A Wearable System for the Stress Monitoring of Air Traffic Controllers During An Air Traffic Control Refresher Training and the Trier Social Stress Test: A Comparative Study

Susana Rodrigues1, 2, *, Joana S. Paiva1, 2, 3, Duarte Dias1, 2, Marta Aleixo4, Rui Filipe, 4, João Paulo Silva Cunha1, 2
1 Institute for Systems Engineering and Computers – Technology and Science (INESC TEC), Porto, Portugal
2 Faculty of Engineering, University of Porto, Porto, Portugal
3 Physics and Astronomy Department, Sciences Faculty, University of Porto, Porto, Portugal
4 Navegação Aérea de Portugal (NAV), EPE, Lisbon, Portugal

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© 2018 Donato and Denaro.

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: ( This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the INESC TEC - Rua Dr. Roberto Frias s/n Edifício 1, 4200-465 Porto Portugal, Tel: 22 209 4000; E-mails:;
Deceased November, 2017



Air Traffic Control (ATC) is a complex and demanding process, exposing Air Traffic Controllers (ATCs) to high stress. Recently, efforts have been made in ATC to maintain safety and efficiency in the face of increasing air traffic demands. Computer simulations have been a useful tool for ATC training, improving ATCs skills and consequently traffic safety.


This study aims to: a) evaluate psychophysiological indices of stress in an ATC simulation environment using a wearable biomonitoring platform. In order to obtain a measure of ATCs stress levels, results from an experimental study with the same participants, that included a stress-induced task were used as a stress ground truth; b) understand if there are differences in stress levels of ATCs with different job functions (“advisors” vs “operationals”) when performing an ATC Refresher Training, in a simulator environment.


Two studies were conducted with ATCs: Study 1, that included a stress-induced task - the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) and Study 2, that included an ATC simulation task. Linear Heart Rate Variability (HRV) features from ATCs were acquired using a medical-grade wearable Electrocardiogram (ECG) device. Self-reports were used to measure perceived stress.


TSST was self-reported as being much more stressful than the simulation task. Physiological data supports these results. Results from study 2 showed more stress among the “advisors” group when comparing to the “operational” group.


Results point to the importance of the development of quantified Occupational Health (qOHealth) devices to allow monitoring and differentiation of ATCs stress responses.

Keywords: Stress, Wearable biomonitoring platform, Air traffic controllers, Simulation training, heart rate variability, ECG.