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ATC: how to approach beginners on the network


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Disclaimer:

This is a sporadic PSA from my own experiences as a beginner, controller and supervisor on VATSIM. These are my own personal opinions, and does in no way reflect VATSIM's official stance on the issue. Writing this because I don't want to get in trouble, k thanks.

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We have all been there, some just don't want to realize it. No matter who you are, how many hours you have or what the first three digits of your CID reads, we have all been through that palm-sweating frustration of not daring to press the PTT to ask for a clearance. Who hasn't felt the desperation when you couldn't understand an ATC instruction and didn't have the guts to admit it, only to mumble your way through it and hope he wouldn't catch up on it.

As a supervisor I come across users with different amount of experience every session, and not once has an hour passed without me having to talk to or handle a beginner. And every time, i understand the situation they're in. A lot of people are afraid when the message from _SUP comes through, but fear not - we're only here to help. I will go to great extent to help beginners, give them advice, links, and follow them up on email afterwards if I have the time to do so. That is my duty, and my passion. Of course there are situations where a "newbie" can ruin for other users, such as departing without contacting the controller at EGKK during peak hours, where I have to take action to avoid major inconvenience for other people. If you are able to put yourself in his or her spot, you will see how frustrating, scary and nervous an experience like that might be.

 

So from my experiences, I have some advice to other controllers on how to approach such situations.

 

To controllers handling beginners:

Out of the 1000+ hours I have gathered in my time as a controller, I can't recall how many times I've pulled my hair in frustration by beginners not following my instructions. Sometimes, it can feel like it will ruin the whole controlling session. And after walloping several times without response, you go to VATSPY, open the ATC tab, and see that…. WHAT, NO SUPERVISORS ONLINE?!?!?!

My, oh my, do I remember that. But after some time, I started remembering things I had forgotten (or surpressed) from my time as a beginner on the network. From not understanding the top-down principle, not know what an IFR flight means etc... Unfortunately for me, VATSIM Stats saves all of that. 😕 

Controllers; believe it or not. YOU are the face of VATSIM. Not the supervisors, not the BoG, not the people behind the scenes. YOU are the first person new pilots will talk to, and if you don't think about how you approach them - you might be the last one as well.

Some controllers I've told this to tells me "it's not my job to teach pilots how to talk to ATC". And yes you are correct, BUT...

Even though it's not your responsibility to teach them and hold their virtual hand through the virtual skies, how you act can be the difference between them staying and expanding their knowledge and their hobby through VATSIM, or being too scared to ever reconnect. Most of you do this very well - kudos to you.

A good tip to everyone, use aliases. Whenever I talk to a beginner, I give them two links. The PRC (vats.im/prc), and the CoC (vats.im/coc). The holy grail of beginnerland. If you're like me and lacks creativity, copy this into your alias file:

Quote

.prc Hello, I see you are new to the network. First of all - welcome to VATSIM! It may be tempting to jump right ahead and fly, but I would suggest you read through some docomeents first, in order to prepare yourself for what you may encounter. First of all - you should read the VATSIM tutorials at vats.im/prc. Here you can find everything you need. Second of all, you should read through the VATSIM Code of Conduct (vats.im/coc), especially sections A and B, in order to not get in trouble for something you didn't know. Let me know if you need any more questions, I am here to help you! 

 

The great myth of the wallop

If you find yourself in a position where a beginner poses a conflict, or you are unsure what to do, never be afraid to wallop for a supervisor. I have heard about vACC/ARTCC's having policies about when you can and cannot wallop, which I question - but that is a different topic. A "wallop" is simply a way to send a message to online supervisors in order to notify them for assistance. Both pilots and Controllers can utilize this, and it is the same format across all clients.

In order to send a wallop, write this into your scratchpad/text Box:

Quote

.wallop [brief description of issue]

 

Far too often I see people simply typing things like .wallop help, which gives us no way of prioritizing the case before initiating contact. That leads to a lot of lost time. Try giving a brief description of what is happening along with the callsign of the user - so we can get started right away instead of you having to write it all once more. A good example of a wallop is something like this:

Quote

.wallop AAL123 taxiing without contact, not responding to contact me's, conflicting with traffic.

If I get a wallop like that, I can take immediate action instead of having to assess the situation because of lack of information.

TL;DR

Beginners aren't all that bad. Controllers are front figures. If you haven't got time to handle it yourself - wallop.

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Mats Edvin Aarø
General Manager - Member Engagement
Supervisor Team Lead: Team 4
[email protected]

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Excellent post here, Mats. I just did a flight out of KPDX with a buddy on Discord and he is very new to VATSIM and radio comms with controllers. The controllers were very helpful and friendly. He kept correcting himself on Discord and was embarrassed when he made mistakes. He kept saying things like, "Well that's not how I hear it on LiveATC."

I am a teacher, and my advise to newer people on the network would be the same thing I tell my students... If you don't know, ask. Don't be afraid to ask if you're confused! In my experience of being on VATSIM on and off over the years, ATC has always been helpful.

 

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Some great discussion points. Reminding us of how new pilots may be scared away due to a bad first impression is important. I remember a controller when I was a new pilot I flew out of JFK an made a lot of mistakes. Nicholas Gonzalez was the controller and his gentle approach to one of my first times flying is the reason I kept flying - this was over 10 years ago. 

Thanks!

Help a newbie!

http://czqm.ca

QM/QX Instructor

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Thanks for the post! I may have to relay this information so some of our controllers at my facility who may get into issues with new pilots, and may get even scared or annoyed at new pilots. We all do need to help eachother out, and if there is an issue just ask.

When I'm controlling I always ensure that the aircraft knows what they're doing, and if they don't, I'll take a minute when time and situation permits where I can help them out, or message them some tips/tricks or information.

And... I am certainly looking into that lovely alias you posted! Mahalo!

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Aidan Deschene
Cleveland ARTCC Webmaster
VATUSA Web Team
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This is soo right! My first experience on the network was messaging a controller asking if he was OK with me asking for a clearance and then disconnecting. I was sooo scared! I don't know why VATSIM makes us all scared of calling up, but it does. The controller replied telling me that he had no problem with that, and encouraging me to ask for taxt, etc. as it wasn't busy and he could help me. That ended up being my first VATSIM flight. This experience greatly influenced the way I treat beginners. When they come in, expecting to be eaten alive by controllers, and instead, receive a welcoming message encouraging them to have fun and ask questions, they will most likely stick around.

On 5/19/2020 at 4:09 PM, Mats Edvin Aaro said:

Controllers; believe it or not. YOU are the face of VATSIM. Not the supervisors, not the BoG, not the people behind the scenes. YOU are the first person new pilots will talk to, and if you don't think about how you approach them - you might be the last one as well.

Yes! I think one of the things that causes most disagreements in VATSIM is this. While us controllers are users just like the pilots, not admins or anything like that, but for pilots we're the other side of VATSIM. Look at it this way: what other pilots did is 'what the other guy' did. But if we give a clearance, 'I was on VATSIM and they cleared me..' So if you're having a bad day, and treat a pilot badly, consider that likely, for that pilot, it's not you who treated him badly, it's 'the VATSIM controllers treated me badly'

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New and want some help? Send me a message on Discord at GoodCrossing#4907!

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Exactly @Samuel Rey, and a surprising amount of people don't realize that. IMO that should be taught with every rating, even from S1 level. Controlling on VATSIM isn't just knowing how to issue a pushback or taxi clearance; it's also about knowing your place, role and function, and having that attitude VATSIM is looking for amongst controllers and pilots alike. 😄

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Mats Edvin Aarø
General Manager - Member Engagement
Supervisor Team Lead: Team 4
[email protected]

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On 5/29/2020 at 5:30 AM, Samuel Rey said:

I don't know why VATSIM makes us all scared of calling up, but it does.

Just means you care about what other people think. If it helps, it's not limited to VATSIM - it's a common stage for real pilots, learning how to talk to ATC.

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  • 2 months later...

@Tom David We have recently introduced a mandatory "P0" course + test that all new registrations must undergo before being able to log onto the network. There they are shown all of these resources in a very organized manner. You can view the info they receive by going to this link, which is a new section in the PRC PLC (Rebranded Pilot Learning Center).

11 hours ago, Tom David said:

Some pilots however, do not want to learn and expect you to do everything for them.

From my personal experience, the "some" here is very relative. I have hardly ever come across someone on the network totally oblivious to learning new skills on their own. They exist of course, but they aren't many.. 🙂 Again, just my experience.

Mats Edvin Aarø
General Manager - Member Engagement
Supervisor Team Lead: Team 4
[email protected]

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Agree.  It won't be a perfect solution but it will be a step.  At the very least, it communicates the message that this is not the place for "goofing off" and "antics" but a realistic simulation of real-world aviation.  At least some will see that distinction and decide VATSIM is not the right place for them.  And if there are still those who choose to participate in the former, it's more likely willful disobedience than accidental ignorance, and can be dealt with as such.

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Cheers,

-R.

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19 hours ago, Tom David said:

The P0 course and test is a good step, should weed out some of the troublemakers.

Just like having a driver's licence doesn't stop law breakers.

Kirk Christie - VATPAC C3

VATPAC Undercover ATC Agent

Worldflight Perth 737-800 Crew Member

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On 8/26/2020 at 7:21 AM, Robert Shearman Jr said:

But I guess you're saying unless it's a perfect solution it shouldn't be done? 

Never said that, and please dont infer as such.

Edited by Kirk Christie

Kirk Christie - VATPAC C3

VATPAC Undercover ATC Agent

Worldflight Perth 737-800 Crew Member

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Some perspective from a relatively recent beginner (~100 hrs on the network):

New pilots fall into different categories, and in order to effectively help them, it is probably a good idea to assess which category they fall into.

Most new pilots will be in the "well-intentioned" category: familiar with the basic rules of the network, able to fly the aircraft at least in a non-stress situation, willing to follow advice, and at least somewhat prepared. The best help you can give these pilots is to speak slowly, keep your instructions short and piecemeal, offer vectors instead of complex arrivals, try to keep them out of the busiest hotspots in the airspace, expect slower reactions and more readback corrections and "say again"s, and generally be prepared for a little bit more hand-holding.

Another category is "well-intentioned, but in over their heads". These pilots WANT to follow the rules and do everything right, but unlike the first category, they don't come prepared enough. They may have issues flying the aircraft, they may not have the charts ready, or they may be unable to read them, they may not be familiar enough with radio phraseology to correctly interpret your instructions, etc. IMO, the correct reaction here is to help them to your best abilities, and as workload permits, but when it becomes clear that they cause too much disruption, or that their intentions are too far beyond their abilities, as a controller you will do them and yourself a favor by asking them, kindly, to disconnect and try an easier flight in a less busy airspace, and maybe point them at some suitable learning materials (if you have the time).

Then there's the "gamers" - people who expected vatsim to be like a typical game, where you can essentially just hop in and learn by doing. These people probably haven't read the rules, and may not even realize what a nuisance they are; they need some serious expectation management and/or a reality check. A kind but determined text message pointing at the relevant rule documents and "getting started" tutorials is probably the least painful way of doing that. If they keep disregarding, upgrade them to "troll" (even if they are not trolling on purpose, a gross misconception of what is expected of them will lead to the same practical problems, and the same priorities in handling them).

Which brings us to the last category: "trolls" / "goofs". These are people who won't take ATC, the network, or other pilots, seriously, and they will not make any attempt at bettering themselves - they're just here to goof off. You can give them the benefit of the doubt and treat them like "gamers", but when that doesn't help (and if they're actual trolls, it won't), have them kicked off the network.

This rough categorization, and especially the "well-intentioned" vs. "wrong expectations or outright troll" split is important, because the former group needs practical help and some slack to keep their workload manageable and their inevitable mistakes non-fatal, while the latter needs corrective measures ranging anywhere from expectation management to disciplinary action. Pointing a well-willing but somewhat overwhelmed first-time pilot at the CoC is a bit of a dick move when their problem is not that they don't understand the rules, but have trouble following every detail due to workload issues; and on the other side, ATC should not bend over backwards to accommodate a pilot who willingly and knowingly disregards ATC advice, whether out of malice or gross incompetence.

And yes, the P0 rating should help with the trolls and gamers, but it's not foolproof, because anyone with a pre-P0 account can of course still log on and do some serious goofing.

Oh, and just so we're clear: the treatment I have gotten from Vatsim controllers as a bloody beginner has been nothing short of excellent. I like to think of myself as having been in the "well-intentioned and prepared" category, and the treatment I got was completely appropriate, if not perfect.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I'm an absolute beginner and genuinely willing to learn and improve, because I believe the experience you get in VATSIM is like no others 🙂

I've done a few VFRs, gradually getting more far away from the airport, and also picking areas with less traffic. Things have been quite smooth, hence I wanted to do the major step towards IFR.

What I do is usually rehearsing the route in offline mode, in order to make sure I have all the charts in order and I know what to expect, especially during taxing, TO and landing.

My main struggle is with ATC comms: albeit having studied the jargon and knowing the key phrases, I get very often confused with what ATC is communicating. Also on my end, nothing short of excellent treatment from Vatsim controllers.

What I've done a few times was to connect from a busy airport and stay parked at the gate, just to listen what ATCs and pilots say in order to get more familiar with the terms and phrases, without disturbing anyone. Is this the correct thing to do?

I hope this point of view might help and I welcome any suggestions to better enjoy the network.

Marco

Edited by Marco De Sanctis
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