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Often lost in the high-visibility and persistent efforts to recruit and train commercial airline pilots is the burgeoning requirement to gain new cadres of qualified air traffic controllers. Indeed, US Transportation Secretary Buttigieg noted last month that FAA has “about 2,600 air traffic controllers in the [training] pipeline.” Beyond the numbers of aspiring ATCs at FAA and elsewhere in the global civil and defense sectors, and academia, is the requirement to increase the rigor of air traffic controllers’ skill sets to support the huge uptick in unmanned in drones and other emerging dynamics in current- and near-term air traffic systems.

During UnrealFest 2023, Sonia Mina, ATC Simulation Software Engineering Programs Manager for Adacel’s Simulation Business, updated delegates on her company’s efforts to advance ATC training, in partnership with Epic Games and Varjo. Marty Kauchak, MS&T editor attended Mina’s presentation Unlocking the Potential of Immersive Air Traffic Control Training and filed this extract of the conference presentation.

Adacel is a provider of ATC training to an expanding list of civil and military customers around the globe. The Montreal-based executive provided a brief glimpse of Adacel’s portfolio, pointing out, in one case, the company’s MaxSim. The product provides one state-of-the-art data point on the S&T industry’s solutions for ATC training. MaxSim, was reported to provide agile scalability, from a 360-degree set-up to a desktop or mobile system. While Mina said MaxSim was affordable, she emphasized, “you can simulate the entire flight operations cycle.”

ATC Training Modernization

Like other mission sectors under the editorial umbrella of MS&T and adjacent Halldale program, CAT, Adacel has its vision set on training modernization – for the ATC market in this case.

Citing oft-heard imperatives driving modernization in other safety-critical training enterprises, Mina first noted Adacel’s responsibility to give its client the tools to train and retain younger generations in the ATC industry. To that end, the company is seeking to increase the immersive experience in ATC simulation and training, and increase learning retention to allow student to transition seamlessly to the operational ATC environment. Embracing other forward-leaning technology enablers, Adacel’s virtual classroom construct supports a cloud-based solution which integrates a web-based environment and offers remote training capabilities.

Adacel is moving ATC training into the XR/VR domains with the support of Varjo's XR-3 headset.

Source/credit: Marty Kauchak.

Enter Unreal Engine

Adacel’s quest to provide modernized ATC training, was shaped, in large part, by its’ customers changing expectations. Mina reflected that in one case, “Things that were good enough years ago were just not good enough now. We had to go to a whole new image generator.” Beyond a large Unreal Engine user community, the manager noted Adacel’s decision to partner with Epic Games was also due to UE providing high-fidelity scenarios to the gaming community, “and this is what this generation and others need.”  Mina further commented on UE’s other attributes that weighed on their decision to establish this partnership: an architecture that would allow growth, seamless integration and long-term scalability; the availability of entities in the global marketplace and a VR capability.

Moving Forward

Adacel and its S&T industry partners are pulling ATC training to new heights in other ways.

This April, while the company launched AeroScene. Further, Adacel has significantly integrated VR into its portfolio. Broward College was the launch customer of a VR-enabled system equipped with Varjo’s XR-3 headset. And while Adacel has sold Unreal-enabled systems to Broward College US Army and FAA, it is eyeing its next challenge – moving from UE4.27 to UE 5.x.

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