AI ATC Oceanic clearances

Was curious about AI and whether or not it could handle positions like Shanwick and Gander? This tech is making huge strides in the industry and i feel it could potentially fill this gap. Now I’m not saying to completely replace human controllers, like during events such as CTP but to be utilized during the week and times when a human isn’t handling the position. There are already auto clearance avail for some USA side airports, so why not oceanic? Since position reports are automactic now anyway why not have a way to practice submitting Oceanic clearance and such, where you would get a clearance back. Anyway i was just curious what your thoughts were on AI in this field. Thanks


Love that idea. Anything that provides more ATC coverage whether human or otherwise would be a win.

If by ‘AI’ you’re referring specifically to the recent developments in the Transformer type of
Large Language Models (LLMs), such as GPT, I must say I’m skeptical. This is because ATC
clearances and ORCAs are precisely the kind of situation where Transformers struggle: ATC not
only has a very predictable structure, meaning that the natural language processing abilities
of LLMs are kind of wasted, but also the situational awareness that underpins ATC is not
possible with Transformers. They can only predict tokens from previous input, so in order to be
in with a chance of letting our ATC LLM develop understanding of what to authorise, you would
need to find efficient way of condensing the whole oceanic situation down into a short sequence
and then attempt to use something like a Tree-of-Thought strategy to coax a sensible suggestion
out of the system. Ultimately, converting a highly-multidimensional system (the position,
movements and intentions of all flights over the Atlantic) to a linear one, to another
highly-multidimensional system (the latent space of the model), and finally back to a linear
system (the text of the clearance itself) is going to be fraught with opportunities for error!

On the other hand, if by AI you’re open to including more traditional algorithmic techniques,
then I think there’s a lot of automation possible. As you noted yourself, more and more is
being automated in real life operations at Shanwick and Gander. Perhaps ironically, both
techniques would boil down to the same linear algebra calculations, but I personally don’t
think the extra layer of abstraction that ‘AI’ such as LLMs offer is particularly useful for
ATC (yet!).

This is a terrible idea. I joined VATSIM to talk to human controllers, not AI.

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Using AI on VATSIM for the purpose of getting more atc coverage is not an idea I would support. As David mentions VATSIM is for people, who want to interact with other people. If I wanted AI atc there is no point in joining VATSIM - AI atc has been a part of flightsimulators for ages (and even made as addons to flightsimulator programs). I recognize that atc coverage is sometimes hard to get and in some areas almost impossible. But VATSIM is about people, not AI created ‘dialogs’. Nothing prevents you from flying offline with every AI atc you fanzy and log into the network if atc comes online - that’s your choice. But remember as a controller it is also not very nice to look at an empty airspace waiting for traffic. But when you’re flying in an uncontrolled airspace a controller might see you and logon and provide service to you. If AI is used on VATSIM the incentive to logon as atc is deminished as far as I’m concerned, you then already have ‘atc’, my workload would increase, as I would have to deal with the AI produced clearences, which even might be in direct conflict with procedures agreed upon between atc positions in the area, etc.

I don’t believe there is any suggestion of reducing or inhibiting human ATC services. My take on this would be to supplement human based services. The module would dump its data to the human as soon as they logon, likewise the human collected data could be then handed off to AI, just like another controller.

Why would anyone on the network be worried if this was additional to human services? It isn’t limiting or restricting your ability to offer a service in my view.

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I think that AI can be use in a number of tools. E.g. I more or less stopped controlling Island Radio (Reykjavik OCA) because of lack of tools - it is north of the NATs so random routes are used and at that time no tools for predicting conflicts between plane on random routes existed and I don’t think they do today. That kind of AI I would welcome very much. But I am not on the VATSIM network to talk to a machine, but to a person. So I’d rather fly on the network without atc and hope for a controller to show up, than having AI atc, which - I think - will reduce the incitement/need for a living person to choose to become a controller. But that is naturally my most personal view in whic you do not have to agree.

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All great and realvent answers. I’m happy some of you understand where i was going with this suggestion. That is to never replace human controllers but only Supplement them when they are not online. Which is the case on every ocean crossing i do, with the exception of a large event. So I’m only suggesting that both Gander and Shandwick have this technology in place. Trust me i would much rather talk to a human then get a responce from ai. I think the rest of the vatsim world is fine. There are plenty of events to choose from to guarentee atc involvement, but oceanic is next to never online, nor do they advertise events, at least that I’ve seen. There was a short period of time they did post a monthly fly in ( around a year ago ), but they were never able to man the positions. I pay for a professional ATC Service for my day time flights and at night i can find someone on vatsim, usually on the East coast of the states. So again this is only for the crossing and to add a little more immersion. And this kind of tech wouldn’t have to be mandatory either, it could completely fall on the pilot if he or she wants to use such a feature. So for those of you who do not wish to use it could just fly and hope that a random controller desides to sign on and handle your clearance. And really after the initial check in via voice with a real person you don’t speak to them again because of the automated position reports. So what are you really changing other than the ability to recieve a clearance from AI? Anyway. Was just something i thougt of the last time i flew from London to JFK. With no atc during a weekend.

I do want to point out that i really appreciate all the hard work these volunteers do for this community. Both on air and behind the curtain. You guys / gals go through manatory training to control us pilots which most don’t seek out training. You all do a stellar job for no pay and at times you deal with ungrateful people.
Take care.


If I understood David Cross right, this would not replace a single hour of human ATC coverage as it would only be to replace Unicom when there’s not human being online anyway.

I’d give it a try :wink::+1:

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