurprisingly, the experience and reputation acquired over all these years by SENASA made possible that almost 82% of the students who passed the last ENAIRE call and who had to take the initial control course chose SENASA as their school.
But it was not an easy road. With the regulatory change of 2010, the control training was liberalized, as happened years ago with the pilot training. Since then, several private air control schools have been opened in Spain, some of which, in addition to being providers of initial training, are also providers of the ATC control service.
When SENASA was created in 1991, it took the challenge from Civil Aviation to manage the training centre associated with it, equipped with extensive facilities in terms of ATC simulators. Since then, the control systems and technology have evolved exponentially, making it necessary to update the ATC simulators used to achieve this excellence in the training of air traffic controllers. We started from a radar simulator with green phosphor screens and radar scans, like in the movies, and another radar for procedural control with slide projectors where maps were depicted and three control towers with wooden models and toy airplanes were used to practice. From that scenario that today may seem precarious, we move on to the current one, with three radar simulators in which radar and procedural control training is carried out, and three tower simulators with 360º projection. All this supported by replica equipment that allows us to use the SACTA system (Automated Air Traffic Control System) used in all air control facilities in the Spanish territory.
Having replica SACTA simulators gives SENASA facilities an incredible and differential potential with respect to the rest of the schools on the market. With this type of simulators, to a great extent, the students who study with us have a smooth adaptation to their chosen dependencies at the time of joining their jobs.
What does SENASA’s experience and knowledge in the field of air control training mean for the sector and for society in general?
After 30 years of activity, SENASA continues to be the national benchmark in the field of air traffic control training. In addition, a relevant reputation has been achieved, not at a national but an international level, which has allowed us to be a training partner in countries such as Albania, Georgia, Cape Verde, Ghana, Macedonia, Mozambique, or Thailand, among other countries. Many other countries trusts us to train their staff.
One of our strengths is the wide offer of courses we have, ranging from initial control, refresh and emergency courses for operational controllers, OJTI, to courses such as AFIS, SDP, etc.
Within this catalog, it should be highlighted that some courses not only serve for the training of controllers or operators, but also for non-operational personnel such as inspectors, engineers or administrative personnel. By carrying out this theoretical / practical training, these professionals have been able to develop their work better by having a more technical and real knowledge, much closer to the work of an air traffic controller, that is, getting into the shoes of a controller.
What do you think is the future of the sector within the field of simulators? What are the most important challenges that SENASA will face?
The future of training in Spain is facing a new change, where different pieces are moving to achieve a more homogeneous training aimed at specialization.
SENASA's challenge is to play an important role in this transformation and, of course, to continue to be a fundamental element in the training of air traffic controllers who will manage air traffic over our heads in the coming years.
We also need to continue expanding our international projects, continuing to offer that excellence that we always pursue, and building loyalty to that wide range of countries that have already had our experience and support.
After the COVID-19 pandemic, a new world was also opened in terms of distance training, for which today there is a growing demand, both theoretical and practical, for which we should bet to be able to respond and be present in that increasingly necessary expansion. The distance training modality would allow us to reach countries that perhaps, due to costs and resources, have never been able to count on our experience. It is an opportunity in which SENASA must be present.