Controller Workstation Ergonomics


A controller workstation is similar to an aircraft cockpit in that pilots and controllers need to have an unobstructed view of their instruments (radar) and access to their controls (input devices). They must also be able to manipulate them without having to leave their seats or over-extend their reach.

Instead of flight instruments and flight controls, controllers have a multitude of displays and input devices available to them which may include some or all of the following:

  • Radar screen
  • Backup radar screen
  • External Peripheral devices – mouse (mice), trackballs or roller-balls
  • Aeronautical charts and maps
  • Instrument approach and departure charts
  • Weather displays
  • Communications system
  • Back-up communications system
  • Emergency radios
  • Workstation lighting controls
  • Emergency lighting
  • Strip board – for displaying paper strips
  • Electronic strip display – for displaying electronic strips
  • Electronic data display – for displaying, accessing and editing flight plans
  • Transmission switch – foot pedal and/or consol mounted press to talk (PTT) switch
  • Keyboard(s)

Ergonomic considerations

The following aspects of Air Traffic Controller working positions (CWP's) are considered when the CWP layout is being designed:

- Ergonomic seat design to enhance comfort and minimise fatigue during extended periods of work.

- Ensuring that all input devices, video screens and strip boards are located within an arms reach of the controllers seated position.

- An adequate amount of lighting is provided to assist the controller in reading strips, maps and charts.

- An acceptable noise level is maintained within the operational area.

- Adequate heating, cooling and air ventilation to allow the controller to execute tasks in a comfortable and controlled physical environment.

Equipment Setup and Position Layout

As with cockpit layouts, it is essential that each controller workstation maintains the same physical configuration. Positions should be designated as either left or right handed with regards to the positioning of data boards, keyboards and other input devices. There is nothing more distracting for a busy controller working a different position than having to physically search in a different place, each time, to locate the same information.

Controllers follow regular patterns and develop routine scans, gathering information in a structured and consistent manner. This allows them to build up and maintain their situational awareness or the “big picture”.

Any change or break in their routine can be distracting and confusing. Once the mental picture is lost it has to be rebuilt all over again, one aircraft at a time.

Publications and Documentation

Controllers refer to a range of documents and publications on a regular basis, whether they are aeronautical charts and maps, sector procedures and agreements, instrument arrival and departure charts, aircraft agency call sign conversions or location identifiers for unfamiliar airports. Displaying and finding this information quickly is an important aspect of workstation ergonomics as controllers have to provide answers to questions posed by pilots or other agencies without delay.

Some of this information may be contained within an electronic database accessed directly through a video monitor, while other information such as high or low level charts are normally located directly above the operating position or under a clear perspex plate directly in front of the radar screen. This information should ideally be located within easy reach of the controller so that they can access it quickly, without leaving their position in front of the radar screen.

Maps and charts that are located above the operating position should be low enough (and well enough lit) to be read from a seated position, without interfering with the controller’s view of their radar screen or any other monitors. For example, if maps and charts are located 5 – 6 feet from eye level, written in a size 14 font, they are nearly impossible to read in a seated position. A controller has to stand closer in order to read the data on the maps, creating a physical distraction and drawing their focus away from their radar screens.

Aircraft are continuously moving through their sector in 3 dimensions, some aircraft travelling at 7 or 8 nautical miles per minute. Every time they get up from their seats it takes additional time for them to refocus and update their situational awareness when they sit down again, the first few seconds being used to “refresh” their mental image and update themselves on present, pending and developing conflictions between aircraft.

Human Factors Benefits

1) Enhance controller comfort and minimise fatigue for greater operational efficiency, effectiveness and accuracy.

2) Minimise distractions and reduce clutter for greater focus and situational awareness.

3) Enhance motivation due to a pleasant working environment.

4) Provide readily available information that can be accessed and processed without delay.

1. Blatner, D. (2003). The flying book. London, UK: Penguin Books.
2. EUROCONTROL Research Centre. (2010). Controller Working Position. Retrieved 13 September 2012, from
3. EUROCONTROL. (2002, December 13). Core Requirements for ATM Working Positions: An overview of the Project Activity. Retrieved 13 September 2012, from
4. EUROCONTROL. (2002, December 13). Technical Annex: An Experimental Methodology for Selecting Fonts for Next Generation Air Traffic Management Systems. Retrieved 13 September 2012, from

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This wikipedia explanation is very broad and covers a wide range of ergonomic topics.

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