What Does An Air Traffic Controller Do?
Air traffic controllers have the very important job of keeping airplanes safe and managing airplane traffic so that it operates smoothly and on time. The most important part of an air traffic controller’s job is to keep airplanes from crashing into other airplanes, buildings, or ground vehicles. The second most important part of the job is to keep air traffic organized and running without delays.
Air traffic controllers are responsible for communicating important information to airplane pilots. They must tell each pilot about:
- Scheduling changes
- Weather changes
- Visibility issues
- Wind conditions
- Location and flight paths of nearby planes
- Runway or airport closures
- Other changes that will affect the airplanes ability to take-off, fly, or land safely
They also have to communicate information about each plane and its flight path to other air traffic controllers.
Air traffic controllers are assigned a specific section of airspace, this is called a sector. Sometimes a busy sector can have more than one air traffic controller assigned to it.
There are three main types of air traffic controllers:
- Tower Controller
- Approach and Departure Controller
- En Route Controller
These three types of air traffic controllers work together to keep airplane traffic organized, and moving safely, efficiently and on schedule.
Some large and busy airports break the job of an air traffic controller down even further, and give very specific tasks to each controller. Similarly, small airports sometimes combine several tasks and assign them to a single person.
Tower controllers are responsible for communicating with the pilot while the plane is on the ground. It is their job to give the pilot:
- Permission to back away from the gate
- Permission to travel, or taxi, to or from the runway
- Permission to approach a gate after landing
- Clearance for take off
- Clearance for landing
- Any other specific information that the pilot needs to operate the airplane safely
Tower controllers are also responsible for supervising baggage vehicles and airport workers that are on the ground at the airport.
Approach and Departure Controllers are in charge of communicating with the pilot right after the plane has taken off, and right before it lands. They communicate with a pilot while the airplane is in the air, but still very close to the airport, either while it is climbing after departure or descending right before landing.
It is the approach and departure controller that is responsible for telling the pilot how and when to change the flying altitude of the plane as it enters or exits the airport. These are the air traffic controllers that are in charge of lining up more than one plane for landing.
En route controllers are responsible for communicating with the pilot while a plane travels between airports. This is after the plane has left the airspace near the airport all the way until it gets close to the airport where it will land.
En route controllers are assigned a geographical sector, which means they don’t talk to a pilot during the whole flight, only while the plane is flying through their assigned area.
All air traffic controllers must give the pilot the information needed to contact the next air traffic controller necessary to keep the plane flying safely and correctly on its flight path. A pilot is never without the guidance of an air traffic controller.
Air traffic controllers guide the pilot safely through their sector and then transfer control of the plane to the air traffic control center in the next sector. They also have to be ready to accept control of an airplane entering their sector.
Air traffic controllers often communicate with other air traffic controllers in nearby sectors to make safe decisions for an airplane.
Air traffic controllers are trained to use different tools to complete their job. They use radar and computers to communicate with pilots and other air traffic controllers. Tower controllers also have the ability to watch planes on the ground at the airport, on the runways, and on the tarmac.
Air traffic controllers are responsible for all the planes in their sector at the same time, so they must be able to handle high stress situations and think and act quickly as necessary. Because there is so much going on, they must be able to focus, prioritize, and multitask in a distracting environment.
Air traffic controllers must be able to make clear and careful decisions and make changes to a plane’s flight path if something unexpected happens. The air traffic controller is also responsible for alerting emergency workers if there ever is an emergency with an airplane.
A successful air traffic controller must have excellent communication skills and problem solving abilities since the job requires talking to pilots, crew, ground workers, other air traffic controllers and emergency workers.