How to Optimize ATC (Air Traffic Control) Training Simulators with 3D Eye-Tracking

Air traffic controllers bear a huge responsibility for the safety and fluidity of air traffic. 

Dealing with the amount of information their role requires can massively challenge memory and cognitive load. This is why their training becomes essential to maintain performance and why ATC simulation training companies are tasked to observe and come up with the right insights about trainees.

If you are looking to evolve and improve your ATC simulation systems by using new technologies, this article will share why 3D eye tracking technology will become one of the most useful solutions for ATC training simulators and how you can accelerate trainee performance with it, while keeping implementation costs to a minimum.

The Power of Simulations in ATC Training

The most powerful thing in simulations is observation.

In simulations, manufacturers can replicate scenarios and settings that could be emergencies or dangerous, while testing how trainees react and make decisions in those settings more than once or twice. 

Trainers can observe and compare how different ATC operators react to the same scenarios. This way, they can optimize their performance and teach trainees what parts of their behaviour needs to adjust and to what extent. And it can be done without exposing anyone to real life danger.

How Eye Tracking Can Improve ATC Training Simulators

Eye tracking technology is an important development within the domain of ATC training. 

In comparison with traditional ATC simulators (that don’t use eye tracking), ATC simulators upgraded with eye tracking systems can provide valid ATCO (air traffic control operator) attention data to better measure trainee performance.

By integrating 3D eye tracking in simulators, instructors are able to track in real-time where air traffic control operators or aviation professionals are looking and how they monitor different instruments and displays.

3D eye tracking (or remote eye tracking) can assess monitoring performance of ATCOs by using fixation counts and duration or gaze dwell time metrics (such as dwell time between seeing alerts & notifications and acting on it).

The Insights Given by an ATCO’s Eye Movements 

An air traffic control room is an intricate, complex and safety-critical place to be and it is very mentally challenging to manage it, because of the dynamic movement of multiple aircraft and the complexity of scanpaths. ATCOs process a lot of visual and acoustic information. And the spatial surroundings add to that. 

Scanning the multitude of displays and instruments is a difficult job. Eye tracking enables spotting the weaknesses in the standard scanning procedures of ATC trainees, digging out the gaps/glitches in visual perception during different stages of operation.


Addressing Human Error in Aviation with Eye Tracking 

Many aviation incidents/accidents have been analyzed and, for some, the conclusion was that ATC poor operations were the cause – most common being one aircraft passes too closely to another aircraft (operational error – OE). Many OEs happen because of vulnerabilities in visual and cognitive processes. 

Eye-tracking technology can make a difference if it is used as a way  to detect persistent scanning errors.

How to Use Remote Eye Tracking in ATC Simulators

Here, at Eyeware, we took eye tracking a step further and made it 3D. 

Remote eye tracking (or 3D eye tracking) is a new technology that helps you track ATCOs visual attention and AOIs (areas of interest like instrument panels, specific gears etc.) from as far as 1.3m (4.3 ft) away, without headsets or any other kind of gear attached to the trainee.

What You Need to Install Remote Eye Tracking in your ATC Training Simulator

This can be done with a 3D depth-sensing camera  integrated in ATC training simulator and GazeSense, a 3D eye tracking software created to be able to map the point of analysis. This software can interpret precisely where or what the subject is looking at and gives you live data or stores it for later, if needed. 

So, all you need to get eye tracking technology in is:

  • a low profile 3 D camera to simulate natural environment;
  • our API to monitor trainees in real time.

This comes with automatic calibration and low-light compatibility. Being headgear free and software based, this solution keeps your implementation costs low.


How You Set Up Remote Eye Tracking in Your ATC Training Simulator

As there are no complex headgears or programmes, the set up is easy to do, whether your ATC simulation system is enroute, approach or tower:

  1. Position the 3D camera inside the ATC simulation system, facing the trainees
  2. Connect camera to computer
  3. Download our software GazeSense
  4. Designate 3D objects in GazeSense with reference to the camera
  5. Start streaming live attention data


The Benefits of Remote Eye Tracking in ATC Training Simulation Systems

Remote eye tracking tracks attention. And attention data gathered with eye tracking helps you understand:

  • How the pilot trainee prioritizes the environment – with remote eye tracking, instructors assess whether ATC trainees are looking at the right instruments and AOIs (areas of interest) at the right time. 

For example, you can detect in real-time if the ATC trainee is looking  where he should be, in the precise order, in simulated abnormal situations like fire, engine/smoke effects, landing gear malfunctions.

Or, for simulators that offer online adaptation of external tower environment, you can track gaze patterns in different weather conditions simulating clouds, rain, snow or wind and improve them on-the-go.

  • Which habits are being developed and can be improved – you see if ATC trainees are following procedures and checking things the way they are supposed to. 

For example, prioritising certain AOIs when turning on/off aircraft position lights.

  • What does the trainee overlook – many ATCOs present signs of inattentional or change blindness – failing to perceive major things going on right in front of their eyes, because of the control room’s visual load. 

Things like notifications or alerts are sometimes missed. In repeated ATC simulation training, instructors can simulate certain delicate or difficult scenarios over and over again and track eye movements to make sure the trainee gets the right result in the end and doesn’t miss the essentials.

Thus, eye tracking is a suitable tool to assess ATCO’s cognitive process of attention and decision-making in the control room and improve his situational awareness.

In the end, using remote eye tracking for ATC simulation training translates into benefits for the trainee, as well as for the instructor: 

ATC Trainee Benefits

  • Develop good habits faster & correct bad ones
  • Focus only on targeted objectives for the trainee – remote eye tracking provides data that shows which aspects of training needs more work for each ATC trainee
  • Improve situational awareness (SA) – analyze how the ATC trainee reacts to technical difficulties, operating in poor weather conditions and improve response to troubleshooting 
  • Accelerate performance all of the above leads to an efficient learning process, training individualization and faster improvement

ATC Instructor Benefits

  • See what the ATC trainee sees – camera based eye tracking allows instructors real-time access to trainees’ eye movements, sequence of AOIs and, thus, thought process – they have better insight into trainee behavior & comprehension.

This helps to detect faster and better the causes of ATC errors and modify the training accordingly. For example, the instructor can:

  1. observe visual attention during safety checks and offer feedback on it on-the-spot;
  2. observe the trainee’s response to critical events;
  3. correct poor habits as they occur;
  4. ensure ATCOs are looking at the right things, at the right time, in the right order.


  • Give Evidence-Based ATC Trainee Feedback 
  • Benchmark the progression of trainees against experienced operators – investigate the visual scanpaths of expert ATCs using different aircraft congestion levels and then compare with trainees results
  • View prioritization of information panels & gauges
  • Ensure correct visual checks are made before an action is taken
  • Make Evidence Based Training Programmes Improvements
  • Optimize resources – in the end, it all leads to reducing training time & costs as well; spotting errors more rapidly and acting on them leads to less training time and accelerates trainee performance at the same time

Wrap Up: Remote Eye Tracking in ATC Training Simulators for a Safer Flying Environment

To conclude, remote eye tracking offers valuable attention data about the trainee and enables a better non-verbal connection between instructors and ATC trainees. 

Only through gazes, trainees give hints on their performance and, at the same time, valuable feedback on how the training can be better conducted, according to their needs.

If wisely used, remote eye-tracking technology can accelerate ATC simulation trainings, facilitate the training process, and in the end, in the real world, decrease the number of OEs incidents and enhance flight safety.

👉 Get in touch and we’ll help you use 3D eye tracking to improve your ATC training simulator.