Aviation safety issues and actions

Compromised separation recovery refresher training

Issue number: AO-2012-131-SI-05
Who it affects: All Darwin-based Joint Battlefield Airspace Controllers
Issue owner: Department of Defence
Transport function: Aviation: Other
Background: Investigation Report AO-2012-131
Issue release date: 02 October 2014
Current issue status: Adequately addressed
Issue status justification:

The ATSB is satisfied that the action taken by the Department of Defence (DoD) has adequately addressed the safety issue. Compromised separation recovery training is included in DoD air traffic controller initial and currency proficiency assessments. In addition, video and computer-based training in compromised separation recovery techniques is a pre-requisite for DoD controllers’ 6-monthly currency assessments. It is also included in the simulator scenarios of DoD air traffic units at all military aerodromes to which civil scheduled services operate.

Safety issue description

The Department of Defence had not provided Darwin-based controllers with regular practical refresher training in identifying and responding to compromised separation scenarios.

Response to safety issue: 
Even though 44WG [44 Wing] does not agree that effective compromised separation recovery procedures played a major part in this incident, we do agree that Compromised Separation Recovery Training (COMSERT) is an essential element of air traffic service provision. As part of the COMSERT discussion the ATSB report makes reference to a previous LOS [loss of separation] occurrence at Williamtown, in which the implementation of COMSERT is discussed. Immediately after the occurrence [at Williamtown], the frequency of COMSERT was increased in order to reach an acceptable standard of knowledge and skill amongst the controlling workforce. Once this had been achieved, the intent was always to include COMSERT in initial employment training (IET) and on the job training (OJT). This would result in COMSERT becoming part of our core business. Evidence recorded [in ATSB report AO-2011-011] indicates an increased focus on safety alerting in IET at the SATC [School of Air Traffic Control], as well as local Flight ground school and OJT. In addition, the 44WG core knowledge exam banks also include a range of COMSERT related questions which forms part of an individual controller annual currency requirement. Anecdotal evidence through telephone reporting of safety occurrences and ASORs over the last 18 months indicates that the use of safety alerting has increased and has become a standard feature during occurrences that warrant the alerting.

While 44WG agrees with the ATSB that COMSERT is essential for the provision of a safe air traffic service, it does not agree that we need to increase the amount of refresher training provided. Taking into account the fact that COMSERT is part of core business; is assessed through IET and OJT; is catered for in annual theoretical exams; and safety reporting indicates an increased use of safety alerting, 44WG believes that it has already met the ATSB’s intent of effective COMSERT training.

On 28 August 2014, following a request from the ATSB for further information, the DoD advised that:

The SATC covers training regarding COMSERT during Basic Course and also during SPVR [Supervisor] and TRNGOFF [Training Officer] Courses. Emphasis has also been instilled on all the FLTs [Flights] to ensure that COMSERT is part of JBACs [Joint Battlefield Airspace Controllers] ongoing training and assessment. FLTs are currently training/assessing in a number of different ways including: simulator exercises (for those FLTs that have one ), power point presentations, annual exams, during proficiency checks, through training Guides, during morning quiz and through phraseology cards placed in the workplace. HQ44WG [Headquarters 44 Wing], with the assistance of a member from SRG's [Surveillance and Response Group’s] Training Team, is in the process of standardising a COMSERT Training Package to be distributed to all FLTs. This package will include a film and an annual exam (100% accuracy required to pass) that is PMKeyS reportable on CAMPUS. This package is being designed in alignment with the AsA [Airservices] COMSERT Training Package that was forwarded to the Wing. (Note: PMKeyS is the Defence personnel management system and CAMPUS is our computer based training system).
ATSB comment/action in response:  
The ATSB acknowledges the DoD’s present efforts and those in recent years to implement training and assessment for compromised separation recovery actions. However, the ATSB is still concerned that all controllers are not being provided with regular simulator-based opportunities to practice the implementation of these actions, including at Darwin where a simulator is available.


Action number: AO-2012-131-SR-042
Action organisation: Department of Defence
Date: 02 October 2014
Action status: Released

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau recommends that the Department of Defence takes further safety action to address the provision of regular and practical simulator-based refresher Compromised Separation Recovery Training to all controllers.

Additional correspondence

Response date: 19 December 2014
Response from: Department of Defence
Response text:

In accordance with Section 25A (2) of the Transport Safety Investigation Act 2003, I hereby advise the ATSB that Defence agrees with the two safety issues as outlined. As a proactive safety organisation, we will continue to implement changes to further enhance safety and reduce the likelihood of a similar occurrence in future.

In particular reference to the recommendations 041 and 042, Air Force has commenced work on a compromised separation recovery training package that will standardise training across all Air Base Air Traffic Service (ABATS) units. This package will include a training video and an annual exam requiring a 100% pass mark. Additionally, ABATS units that have a simulation capability have now included the scanning of green codes in their local training packages.

Response date: 12 March 2015
Response from: Department of Defence
Response text:

In order to achieve an endorsement, Defence controllers are trained and assessed against the competencies in the National Aviation Training Package (AVI08 - soon to be updated AVI15) which includes COMSERT as a specific competency requirement. 

After initial endorsement, Defence controllers undergo practical proficiency assessments for each endorsement at least every six months (currency assessments). HQ44WG directed that compromised separation recovery technique/training (COMSERT) is included in the initial and currency proficiency assessments. Video/computer based training including COMSERT will be a pre-requisite prior to one of the controller's six-monthly currency assessments. Initial and selected currency assessments shall include question-and-answer sessions based on practical scenarios (at the console or in classroom setting) and or simulator exercises (where practicable) to ensure the controller is proficient with COMSERT.

Response date: 18 May 2015
Response from: Department of Defence
Response text:

The COMSERT video went live about two weeks ago. This video explores the reasoning behind compromised separation recovery as well as the thought processes and tools available to execute when needed. We actually use the radar tape from the Williamtown 2011 occurrence as the ice breaker. This video is then followed up by a CAMPUS course which assess the controller on the information presented in the video. PMKeyS reportable to track currency.
Attached is the 'Because they rely on us' package. The 'Can you look away' package is a sub-set of 'Because they rely on us'. Huge effort by a number of personnel within the Wing and we are already seeing the 'Can you look away' principles being referred to in LOSA investigations within the Flights. The message has definitely got people talking.

Last update 20 July 2015