Cognition, Technology & Work

, Volume 20, Issue 2, pp 233–244 | Cite as

Visualizing complexities: the human limits of air traffic control

  • Nicolas Durand
  • Jean-Baptiste Gotteland
  • Nadine Matton
Original Article


Air traffic management is organized into filters in order to prevent tactical controllers from dealing with complex conflicting situations. In this article, we describe an experiment showing that a dynamic conflict display could improve human performance on complex conflict situations. Specifically, we designed a display tool that represents the conflicting portions of aircraft trajectories and the evolution of the conflict zone when the user adds a maneuver to an aircraft. The tool allows the user to dynamically check the potential conflicting zones with the computer mouse before making a maneuver decision. We tested its utility on a population of forty students: twenty air traffic controller (ATC) students at the end of their initial training and twenty engineering students with the same background but no ATC training. They had to solve conflicts involving 2–5 aircraft with a basic display and with the dynamic visualization tool. Results show that in easy situations (2 aircraft), performance is similar with both displays. However, as the complexity of the situations grows (from 3 to 5 aircraft), the dynamic visualization tool enables users to solve the conflicts more efficiently. Using the tool leads to fewer unsolved conflicts and shorter delays. No significant differences are found between the two test groups except for delays: ATC students give maneuvers that generate less delays than engineering students. These results suggest that humans are better able to manage complex situations with the help of our conflict visualization tool.


Air traffic control Conflict detection Conflict resolution Visualization tool Complexity 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London Ltd., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.ENACToulouseFrance

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