Observations from a new ATC controller

I have been flying on IF for quite a while, but recently started controlling. I have a little more than 1,000 ops to date. I thought I would share some thoughts as a “new guy”. I know that some of the requests aren’t new, e.g. I found the thread re. new ATC commands, but I thought it might be helpful to see a comprehensive list from a new controller.

Overall Perspective

I found controlling to be a lot of fun. Of course there are definite challenges, in particular people ignoring commands, but it remains a fun and challenging experience.

Feature Requests

  • Provide an “Unable” response available for controllers. For instance when people request a runway that is the opposite direction from the prevailing traffic flow at a busy airport. I typically respond with pattern / taxi instructions to the correct runway, but people don’t always seem to get it. For those not ignoring the instructions, “Unable” might make the point clearer.
  • Auto announce when a controller goes offline. Controllers can and should do this themselves, but, at least on the training server, this frequently doesn’t happen. Often times I awaiting the next instruction only to discover I’ve been switched to unicom.
  • Related to the prior feature, make it more clear to controllers which of the other controllers are active at the current airport. I frequently check status to see if approach is active before issuing a guard warning to inbound aircraft. Would be great if there were a persistent visual indication on controller status. I know the scrolling list of updates is there but that tends to be very busy and I often miss it when I am controlling a lot of aircraft.
  • Even with my settings for visible aircraft set to “very high”, sometimes it aircraft on the ground a little boxes vs. rendered AC. Makes it harder for ground controller to monitor for conflicts. Maybe render all aircraft on ground for current airport since framerate is not as critical for controllers?
  • Provide a way to tell people they are lined up / holding short at the wrong runway. I know this has been discussed elsewhere but this comes up frequently. If I am tower and people are holding short the wrong runway, I currently tell them to hold short the correct runway. I suspect they don’t realize they are at the wrong end / wrong RW since I have seen people sit there for a long time without moving. They probably think I am ignoring / trolling them. Similar issue for inbound AC where I issue the correct pattern instructions, but having a specific message would definitely be helpful.
  • I wish I could see more data tags. This would help me determine altitude, etc. for planes I am not controlling more easily. They could be made visible / hidden depending on zoom level to avoid too much clutter.
  • Related to the prior item as well the issue with controllers coming & going, it would be great to color code planes based on the frequency they are tuned to. One color for each frequency at the current airport, another for any other freq and a final color for no freq. Would help a lot (!) with situational awareness.
  • Would be cool to provide vectoring instructions post takeoff. E.g. after takeoff fly runway heading, climb and maintain 6,000.
  • I wish center controllers were available on expert to provide a true end to end IFR experience.

Misc Observations

  • I find approach particularly difficult to control on the training server since very few pilots will follow the commands. My experience is that compliance is much worse than ground / tower. Even for those that follow commands, few will honor a proper entry to an ILS / GPS approach. Many / most pilots want to come straight in on runway heading vs. accepting vectors that will allow a 30 degree entry to the localizer. I know this is better on expert but it feels challenging to get enough experience to feel confident on approach. I don’t have the same concern with tower and ground. Would love any suggestions re. getting approach experience and/or lessons learned from others.
  • Departure seems to be almost completely ignored on training. I see almost nobody fly runway heading until they contact departure.
  • I believe there is a way (Slack / Discord / etc.??) on expert for controllers to coordinate. It can be really tough on training when you are tower and approach is hammering all the runways with inbound traffic and ground is sending nearly everyone to the same, single departure runway. Total hypothetical of course. Definitely didn’t just happen to me at EGLL. :) I get we are noobs on training so this isn’t criticism - just looking forward to a better experience if / when I join IFATC.

Very nice list. I hope you continue and work your way to IFATC as you seem to have the controlling “bug”.

IFATC on expert does utilize slack for communication between frequencies. Coordinating runway crossings, opening/closing, debating controlling scenarios, etc.

This is one of the most frustrating parts about learning on the training server. When you join IFATC you start out doing tower and ground first and then can be trained on approach/departure. If you are serious about IFATC I would focus on mastering tower and ground for the test.

Maybe one day it will come back…

The back taxi command can be useful. The flip side is that if they went to the wrong runway chances are they won’t know what back taxi is.

It helps if you turn down your graphics settings with the high count. We sometimes have to rely on the camera and radar.

There is an unable response for runway change requests. I can see the benefit of having a generic one.


Look a good idea. Great explaining why you want to request features.

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Check the aircraft’s information also by tapping the aircraft and click “show information” to see which frequency they are tuned into before on guarding.


Thanks for the suggestion Trio! I do check info currently. That said, for me at least, it can be a little challenging in a very busy airspace since I have to track mentally the status of everyone not on my freq after checking info. Also on training people sometimes do some pretty crazy descents so I don’t always trust that once I am comfy they are outside my airspace they will remain so :).

Thanks for the detailed responses Chris (good name btw!).

  • Good suggestion re. not worrying as much about approach on training. Wasn’t sure if I had to demonstrate some level of masterly for each position.
  • Will try turning down graphics settings and see if that helps.


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