Air traffic control is a big part of our lives that we tend not to think about. Air traffic controllers keep airplanes at safe distances from the ground, and other airplanes. Air traffic control keeps you, and air travelers alive every second of the day. They also help people arrive on time.
The invention of air traffic control
While most innovations for aviation took place in the United States, the innovation for air traffic control took place outside of the U.S. Air traffic control was invented at London Croydon Airport in 1922, after a collision between two planes proved that we needed a control system for airplanes. Croydon Airport installed a radio receiver that measured the angle from a radio burst sent by a pilot. The measured angle would reveal where the plane was coming from. Croydon airport installed two more receivers to more accurately locate a plane and guide that plane to the airport. This innovation was the birth of air traffic control.
The many “stages” of air traffic control
During a flight, pilots undergo many “stages” of air traffic control. At the origin of the flight, the pilots talk to clearance, ground, and tower control to get clearance to leave, taxi, and takeoff. Once airborne, the pilots talk to departure, center, and approach control to get clearance to climb, turn, and descend. At the destination, pilots will talk to the tower, and ground control to get clearance to land, and taxi.
Where are aircraft controlled
Air traffic control is normally controlled in one of two different places depending on what type of air traffic control we are talking about. Clearance, ground, and tower control is normally handled in a tall tower at an airport. Departure, approach, and center control are normally controlled in a large facility which can be located anywhere in the U.S.
Technologies used for air traffic control
Air traffic controllers use radar to locate an aircraft is. In the cockpit, pilots have a device called a transponder which transmits information to air traffic controllers. The list of information transponded includes altitude, speed, heading, airline and flight number. Pilots and air traffic controllers speak to each other using special headsets. Pilots are able to speak to air traffic controls using different frequencies. Air traffic controllers also see all the mass, or objects, that is in the air using a tall satellite tower that spins. You may have seen this when arriving at the airport, or taking off in an airplane. This can detect metal, birds, and other things that may be in the air at any given time. This is used specifically for the detection of birds. The bowl shaped object on top of the control tower that spins very fast powers a radar used by ground controllers. This radar tells them where an aircraft is on the taxiway. Clearance controllers send the clearance and departure information to an aircraft electronically in about five seconds, as opposed to verbally relaying the information to them, which would take twenty seconds. To effectively see which flights are departing and when, clearance controllers use slots with flight information.
Next-gen Navaid: pros and cons
Next-gen Navaid is making air traffic control more and more efficient by using satellites to more effectively control airplanes than traditional radar. At Phoenix Sky-Harbor International Airport, departing airplane would fly out nine miles before turning onto their course. Now, they only fly out three miles. This is a result of the Navaid program because it is controlling more flights efficiently for each direction the airplane has to fly. Though the program has proven itself more efficient, many people do not like Navaid because the program is redirecting air traffic over residential areas where airplanes did not fly before. The city of Phoenix has said they are getting about 3,000 complaints about air traffic noise a day. Normally, the city would only get about 250 complaints a year.
There are many ways the FAA can please everybody when it comes to noise reduction. One way we can reduce noise is by redirecting flights over water if available. Since nobody lives in the water, redirecting flight over a bay or ocean would reduce noise over residential neighborhoods. Having airplane fly higher would also reduce noise. The higher an airplane flies, the less we would hear one.
What should be taken away from this?
Air traffic controllers are working around the clock to keep you, and air travelers safe. The FAA is constantly working towards making the control of airplanes more efficient. Although it may not seem like a hard job to do, air traffic control requires careful training and precise management to make sure planes get where they need to go carefully, and safely everyday. Flying is more than just getting on the plane and going, it’s about safely getting you where you need to go.
Written by Freshman Bradley Biagiotti as part of his Solutions Showcase Project.
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Person, and Scott McCartney. “New Routes Mean More Noise for Some Homes Near Airports.” WSJ. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2016.
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