One question that I get often is How do I become a PANS OPS expert? Many of those that ask this question may be considering a career change from pilot or air traffic controller (ATCO), others are just fascinated by how aircraft follow these lines on the sky and are able to navigate around difficult terrain based just on what their instruments are saying and some have just been pushed into this direction by the internal need within their organization to fulfill this role.
You want to know what is needed to become a PANS OPS expert
Unfortunately for instrument flight procedure design (IFPD) can get quite expensive. This is the first part and probably the most difficult to digest. Most procedure designers including us haven’t been able to pursue this career on their own dime mostly because of two reasons. One there is not so much market outside for an independent new procedure designer with no experience, a lot of time is required to complete not only the initial courses but the on the job training that is after looked into. Secondly, the amount of institutions that provide this training are very few and limited, they need a lot of time in order to just cover the basics and the investment needed is for the most part well beyond what someone can pay out of their own pocket…ties again with reason 1.
Having a previous role as a pilot or an Air Traffic Controller is favored by many ANSP and private companies but those are not the only qualities that are seeked now as procedure design has become more technical and skills in other areas as geographic information systems (GIS), programming/scripting, computer aided design (CAD), Math and algorithms, etc are needed in order to succesfully navigate the waters of PANS OPS. As part of a team you don’t have to worry to carry all of the skills yourself as they will be distributed among your colleagues.
What does PANS OPS training usually looks like:
- Basic PANS OPS course – covers the general criteria and conventional navigation
- Advanced PANS OPS course – deals with the startin blocks of PBN like LNAV and LNAV/VNAV
- Specialized PANS OPS courses – SBAS / RNP AR / Refresher / Recurrent
- On the job training – Each phase is in theory to be followed by OJT but sometimes this is not possible for many reasons including there is no one to provide this OJT
Depending on where you go for the courses the name and structure will change a bit but normally that is how it works
Having a right mindset
Unfortunately we have witnessed many times how having a bad mindset affects many procedure designers, they are the “know it all” kind of people that are good bragging to others about how good at PANS OPS they are even if they have never actually designed something in their life or they are the “we can’t do this” type of people who are very afraid of doing anything and expect that automation will help with their insecurities. The first kind of people have no way to change, they have usually progressed in their ranks by being good at explaining things they don’t understand but others understand less and usually have “great communication” skills, the second type are just needing a helping hand in terms of mentoring. Most of the procedure designers who feel they are inadequate for the job is because they had bad training and not enough on the job experience.
PANS OPS instructors have sometimes a bad habit of giving preference to ATC and pilots and even are arrogant enought to say it out loud in the classroom where they make others feel less fit to fulfill this role. PANS OPS if you really think about it is an engineering problem where we need to be efficient but keep safety, the mathematical skills not needed are a bit higher than before even though you don’t actually require to be a genius to do most calculations. The key is that an Instrument Flight Procedure Design (IFPD) office is built with a team of people since anyway you need two persons minimum (you can outsource the second one if needed).
Having the right mindset also means knowing when you need to call someone else to discuss further on a certain aspect of the procedure or when to say something may not work.
This is one of the most underestimated skills that a person can have, as a PANS OPS person you will need to deal with different stakeholders and need to be able to hear their needs which most of the time are opposing other groups and be able to reconcile them as much as possible. Being someone that communciated effectively is also needed when you are forced to tell someone that what they expect to be delivered is not possible. Usually big organizations have marketing and selling people that overpromise and then you are pushed into delivering something that was promised not based on technical sanity but on hype, to be a good communicator is also to be able to express why things can’t be delivered in a way that doesn’t sound like you do not want to do it or are not competent to achieve.
I think that whatever path is taking you into instrument flight procedure design (IFPD) one thing is clear, that you will need to not only understand what is written in the official documentation for producing the procedures but that a network of colleagues is a useful way to be able to answer any doubts or questions you may get.
Software we have used
Just in case you are wondering, software we have used or currently use for PANS OPS. We are not paid by any commercial one or have affiliations and order is definitely not in order of preference. Also listing something here doesn’t mean we think it is good or not and is just a way to show the rich fan of possibilities for procedure design
- ESRI ArcGIS
- Be-spoke in house solution made by a third party when we freelanced earlier in our career
- Be-spoke in house solution made by us
- Spreadsheet Software
- Python for programming scripts