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2-4.1 Function. and aircraft primary movement areas (i.e., runways and taxiways), their
A combined ATCF and ROC/FACSFAC that may provide airport associated VFR and IFR approach paths, traffic pattern entry points,
traffic control, traffic
low approach and landing, terminal area control, and special use patterns, ground routes, parking areas, and VFR and IFR departure
airspace control paths.
services. Consider planned runway and taxiway construction when siting the
Architectural and Structural Requirements. ATCT, as
See Figures 12 through 18. Provide: well as expected vegetation growth that cannot be cultivated due to
a. Removable, modular, access flooring in the operations, and the various
electronic equipment/maintenance rooms with 457.2 mm (18 in.) of factors.
clearance provided between the floor panels and sub floor to UFC 4-133-01N
accommodate wiring and insulated piping. See Paragraph 3-3.5.1. 24 February 2005
b. Interior and exterior acoustical treatment to attain the Room Criteria Including change 4 and 5, 30 July 2007
described in Paragraph 3-3.1. Soft textured acoustical wall panels 16
and movable sound absorbent partitioning in the operations room. 2-5.2.3 The ATCT itself should not be an obstruction (see paragraph 3-
c. A clear ceiling height of 4.2674 m (14 ft) (finished floor to ceiling) 2.2)
in or affect IFR operations. Care must be taken not to site the ATCT close
the operations area. to
d. A tiered seating area in projection auditorium. and/or under a flight path.
e. Radio Frequency (RF) shielding throughout the crypto room. See 2-5.2.4 Lights and rotating beacons should not impair the visibility of
MIL-HDBK-1195, requirements must be confirmed by Naval the air
Electronics Systems Security Engineering Center (NESSEC). traffic controllers. See NAVAIR 51-50AAA-2 (01 May 03) Airfield
f. Facility and restroom areas must conform to the UFAS. Lighting &
g. Cable trays or conduits between the ATCT and the JCF for Marking.
intrafacility 2-5.2.5 Other considerations for final siting include utility availability
cabling. The exact dimensions of the cable trough or size (water,
and number of conduits are specified in the BESEP. sewer, storm, power, and gas), site access, security, and relationship to
2-4.3.1 Windows. existing
Do not use windows in operations, NTDS/ACDS system, and ATC Facilities and existing ATCTs. Provide a tower location and
equipment/maintenance rooms. Provide insulated glazing for noise height that
reduction in results from a tower cab eye-level line of site (care should be taken in
administrative areas. See Paragraph 3-6.3.6. determining eye level to accommodate a variety of controllers height)
2-4.4 Mechanical Requirements. intersecting
Design the mechanical system to meet the criteria in Paragraphs 2-2 (furthest) airport traffic surfaces at a vertical angle of 35 minutes or
(RATCF,) greater. If an
UFC 3-420-01 Design: Plumbing, and MIL-HDBK 1003/3 Heating, area directly below the ATCT requires controlling, consideration for
Air relocating the
Conditioning, and Dehumidification Systems. Provide ATCT to allow proper visual access to that area should be of prime
a. Automatic thermostatic control. importance.
AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL TOWER (ATCT). Refer to FAA Order 6480.4, Airport Traffic Control Tower Siting
\2\ Design the Navy-Marine Corps Air Traffic Control Tower to be Criteria and
generally paragraphs 3-1 and 3-2.
consistent with FAA Order 6480.7, Airport Traffic Control and 2-5.2.6 The control tower facility design shall provide for efficient
Terminal Radar layout to
Approach Control Facility Design Guidelines. If a conflict exists operate and maintain all utilities required in support of mission. See
between this Table 1 for
UFC and FAA Order 6480.7, this UFC governs. Sizing of cab window normal facility building footprint square footage allowance.
mullions, 2-5.3 Architectural and Structural Requirements.
cab glazing and electrical grounding are examples of where most recent See Figures 1 through 5. The ATCT is categorized as low, normal or
FAA high
criteria should be considered. /2/ density based upon air traffic volume, as defined by FAA Order
2-5.1 Function. 6480.7. See
The ATCT building houses equipment and personnel for control of Table 1 for space allocation based on operator density level. In
aircraft addition, the
approaching and departing the terminal area or airport and aircraft and following criteria should be included:
vehicular Note: All reference to ATCT heights is to the tower cab finished floor.
movement on the runways, taxiways and all other movement areas. 2-5.3.1 Access Flooring.
\5\ Navy ATCT buildings shall be designed consistent with F.A.A. Bonded modular static resistance access flooring and carpet in the
Order 64807, tower cab
except for cab glazing, due to the normally high wind and structural with 457 to 610 mm (18 to 24 in.) of clearance provided between the
loads floor panels
associated with typical Navy ATCT locations. /5/ and sub floor to accommodate cable trays, mechanical ducts, and
2-5.2 Tower Location and Height. insulated
2-5.2.1 The ATCT building houses equipment and air traffic control piping. Bond access floor to copper grid tied to the building grounding
personnel who provide air traffic control services to aircraft, and system.
vehicles Refer to paragraph 3-3.5.1.
operating in the vicinity of an airport or on the movement areas. 2-5.3.2 Acoustical Treatment.
2-5.2.2 An ATCT Siting Report that recommends the optimum Design interior and exterior acoustical treatment to attain the room
location, criteria
relative orientation, and the optimum size and height of the ATCT must described in paragraph 3-3.1.
be 2-5.3.3 Roof Structure.
completed. The ATCT must be sited and physically oriented relative to Use a clear span roof structure (no interior columns) in tower cab.
the UFC 4-133-01N
primary runways first, so as to obtain the best unobstructed view of the 24 February 2005
Including change 4 and 5, 30 July 2007 2-5.3.10 Interior Walls.
17 Provide fire-rated walls for stair enclosure, plumbing and electrical
2-5.3.4 Stairway and Hatches. chases.
Provide folding ceiling stairway to a roof hatch for access to the roof 2-5.3.11 Windows.
from the A window wall system could be used in the tower structure that has the
tower cab floor. 2-hr. rated floor hatch (1.066 m2 [3 ft. 6 in.2] capability
minimum) flush with to have other elements, such as louvers and metal panels completely
top of access floor level and all other levels required to allow for interchangeable with glazing sections. Provide window walls on at least
moving of two
equipment between the cab and top elevator landing. sides of the tower (stairwell side is optional). This will allow both
2-5.3.5 Outside Access. supply and
Provide safe access for walking around the exterior of the control cab return for HVAC equipment located within the floor from separate
to facilitate sides. If
exterior observations, window washing, etc. Use guardrails with windows are used, maintenance and cleaning should be considered.
vertical painted Unless wind design requirements dictate greater thickness, provide
or galvanized metal balusters (38 mm [1.5 in]) system at a minimum of tower cab
100 mm with 25.4 mm (1 in.) laminated glass that is composed of two layers of
(4 in.) The 4-inch sphere rule does not apply to the railing systems on annealed
the catwalk glass with a clear plastic interlayer. Provide units with a light
or roof. These areas are considered maintenance areas and the railing transmissivity of not
should less than 84 percent, heat transmission (U-value) of 1.00 maximum,
comply with the regulations for maintenance areas. The exterior and free of
catwalk can be parallax or other optical distortion. Provide window shades for the
a galvanized-metal or aluminum grate that allows snow to melt directly tower cab
through windows. Refer to FAA Specification FAA-E-2470, Transparent
without building up at the edge. Plastic Window
2-5.3.6 Elevators. Shades.
For ATCTs that have a tower cab floor height of 30.48 m (100 ft.) to /4/ When laminated glass is used, designer shall provide for special cab
the cab floor, HVAC
or less, use a hydraulic elevator. For ATCTs that have a cab floor design to minimize condensation forming on the gab glazing using
height of over humidity
30.5 m (100 ft.), use traction-type elevator. Refer to ITG 01-1, Elevator controls and attention to return air ducts adjacent to the cab side. Use
Design insulated
Guide. glazing when wind and other structural loadings permit. Navy control
2-5.3.7 Retractable Covers. towers are
Electrically operated retractable covers for tower cab windows at sites generally located in high wind areas that do not permit use of insulated
prone to glass.
hurricane and typhoon conditions. Electrically operated covers will 2-5.3.12 Glazing Retainage
have a The can designer shall design for wind and seismic loading required by
method to mechanically open the covers in case of malfunction. sections
2-5.3.8 Electrical Hoist. 2- and 2-5.7.4, respectively. For special cases, an intermediate
Provide a 226 Kg (500lb) capacity, remote controlled commercially mullion
available strip may be considered only as a last resort. Only one intermediate
electric hoist in the tower cab. Suspend hoist from tower cab roof mullion strip
framing over per cab side is allowed.
the floor hatch. Coordinate posted hoist capacity with the cab floor
described in paragraph 2-5.3.4 to ensure that the cab floor hatch is not e help improve this article by adding reliable references. Unsourced
overloaded by lifted items. Post appropriate administrative controls for material may be challenged and removed. (October 2007)
the hoist
and the floor access hatch
2-5.3.9 Raceway. Airport Traffic Control Towers (ATCTs) at Amsterdam's Schiphol
See SSCC FRD. Provide a cable raceway to tower cab roof through Airport, the Netherlands.
tubular cab Air traffic control (ATC) is a service provided by ground-based
roof columns. A cable raceway running horizontally around the roof controllers who direct aircraft on the ground and in the air. The primary
through purpose of ATC systems worldwide is:
tubular steel section attached to the cab roof columns as part of the to separate aircraft to prevent collisions
overall cab to organize and expedite the flow of traffic[1]
structural system. The horizontal tubular steel can either be placed at to provide information and other support for pilots when able.
1066 mm In some countries, ATC may also play a security or defense role (as in
(42 in.) above the roof or lower with a metal guardrail attached to the the United States), or be run entirely by the military (as in Brazil).
tubular Preventing collisions is referred to as separation, which is a term used
steel to a height of 1066 mm (42 in.) above the roof. The tubular steel to prevent aircraft from coming too close to each other by use of lateral,
can be vertical and longitudinal separation minima; many aircraft now have
UFC 4-133-01N collision avoidance systems installed to act as a backup to ATC
24 February 2005 observation and instructions. In addition to its primary function, the
Including change 4 and 5, 30 July 2007 ATC can provide additional services such as providing information to
18 pilots, weather and navigation information and NOTAMs (NOtices To
used as a passageway for wiring to communication antennas on the roof AirMen).
perimeter. Base cable layout on distances from the inside of cab In many countries, ATC services are provided throughout the majority
windows to of airspace, and its services are available to all users (private, military,
back of consoles should be from 381 to 457 mm (15 to 18 in), and commercial). When controllers are responsible for separating some
maximum. or all aircraft, such airspace is called "controlled airspace" in contrast to
(Consider the use of aluminum or steel, unfilled, access flooring in "uncontrolled airspace" where aircraft may fly without the use of the air
tower cab.) traffic control system. Depending on the type of flight and the class of
airspace, ATC may issue instructions that pilots are required to follow, In 1941, Congress appropriated funds for the Civil Aeronautics
or merely flight information (in some countries known as advisories) to Administration (CAA) to construct and operate ATC towers, and soon
assist pilots operating in the airspace. In all cases, however, the pilot in the CAA began taking over operations at the first of these towers, with
command has final responsibility for the safety of the flight, and may their number growing to 115 by 1944. In the postwar era, ATC at most
deviate from ATC instructions in an emergency. airports was eventually to become a permanent federal responsibility.
Although the native language for a region is normally used, English In response to wartime needs, the CAA also greatly expanded its en
must be used on request, as required by the International Civil Aviation route air traffic control system.
Organization (ICAO).[2] The postwar years saw the beginning of a revolutionary development in
Contents [hide] ATC, the introduction of radar, a system that uses radio waves to detect
1 History distant objects. Originally developed by the British for military defense,
2 Airport control this new technology allowed controllers to see the position of aircraft
2.1 Ground Control tracked on visual displays. In 1946, the CAA unveiled an experimental
2.2 Local Control or Air Control radar-equipped tower for control of civil flights. By 1952, the agency
2.3 Flight Data / Clearance Delivery had begun its first routine use of radar for approach and departure
2.4 Approach and terminal control control. Four years later, it placed a large order for long-range radars
3 En-route, center, or area control for use in en route ATC.
3.1 General characteristics In 1960, the FAA began successful testing of a system under which
3.2 Radar coverage flights in certain positive control areas were required to carry a radar
3.3 Flight traffic mapping beacon, called a transponder that identified the aircraft and helped to
4 Problems improve radar performance. Pilots in this airspace were also required to
4.1 Traffic fly on instruments regardless of the weather and to remain in contact
4.2 Weather with controllers. Under these conditions, controllers were able to
5 Call signs reduce the separation between aircraft by as much as half the standard
6 Technology distance.
7 Major accidents For many years, pilots had negotiated a complicated maze of airways.
8 Air navigation service providers (ANSPs) and traffic service In September 1964, the FAA instituted two layers of airways, one from
providers (ATSPs) 1,000 to 18,000 feet (305 to 5,486 meters) above ground and the second
9 Proposed changes from 18,000 to 45,000 feet (13,716 m). It also standardized aircraft
10 USA specificities instrument settings and navigation checkpoints to reduce the
11 See also controllers' workload.
12 References From 1965 to 1975, the FAA developed complex computer systems
13 External links that would replace the plastic markers for tracking aircraft thereby
13.1 History modernizing the National Airspace System. Controllers could now
13.2 Internet services view information sent by aircraft transponders to form alphanumeric
[edit]History symbols on a simulated three dimensional radar screen. The system
allowed controllers to focus on providing separation by automating
In 1919, the International Commission for Air Navigation (ICAN) was complex tasks.
created to develop General Rules for Air Traffic. Its rules and The FAA established a Central Flow Control Facility in April 1970, to
procedures were applied in most countries where aircraft operated. The prevent clusters of congestion from disrupting the nationwide air traffic
United States did not sign the ICAN Convention, but later developed its flow. This type of ATC became increasingly sophisticated and
own set of air traffic rules after passage of the Air Commerce Act of important, and in 1994, the FAA opened a new Air Traffic Control
1926. This legislation authorized the Department of Commerce to System Command Center with advanced equipment.
establish air traffic rules for the navigation, protection, and In January 1982, the FAA unveiled the National Airspace System
identification of aircraft, including rules as to safe altitudes of flight (NAS) Plan. The plan called for modernized flight service stations,
and rules for the prevention of collisions between vessels and aircraft. more advanced systems for ATC, and improvements in ground-to-air
The first rules were brief and basic. For example, pilots were told not to surveillance and communication. Better computers and software were
begin their takeoff until there is no risk of collision with landing developed, air route traffic control centers were consolidated, and the
aircraft and until preceding aircraft are clear of the field. As traffic number of flight service stations reduced. New Doppler Radars and
increased, some airport operators realized that such general rules were better transponders complemented automatic, radio broadcasts of
not enough to prevent collisions. They began to provide a form of air surface and flight conditions.
traffic control (ATC) based on visual signals. Early controllers, like In July 1988, the FAA selected IBM to develop the new multi-billion-
Archie League (one of the first system’s flagmen), stood on the field, dollar Advanced Automation System (AAS) for the Nation's en route
waving flags to communicate with pilots. ATC centers. AAS would include controller workstations, called
As more aircraft were fitted for radio communication, radio-equipped "sector suites," that would incorporate new display, communications
airport traffic control towers began to replace the flagmen. In 1930, the and processing capabilities. The system had upgraded hardware
first radio-equipped control tower in the United States began operating enabling increased automation of complex tasks.
at the Cleveland Municipal Airport. By 1935, about 20 radio control In December 1993, the FAA reviewed its order for the planned AAS.
towers were operating. IBM was far behind schedule and had major cost overruns. In 1994 the
Increases in the number of flights created a need for ATC that was not FAA simplified its needs and picked new contractors. The revised
just confined to airport areas but also extended out along the airways. modernization program continued under various project names. In
In 1935, the principal airlines using the Chicago, Cleveland, and 1999, controllers began their first use of an early version of the
Newark airports agreed to coordinate the handling of airline traffic Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System, which included
between those cities. In December, the first Airway Traffic Control new displays and capabilities for approach control facilities. During the
Center opened at Newark, New Jersey. Additional centers at Chicago following year, FAA completed deployment of the Display System
and Cleveland followed in 1936. Replacement, providing more efficient workstations for en route
The early controllers tracked the position of planes using maps and controllers.
blackboards and little boat-shaped weights that came to be called In 1994, the concept of Free Flight was introduced. It might eventually
shrimp boats. They had no direct radio link with aircraft but used allow pilots to use on board instruments and electronics to maintain a
telephones to stay in touch with airline dispatchers, airway radio safe distance between planes and to reduce their reliance on ground
operators, and airport traffic controllers. controllers. Full implementation of this concept would involve
In July 1936, en route ATC became a federal responsibility and the first technology that made use of the Global Positioning System to help
appropriation of $175,000 was made ($2,665,960 today). The Federal track the position of aircraft. In 1998, the FAA and industry began
Government provided airway traffic control service, but local applying some of the early capabilities developed by the Free Flight
government authorities where the towers were located continued to program.
operate those facilities. Current studies to upgrade ATC include the Communication,
Navigation and Surveillance for Air Traffic Management System that cross any active runway with any aircraft or vehicle. Likewise, Local
relies on the most advanced aircraft transponder, a global navigation Control must ensure that Ground Control is aware of any operations
satellite system, and ultra-precise radar. Tests are underway to design that will impact the taxiways, and work with the approach radar
new cockpit displays that will allow pilots to better control their aircraft controllers to create "holes" or "gaps" in the arrival traffic to allow
by combining as many as 32 types of information about traffic, taxiing traffic to cross runways and to allow departing aircraft to take
weather, and hazards. off. Crew Resource Management (CRM) procedures are often used to
[edit]Airport control ensure this communication process is efficient and clear, although this
is not as prevalent as CRM for pilots.
[edit]Flight Data / Clearance Delivery
Clearance Delivery is the position that issues route clearances to
Inside the São Paulo/Guarulhos International Airport's tower, Latin aircraft, typically before they commence taxiing. These contain details
America's second busiest airport. of the route that the aircraft is expected to fly after departure. Clearance
The primary method of controlling the immediate airport environment Delivery or, at busy airports, the Traffic Management Coordinator
is visual observation from the airport traffic control tower (ATCT). The (TMC) will, if necessary, coordinate with the en route center and
ATCT is a tall, windowed structure located on the airport grounds. national command center or flow control to obtain releases for aircraft.
Aerodrome or Tower controllers are responsible for the separation and Often, however, such releases are given automatically or are controlled
efficient movement of aircraft and vehicles operating on the taxiways by local agreements allowing "free-flow" departures. When weather or
and runways of the airport itself, and aircraft in the air near the airport, extremely high demand for a certain airport or airspace becomes a
generally 2 to 5 nautical miles (3.7 to 9.2 km) depending on the airport factor, there may be ground "stops" (or "slot delays") or re-routes may
procedures. be necessary to ensure the system does not get overloaded. The primary
Radar displays are also available to controllers at some airports. responsibility of Clearance Delivery is to ensure that the aircraft have
Controllers may use a radar system called Secondary Surveillance the proper route and slot time. This information is also coordinated
Radar for airborne traffic approaching and departing. These displays with the en route center and Ground Control in order to ensure that the
include a map of the area, the position of various aircraft, and data tags aircraft reaches the runway in time to meet the slot time provided by
that include aircraft identification, speed, heading, and other the command center. At some airports, Clearance Delivery also plans
information described in local procedures. aircraft pushbacks and engine starts, in which case it is known as the
The areas of responsibility for ATCT controllers fall into three general Ground Movement Planner (GMP): this position is particularly
operational disciplines; Local Control or Air Control, Ground Control, important at heavily congested airports to prevent taxiway and apron
and Flight Data/Clearance Delivery—other categories, such as Apron gridlock.
Control or Ground Movement Planner, may exist at extremely busy Flight Data (which is routinely combined with Clearance Delivery) is
airports. While each ATCT may have unique airport-specific the position that is responsible for ensuring that both controllers and
procedures, such as multiple teams of controllers ('crews') at major or pilots have the most current information: pertinent weather changes,
complex airports with multiple runways, the following provides a outages, airport ground delays/ground stops, runway closures, etc.
general concept of the delegation of responsibilities within the ATCT Flight Data may inform the pilots using a recorded continuous loop on
environment. a specific frequency known as the Automatic Terminal Information
[edit]Ground Control Service (ATIS).
Ground Control (sometimes known as Ground Movement Control [edit]Approach and terminal control
abbreviated to GMC or Surface Movement Control abbreviated to
SMC) is responsible for the airport "movement" areas, as well as areas
not released to the airlines or other users. This generally includes all Inside the Potomac TRACON, United States.
taxiways, inactive runways, holding areas, and some transitional aprons Main article: Terminal Control Center
or intersections where aircraft arrive, having vacated the runway or Many airports have a radar control facility that is associated with the
departure gate. Exact areas and control responsibilities are clearly airport. In most countries, this is referred to as Approach or Terminal
defined in local documents and agreements at each airport. Any Control; in the U.S., it is often still referred to as a TRACON (Terminal
aircraft, vehicle, or person walking or working in these areas is required Radar Approach CONtrol) facility. While every airport varies, terminal
to have clearance from Ground Control. This is normally done via controllers usually handle traffic in a 30 to 50 nautical mile (56 to 93
VHF/UHF radio, but there may be special cases where other processes km) radius from the airport. Where there are many busy airports in
are used. Most aircraft and airside vehicles have radios. Aircraft or close proximity, one single terminal control may service all the
vehicles without radios must respond to ATC instructions via aviation airports. The actual airspace boundaries and altitudes assigned to a
light signals or else be led by vehicles with radios. People working on terminal control are based on factors such as traffic flows, neighboring
the airport surface normally have a communications link through which airports and terrain, and vary widely from airport to airport: a large and
they can communicate with Ground Control, commonly either by complex example is the London Terminal Control Centre which
handheld radio or even cell phone. Ground Control is vital to the controls traffic for five main London airports up to 20,000 feet (6,100
smooth operation of the airport, because this position impacts the m) and out to 100 nautical miles (190 km).
sequencing of departure aircraft, affecting the safety and efficiency of Terminal controllers are responsible for providing all ATC services
the airport's operation. within their airspace. Traffic flow is broadly divided into departures,
Some busier airports have Surface Movement Radar (SMR), such as, arrivals, and overflights. As aircraft move in and out of the terminal
ASDE-3, AMASS or ASDE-X, designed to display aircraft and airspace, they are handed off to the next appropriate control facility (a
vehicles on the ground. These are used by Ground Control as an control tower, an en-route control facility, or a bordering terminal or
additional tool to control ground traffic, particularly at night or in poor approach control). Terminal control is responsible for ensuring that
visibility. There are a wide range of capabilities on these systems as aircraft are at an appropriate altitude when they are handed off, and that
they are being modernized. Older systems will display a map of the aircraft arrive at a suitable rate for landing.
airport and the target. Newer systems include the capability to display Not all airports have a radar approach or terminal control available. In
higher quality mapping, radar target, data blocks, and safety alerts, and this case, the en-route center or a neighboring terminal or approach
to interface with other systems such as digital flight strips. control may co-ordinate directly with the tower on the airport and
[edit]Local Control or Air Control vector inbound aircraft to a position from where they can land visually.
Local Control (known to pilots as "Tower" or "Tower Control") is At some of these airports, the tower may provide a non-radar
responsible for the active runway surfaces. Local Control clears aircraft procedural approach service to arriving aircraft handed over from a
for takeoff or landing, ensuring that prescribed runway separation will radar unit before they are visual to land. Some units also have a
exist at all times. If Local Control detects any unsafe condition, a dedicated approach unit which can provide the procedural approach
landing aircraft may be told to "go-around" and be re-sequenced into service either all the time or for any periods of radar outage for any
the landing pattern by the approach or terminal area controller. reason.
Within the ATCT, a highly disciplined communications process [edit]En-route, center, or area control
between Local Control and Ground Control is an absolute necessity.
Ground Control must request and gain approval from Local Control to
ensuring the best radar for each geographical area is providing the data,
Controllers at work at the Washington Air Route Traffic Control and displaying the data in an effective format.
Center, United States. Centers also exercise control over traffic travelling over the world's
Main article: Area Control Center ocean areas. These areas are also FIRs. Because there are no radar
ATC provides services to aircraft in flight between airports as well. systems available for oceanic control, oceanic controllers provide ATC
Pilots fly under one of two sets of rules for separation: Visual Flight services using procedural control. These procedures use aircraft
Rules (VFR) or Instrument Flight Rules (IFR). Air traffic controllers position reports, time, altitude, distance, and speed to ensure separation.
have different responsibilities to aircraft operating under the different Controllers record information on flight progress strips and in specially
sets of rules. While IFR flights are under positive control, in the US developed oceanic computer systems as aircraft report positions. This
VFR pilots can request flight following, which provides traffic advisory process requires that aircraft be separated by greater distances, which
services on a time permitting basis and may also provide assistance in reduces the overall capacity for any given route.
avoiding areas of weather and flight restrictions. In the UK, a pilot can Some Air Navigation Service Providers (e.g. Airservices Australia, The
request for "Deconfliction Service", which is similar to flight Federal Aviation Administration, NAVCANADA, etc.) have
following. implemented Automatic Dependent Surveillance - Broadcast (ADS-B)
En-route air traffic controllers issue clearances and instructions for as part of their surveillance capability. This new technology reverses
airborne aircraft, and pilots are required to comply with these the radar concept. Instead of radar "finding" a target by interrogating
instructions. En-route controllers also provide air traffic control the transponder, the ADS-equipped aircraft sends a position report as
services to many smaller airports around the country, including determined by the navigation equipment on board the aircraft.
clearance off of the ground and clearance for approach to an airport. Normally, ADS operates in the "contract" mode where the aircraft
Controllers adhere to a set of separation standards that define the reports a position, automatically or initiated by the pilot, based on a
minimum distance allowed between aircraft. These distances vary predetermined time interval. It is also possible for controllers to request
depending on the equipment and procedures used in providing ATC more frequent reports to more quickly establish aircraft position for
services. specific reasons. However, since the cost for each report is charged by
[edit]General characteristics the ADS service providers to the company operating the aircraft, more
En-route air traffic controllers work in facilities called Area Control frequent reports are not commonly requested except in emergency
Centers, each of which is commonly referred to as a "Center". The situations. ADS is significant because it can be used where it is not
United States uses the equivalent term Air Route Traffic Control Center possible to locate the infrastructure for a radar system (e.g. over water).
(ARTCC). Each center is responsible for many thousands of square Computerized radar displays are now being designed to accept ADS
miles of airspace (known as a Flight Information Region) and for the inputs as part of the display. This technology is currently used in
airports within that airspace. Centers control IFR aircraft from the time portions of the North Atlantic and the Pacific by a variety of states who
they depart from an airport or terminal area's airspace to the time they share responsibility for the control of this airspace.
arrive at another airport or terminal area's airspace. Centers may also [edit]Flight traffic mapping
"pick up" VFR aircraft that are already airborne and integrate them into The mapping of flights in real-time is based on the air traffic control
the IFR system. These aircraft must, however, remain VFR until the system. In 1991, data on the location of aircraft was made available by
Center provides a clearance. the Federal Aviation Administration to the airline industry. The
Center controllers are responsible for climbing the aircraft to their National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), the General Aviation
requested altitude while, at the same time, ensuring that the aircraft is Manufacturers Association, the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association,
properly separated from all other aircraft in the immediate area. the Helicopter Association International, and the National Air
Additionally, the aircraft must be placed in a flow consistent with the Transportation Association petitioned the FAA to make ASDI
aircraft's route of flight. This effort is complicated by crossing traffic, information available on a "need-to-know" basis. Subsequently, NBAA
severe weather, special missions that require large airspace allocations, advocated the broad-scale dissemination of air traffic data. The Aircraft
and traffic density. When the aircraft approaches its destination, the Situational Display to Industry (ASDI) system now conveys up-to-date
center is responsible for meeting altitude restrictions by specific points, flight information to the airline industry and the public. Some
as well as providing many destination airports with a traffic flow, companies that distribute ASDI information are FlightExplorer,
which prohibits all of the arrivals being "bunched together". These FlightView, and FlyteComm. Each company maintains a website that
"flow restrictions" often begin in the middle of the route, as controllers provides free updated information to the public on flight status. Stand-
will position aircraft landing in the same destination so that when the alone programs are also available for displaying the geographic
aircraft are close to their destination they are sequenced. location of airborne IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) air traffic anywhere
As an aircraft reaches the boundary of a Center's control area it is in the FAA air traffic system. Positions are reported for both
"handed off" or "handed over" to the next Area Control Center. In some commercial and general aviation traffic. The programs can overlay air
cases this "hand-off" process involves a transfer of identification and traffic with a wide selection of maps such as, geo-political boundaries,
details between controllers so that air traffic control services can be air traffic control center boundaries, high altitude jet routes, satellite
provided in a seamless manner; in other cases local agreements may cloud and radar imagery.
allow "silent handovers" such that the receiving center does not require [edit]Problems
any co-ordination if traffic is presented in an agreed manner. After the
hand-off, the aircraft is given a frequency change and begins talking to [edit]Traffic
the next controller. This process continues until the aircraft is handed For more information see Air traffic flow management.
off to a terminal controller ("approach"). The day-to-day problems faced by the air traffic control system are
[edit]Radar coverage primarily related to the volume of air traffic demand placed on the
Since centers control a large airspace area, they will typically use long system and weather. Several factors dictate the amount of traffic that
range radar that has the capability, at higher altitudes, to see aircraft can land at an airport in a given amount of time. Each landing aircraft
within 200 nautical miles (370 km) of the radar antenna. They may also must touch down, slow, and exit the runway before the next crosses the
use TRACON radar data to control when it provides a better "picture" beginning of the runway. This process requires at least one and up to
of the traffic or when it can fill in a portion of the area not covered by four minutes for each aircraft. Allowing for departures between
the long range radar. arrivals, each runway can thus handle about 30 arrivals per hour. A
In the U.S. system, at higher altitudes, over 90% of the U.S. airspace is large airport with two arrival runways can handle about 60 arrivals per
covered by radar and often by multiple radar systems; however, hour in good weather. Problems begin when airlines schedule more
coverage may be inconsistent at lower altitudes used by unpressurized arrivals into an airport than can be physically handled, or when delays
aircraft due to high terrain or distance from radar facilities. A center elsewhere cause groups of aircraft that would otherwise be separated in
may require numerous radar systems to cover the airspace assigned to time to arrive simultaneously. Aircraft must then be delayed in the air
them, and may also rely on pilot position reports from aircraft flying by holding over specified locations until they may be safely sequenced
below the floor of radar coverage. This results in a large amount of data to the runway. Up until the 1990s, holding, which has significant
being available to the controller. To address this, automation systems environmental and cost implications, was a routine occurrence at many
have been designed that consolidate the radar data for the controller. airports. Advances in computers now allow the sequencing of planes
This consolidation includes eliminating duplicate radar returns, hours in advance. Thus, planes may be delayed before they even take
off (by being given a "slot"), or may reduce speed in flight and proceed Lufthansa etc.
more slowly thus significantly reducing the amount of holding. [edit]Technology
Beyond runway capacity issues, weather is a major factor in traffic Many technologies are used in air traffic control systems. Primary and
capacity. Rain or ice and snow on the runway cause landing aircraft to secondary radar are used to enhance a controller's "situational
take longer to slow and exit, thus reducing the safe arrival rate and awareness" within his assigned airspace — all types of aircraft send
requiring more space between landing aircraft. Fog also requires a back primary echoes of varying sizes to controllers' screens as radar
decrease in the landing rate. These, in turn, increase airborne delay for energy is bounced off their skins, and transponder-equipped aircraft
holding aircraft. If more aircraft are scheduled than can be safely and reply to secondary radar interrogations by giving an ID (Mode A), an
efficiently held in the air, a ground delay program may be established, altitude (Mode C) and/or a unique callsign (Mode S). Certain types of
delaying aircraft on the ground before departure due to conditions at the weather may also register on the radar screen.
arrival airport. These inputs, added to data from other radars, are correlated to build
In Area Control Centers, a major weather problem is thunderstorms, the air situation. Some basic processing occurs on the radar tracks, such
which present a variety of hazards to aircraft. Aircraft will deviate as calculating ground speed and magnetic headings.
around storms, reducing the capacity of the en-route system by Usually, a Flight Data Processing System manages all the flight plan
requiring more space per aircraft, or causing congestion as many related data, incorporating - in a low or high degree - the information of
aircraft try to move through a single hole in a line of thunderstorms. the track once the correlation between them (flight plan and track) is
Occasionally weather considerations cause delays to aircraft prior to established. All this information is distributed to modern operational
their departure as routes are closed by thunderstorms. display systems, making it available to controllers.
Much money has been spent on creating software to streamline this The FAA has spent over USD$3 billion on software, but a fully-
process. However, at some ACCs, air traffic controllers still record data automated system is still over the horizon. In 2002 the UK brought a
for each flight on strips of paper and personally coordinate their paths. new area control centre into service at Swanwick, in Hampshire,
In newer sites, these flight progress strips have been replaced by relieving a busy suburban centre at West Drayton in Middlesex, north
electronic data presented on computer screens. As new equipment is of London Heathrow Airport. Software from Lockheed-Martin
brought in, more and more sites are upgrading away from paper flight predominates at Swanwick. However, Swanwick was initially troubled
strips. by software and communications problems causing delays and
[edit]Call signs occasional shutdowns.
Some tools are available in different domains to help the controller
A prerequisite to safe air traffic separation is the assignment and use of further:
distinctive call signs. These are permanently allocated by ICAO Flight Data Processing Systems: this is the system (usually one per
(pronounced "ai-kay-oh") on request usually to scheduled flights and Center) that processes all the information related to the Flight (the
some air forces for military flights. They are written callsigns with 3- Flight Plan), typically in the time horizon from Gate to gate (airport
letter combination like KLM, AAL, SWA , BAW , DLH followed by departure/arrival gates). It uses such processed information to invoke
the flight number, like AAL872, BAW018. As such they appear on other Flight Plan related tools (such as e.g. MTCD), and distributes
flight plans and ATC radar labels. There are also the audio or Radio- such processed information to all the stakeholders (Air Traffic
telephony callsigns used on the radio contact between pilots and Air Controllers, collateral Centers, Airports, etc).
Traffic Control not always identical with the written ones. For example STCA (Short Term Conflict Alert) that checks possible conflicting
BAW stands for British Airways but on the radio you will only hear the trajectories in a time horizon of about 2 or 3 minutes (or even less in
word Speedbird instead. By default, the callsign for any other flight is approach context - 35 seconds in the French Roissy & Orly approach
the registration number (tail number) of the aircraft, such as "N12345" centres [3]) and alerts the controller prior the loss of separation. The
or "C-GABC". The term tail number is because a registration number is algorithms used may also provide in some systems a possible vectoring
usually painted somewhere on the tail of a plane, yet this is not a rule. solution, that is, the manner in which to turn, descend, or climb the
Registration numbers may appear on the engines, anywhere on the aircraft in order to avoid infringing the minimum safety distance or
fuselage, and often on the wings. The short Radio-telephony callsigns altitude clearance.
for these tail numbers is the first letter followed by the last two, like C- Minimum Safe Altitude Warning (MSAW): a tool that alerts the
BC spoken as Charlie-Bravo-Charlie for C-GABC or the last 3 letters controller if an aircraft appears to be flying too low to the ground or
only like ABC spoken Alpha-Bravo-Charlie for C-GABC or the last 3 will impact terrain based on its current altitude and heading.
numbers like 345 spoken as tree-fower-fife for N12345. In the United System Coordination (SYSCO) to enable controller to negotiate the
States the abbreviation of callsigns is required to be a prefix (such as release of flights from one sector to another.
aircraft type, aircraft manufacturer, or first letter of registration) Area Penetration Warning (APW) to inform a controller that a flight
followed by the last three characters of the callsign. This abbreviation will penetrate a restricted area.
is only allowed after communications has been established in each Arrival and Departure Manager to help sequence the takeoff and
sector. landing of aircraft.
The flight number part is decided by the aircraft operator. In this The Departure Manager (DMAN): A system aid for the ATC at
arrangement, an identical call sign might well be used for the same airports, that calculates a planned departure flow with the goal to
scheduled journey each day it is operated, even if the departure time maintain an optimal throughput at the runway, reduce queuing at
varies a little across different days of the week. The call sign of the holding point and distribute the information to various stakeholders at
return flight often differs only by the final digit from the outbound the airport (i.e. the airline, ground handling and Air Traffic Control
flight. Generally, airline flight numbers are even if eastbound, and odd (ATC)).
if westbound. In order to reduce the possibility of two callsigns on one The Arrival Manager (AMAN): A system aid for the ATC at airports,
frequency at any time sounding too similar, a number of airlines, that calculates a planned Arrival flow with the goal to maintain an
particularly in Europe, have started using alphanumeric callsigns that optimal throughput at the runway, reduce arrival queuing and distribute
are not based on flight numbers. For example DLH23LG, spoken as the information to various stakeholders.
lufthansa-two-tree-lima-golf. Additionally it is the right of the air passive Final Approach Spacing Tool (pFAST), a CTAS tool, provides
traffic controller to change the 'audio' callsign for the period the flight runway assignment and sequence number advisories to terminal
is in his sector if there is a risk of confusion, usually choosing the tail controllers to improve the arrival rate at congested airports. pFAST was
number instead. deployed and operational at five US TRACONs before being cancelled.
Before around 1980 International Air Transport Association (IATA) NASA research included an Active FAST capability that also provided
and ICAO were using the same 2-letter callsigns. Due to the larger vector and speed advisories to implement the runway and sequence
number of new airlines after deregulation ICAO established the 3-letter advisories.
callsigns as mentioned above. The IATA callsigns are currently used in Converging Runway Display Aid (CRDA) enables Approach
aerodromes on the announcement tables but never used any longer in controllers to run two final approaches that intersect and make sure that
Air Traffic Control. For example, AA is the IATA callsign for go arounds are minimized
American Airlines — ATC equivalent AAL. Other examples include Center TRACON Automation System (CTAS) is a suite of human
LY/ELY for El Al, DL/DAL for Delta Air Lines, LH/DLH for centered decision support tools developed by NASA Ames Research
Center. Several of the CTAS tools have been field tested and The National Airspace System (NAS) is a vast network of people and
transitioned to the FAA for operational evaluation and use. Some of the equipment that ensures the safe operation of commercial and private
CTAS tools are: Traffic Management Advisor (TMA), passive Final aircraft. Air traffic controllers work within the NAS to coordinate the
Approach Spacing Tool (pFAST), Collaborative Arrival Planning movement of air traffic to make certain that planes stay a safe distance
(CAP), Direct-To (D2), En Route Descent Advisor (EDA) and Multi apart. Their immediate concern is safety, but controllers also must
Center TMA. direct planes efficiently to minimize delays. Some regulate airport
Traffic Management Advisor (TMA), a CTAS tool, is an en route traffic through designated airspaces; others regulate airport arrivals and
decision support tool that automates time based metering solutions to departures.
provide an upper limit of aircraft to a TRACON from the Center over a
set period of time. Schedules are determined that will not exceed the Terminal controllers watch over all planes traveling in an airport's
specified arrival rate and controllers use the scheduled times to provide airspace. Their main responsibility is to organize the flow of aircraft
the appropriate delay to arrivals while in the en route domain. This into and out of the airport. They work in either the control tower or the
results in an overall reduction in en route delays and also moves the terminal radar approach control (TRACON) room or building. Relying
delays to more efficient airspace (higher altitudes) than occur if holding on visual observation, the tower local controllers sequence arrival
near the TRACON boundary is required to not overload the TRACON aircraft for landing and issue departure clearances for those departing
controllers. TMA is operational at most en route air route traffic control from the airport. Other controllers in the tower control the movement of
centers (ARTCCs) and continues to be enhanced to address more aircraft on the taxiways, handle flight data, and provide flight plan
complex traffic situations (e.g. Adjacent Center Metering (ACM) and clearances. Terminal radar controllers manage aircraft departing from
En Route Departure Capability (EDC)) or arriving to an airport by monitoring each aircraft’s movement on
MTCD & URET radar to ensure that a safe distance is maintained between all aircraft
In the US, User Request Evaluation Tool (URET) takes paper strips out under their control. In addition, terminal controllers keep pilots
of the equation for En Route controllers at ARTCCs by providing a informed about weather and runway conditions.
display that shows all aircraft that are either in or currently routed into
the sector. Many different controllers are involved in the departure of an airplane.
In Europe, several MTCD tools are available: iFACTS (NATS), If the plane is flying under instrument flight rule conditions, a flight
ERATO (DSNA [1]), VAFORIT (DFS), New FDPS (MASUAC). The plan is filed prior to departure. The tower flight data controller receives
SESAR[4] Programme should soon launch new MTCD concepts. the flight plan in the form of a flight strip, which is output from a
URET and MTCD provide conflict advisories up to 30 minutes in computer, and arranges it in sequence. When an aircraft calls for
advance and have a suite of assistance tools that assist in evaluating clearance the clearance delivery controller issues the clearance and
resolution options and pilot requests. moves the strip over to the ground controller who manages the
Mode S: provides a data downlink of flight parameters via Secondary movement of aircraft on the airport surface, except the active runway.
Surveillance Radars allowing radar processing systems and therefore When the aircraft arrives at the active runway the strip is moved to the
controllers to see various data on a flight, including airframe unique id local controller who issues the departure clearance, observes the takeoff
(24-bits encoded), indicated airspeed and flight director selected level, and turns the plane over to the departure controller. The TRACON
amongst others. departure controller identifies the plane on radar, climbs it, and directs
CPDLC: Controller Pilot Data Link Communications — allows digital it on course.
messages to be sent between controllers and pilots, avoiding the need to
use radiotelephony. It is especially useful in areas where difficult-to- After each plane departs, terminal controllers notify en route
use HF radiotelephony was previously used for communication with controllers, who take charge next. There are 20 air route traffic control
aircraft, e.g. oceans. This is currently in use in various parts of the centers located around the country, each employing 300 to 700
world including the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. controllers, with more than 150 on duty during peak hours at the busiest
ADS-B: Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast — provides a facilities. Airplanes usually fly along designated routes; each center is
data downlink of various flight parameters to air traffic control systems assigned a certain airspace containing many different routes. En route
via the Transponder (1090 MHz) and reception of those data by other controllers work either individually or in teams of two, depending on
aircraft in the vicinity. The most important is the aircraft's latitude, how heavy traffic is; each team is responsible for a sector of the
longitude and level: such data can be utilized to create a radar-like center’s airspace.
display of aircraft for controllers and thus allows a form of pseudo-
radar control to be done in areas where the installation of radar is either As the plane proceeds on its flight plan to its destination it is handed off
prohibitive on the grounds of low traffic levels, or technically not from sector to sector both within the center and to adjoining centers. To
feasible (e.g. oceans). This is currently in use in Australia, Canada and prepare for planes about to enter the team’s sector, the radar associate
parts of the Pacific Ocean and Alaska. controller organizes flight plans output from a printer into strip bays. If
The Electronic Flight Strip system (e-strip): A system of electronic two planes are scheduled to enter the team’s sector in conflict, the
flight strips replacing the old paper strips is being used by several controller may arrange with the preceding sector unit for one plane to
Service Providers, such as NAV CANADA, MASUAC, DFS, being change its flight path or altitude. As a plane approaches a team’s
produced by several industries, such as Indra Sistemas, Thales Group, airspace, the radar controller accepts responsibility for the plane from
Frequentis, Avibit, SAAB etc. E-strips allows controllers to manage the previous sector. The controller also delegates responsibility for the
electronic flight data online without Paper Strips, reducing the need for plane to the next sector when the plane leaves the team’s airspace.
manual functions.
SkyRec: Hardware based video recording tool that records and replays When the plane is approximately 50 miles from the destination airport,
all information captured on ATCO screens. Used for legal recording it is handed off to that airport’s terminal radar arrival controller who
(coupled with voice recording), training and post event analysis.[5] sequences it with other arrivals, and issues an approach clearance. As
the plane nears the runway, the pilot is issued a clearance to contact the
Significant Points tower. The local controller issues the landing clearance. Once the plane
has landed, the ground controller directs it along the taxiways to its
assigned gate. The local and ground controllers usually work entirely
The vast majority of air traffic controllers are employed by the Federal by sight, but may use airport surface radar if visibility is very poor.
Aviation Administration (FAA), an agency of the Federal Government.
Applicants without prior air traffic control experience must be 30 years Both airport tower and en route controllers usually control several
of age or younger. planes at a time, often making quick decisions about completely
Replacement needs will continue to account for most job openings, different activities. For example, a controller might direct a plane on its
reflecting the large number of air traffic controllers who will be eligible landing approach and at the same time provide pilots entering the
to retire over the next decade. airport's airspace with information about conditions at the airport.
Competition for jobs will remain keen. While instructing these pilots, the controller also might observe other
Nature of the Work About this section planes in the vicinity, such as those in a holding pattern waiting for
permission to land, to ensure that they remain well separated.
In addition to airport towers and en route centers, air traffic controllers
also work in flight service stations at 17 locations in Alaska. These
flight service specialists provide pilots with preflight and in-flight
weather information, suggested routes, and other aeronautical Durin g peak air travel times in the United States, there
information important to the safety of a flight. Flight service specialists are about 5,000 airplanes in the sky every hour. This
relay air traffic control clearances to pilots not in direct translates to approximately 50,000 aircraft operating in
communications with a tower or center, assist pilots in emergency our skies each day. How do these aircraft keep from
situations, and initiate and coordinate searches for missing or overdue colliding with each other? How does air traffic move into
aircraft. At certain locations where there is no airport tower or the and out of an airport or across the country?
tower has closed for the day, flight service specialists provide airport
advisory services to landing and departing aircraft. However, they are The task of ensuring safe operations of commercial and
not involved in actively managing and separating air traffic. private aircraft falls on air traffic controllers. They must
coordinate the movements of thousands of aircraft, keep
Some air traffic controllers work at the FAA's Air Traffic Control them at safe distances from each other, direct them
Systems Command Center in Herndon, VA, where they oversee the during takeoff and landing from airports, direct them
entire system. They look for situations that will create bottlenecks or around bad weather and ensure that traffic flows
other problems in the system and then respond with a management plan smoothly with minimal delays.
for traffic into and out of the troubled sector. The objective is to keep
traffic levels in the trouble spots manageable for the controllers When you think about air traffic control, the image of
working at en route centers. men and women in the tower of an airport probably
comes to mind. However, the air traffic control system is
much more complex than that. In this article, we will
examine air traffic control in the United States. We'll
follow a flight from departure to arrival, looking at the
various controllers involved, what each one does, the
equipment they use and how they are trained.

Airspace and Air Traffic Control

Up Next
How Airports Work
How Black Boxes Work Understanding Air Traffic Control
The United States airspace is divided into 21 zones
(centers), and each zone is divided into sectors. Also
within each zone are portions of airspace, about 50 miles
(80.5 km) in diameter, called TRACON (Terminal Radar
Approach CONtrol) airspaces. Within each TRACON
airspace are a number of airports, each of which has its
own airspace with a 5-mile (8-km) radius.

The air traffic control system, which is run by the Federal

Aviation Administration (FAA), has been designed around
these airspace divisions. The air traffic control system
divisions are:

Air Traffic Control System Command Center (ATCSCC) -

The ATCSCC oversees all air traffic control. It also
manages air traffic control within centers where there
are problems (bad weather, traffic overloads, inoperative
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Air route traffic control centers (ARTCC) - There is one
ARTCC for each center. Each ARTCC manages traffic
within all sectors of its center except for TRACON
airspace and local-airport airspace.
Terminal radar approach control - TRACON handles
departing and approaching aircraft within its space.
Air traffic control tower (ATCT) - An ATCT is located at
every airport that has regularly scheduled flights. Towers
handle all takeoff, landing, and ground traffic.
Flight service station (FSS) - The FSS provides
information (weather, route, terrain, flight plan) for Once the flight plan has been approved, the flight data
private pilots flying into and out of small airports and person gives clearance to your pilot (clearance delivery)
rural areas. It assists pilots in emergencies and and passes the strip to the ground controller in the
coordinates search-and-rescue operations for missing or tower.
overdue aircraft.
The movement of aircraft through the various airspace The ground controller is responsible for all ground traffic,
divisions is much like players moving through a "zone" which includes aircraft taxiing from the gates to takeoff
defense that a basketball or football team might use. As runways and from landing runways to the gates. When
an aircraft travels through a given airspace division, it is the ground controller determines that it is safe, he or
monitored by the one or more air traffic controllers she directs your pilot to push the plane back from the
responsible for that division. The controllers monitor this gate (airline personnel operate the tugs that actually
plane and give instructions to the pilot. As the plane push the aircraft back and direct the plane out of the
leaves that airspace division and enters another, the air gate area). As your plane taxis to the runway, the
traffic controller passes it off to the controllers ground controller watches all of the airport's taxiways
responsible for the new airspace division. and uses ground radar to track all of the aircraft
(especially useful in bad weather), ensuring that your
Some pilots of small aircraft fly by vision only (visual plane does not cross an active runway or interfere with
flight rules, or VFR). These pilots are not required by the ground vehicles. The ground controller talks with your
FAA to file flight plans and, except for FSS and local pilot by radio and gives him instructions, such as which
towers, are not serviced by the mainstream air traffic way to taxi and which runway to go to for takeoff. Once
control system. Pilots of large commercial flights use your plane reaches the designated takeoff runway, the
instruments to fly (instrument flight rules, or IFR), so ground controller passes the strip to the local controller.
they can fly in all sorts of weather. They must file flight
plans and are serviced by the mainstream air traffic The local controller in the tower watches the skies above
control system the airfield and uses surface radar to track aircraft. He or
she is responsible for maintaining safe distances
between planes as they take off. The local controller
Flight Profile and Preflight gives your pilot final clearance for takeoff when it is
deemed safe, and provides the new radio frequency for
Suppose you are flying across the United States, perhaps the departure controller. Once clearance is given, your
from New York to San Francisco. Your flight, like every pilot must decide if it is safe to take off. If it is safe, he
other commercial airline flight, follows a typical profile: accelerates the plane down the runway. As you leave
the ground, the local controller hands your plane off
Preflight -This portion of the flight starts on the ground electronically to the departure controller at the TRACON
and includes flight checks, push-back from the gate and facility that services your departure airport, but still
taxi to the runway. monitors the plane until it is 5 miles from the airport.
Takeoff - The pilot powers up the aircraft and speeds Your pilot now talks with the departure controller.
down the runway.
Departure - The plane lifts off the ground and climbs to a Departure, En Route and Descent
cruising altitude. Once your plane takes off, your pilot activates a
En route - The aircraft travels through one or more transponder device inside the aircraft. The transponder
center airspaces and nears the destination airport. detects incoming radar signals and broadcasts an
Descent - The pilot descends and maneuvers the aircraft amplified, encoded radio signal in the direction of the
to the destination airport. detected radar wave. The transponder signal provides
Approach - The pilot aligns the aircraft with the the controller with your aircraft's flight number, altitude,
designated landing runway. airspeed and destination. A blip representing the
Landing - The aircraft lands on the designated runway, airplane appears on the controller's radar screen with
taxis to the destination gate and parks at the terminal. this information beside it. The controller can now follow
Preflight your plane.
While you prepare for your flight by checking your bags
and walking to the gate, your pilot inspects your plane An airplane's transponder transmits flight data to
and files a flight plan with the tower -- all IFR pilots must incoming radar signals.
file a flight plan at least 30 minutes prior to pushing The departure controller is located in the TRACON
back from the gate. Your pilot reviews the weather along facility, which may have several airports within its
the intended route, maps the route and files the plan. airspace (50-mile/80-km radius). He or she uses radar to
The flight plan includes: monitor the aircraft and must maintain safe distances
between ascending aircraft. The departure controller
Airline name and flight number gives instructions to your pilot (heading, speed, rate of
Type of aircraft and equipment ascent) to follow regular ascent corridors through the
Intended airspeed and cruising altitude TRACON airspace.
Route of flight (departure airport, centers that will be
crossed and destination airport) The departure controller monitors your flight during
Your pilot transmits this data to the tower. ascent to the en route portion. When your plane leaves
TRACON airspace, the departure controller passes your
Example of a flight progress strip plane off to the center controller (ARTCC controller).
In the tower, a controller called a flight data person Every time your plane gets passed between controllers,
reviews the weather and flight-plan information and an updated flight progress slip gets printed and
enters the flight plan into the FAA host computer. The distributed to the new controller.
computer generates a flight progress strip that will be
passed from controller to controller throughout your En Route and Descent
flight. The flight progress strip contains all of the
necessary data for tracking your plane during its flight The various air traffic control facilities encountered by a
and is constantly updated. plane during its flight
Once your plane has left TRACON airspace, it enters a
sector of the ARTCC airspace, where it is monitored by at
least two air traffic controllers. The radar associate
controller receives the flight-plan information anywhere
from five to 30 minutes prior to your plane entering that
sector. The associate controller works with the radar
controller in charge of that sector. The radar controller is
in charge of all air-to-ground communication, maintains
safe separation of aircraft within the sector and
coordinates activities with other sectors and/or centers.
The controllers must monitor the airspace at high
altitude (above 24,000 ft/7320 m) and low altitude
(below 24,000 ft). The center controllers provide your
pilot with updated weather and air-traffic information.
They also give directions to your pilot regarding such
aspects as speed and altitude to maintain a safe
separation between aircraft within their sector. They
monitor your plane until it leaves their sector. Then they
pass it off to another sector's controller.

Another controller, called the radar hand-off controller,

assists the radar and associate radar controllers during
times of heavy traffic, watching the radar screen and
helping to maintain smooth air-traffic flow.

While you are enjoying your meal, snack, in-flight movie

or the view outside the window, your plane gets passed
from sector to sector and center to center. In each
sector, center controllers radio instructions to the pilots.
The path of your plane may have to be changed from
the original flight plan to move around bad weather or
avoid a congested sector. Your pilots may request a
change in altitude to avoid or reduce turbulence. This
back and forth between pilots and center controllers
continues until you are about 150 miles (241 km) from
San Francisco (your destination). At this point, the center
controller directs all planes flying into San Francisco to
move from high altitudes to low altitudes and merges
the descending aircraft into a single file line toward the
airport. The controller gives instructions to your pilot,
such as changes in heading, speed and altitude, to place
your plane in line with these other aircraft. Depending on
traffic conditions, the controller may have to place your
plane into a holding pattern, which is a standard route
around each airport, where you wait until the airport can
handle your arrival. The controller continues to give
directions to your pilot until your plane is within TRACON