Three Cheers for ATC on its 75th Anniversary

By Scott Spangler on July 18th, 2011

imageAny pilot who says an air traffic controller hasn’t saved his or her butt at least once is either lying or stopped flying after solo. Air traffic controllers are my best friends, and you couldn’t pay me enough to attempt their job at any facility or at any level. And aviation wouldn’t be what it has become without them. So extend them a quick note of thanks for all they do during the month-long celebration of their 75th year.

Shame on you if your first thought of ATC is about falling asleep. Remember this: In a hypercritical world of finger pointing and blame bombing, anyone or anything who makes a mistake or suffers a lapse when the body can no longer sustain the mind’s commands, is forever vilified…until it’s the next person’s turn. And that next person might be you. Remember the pilots, distracted by their computers, who missed Minneapolis?

imageInstead, think of this: 15,000 controllers at 263 control towers, 29 Tracons, and 21 Centers handle more than 50,000 flights a day. That’s an annual workload of 18.25 million flights safely separated, a task often taken for granted by the  by pilots and passengers on each one of them. And most of those airplanes want to be at the same places at the same time. ATC has come a long way from the crew of 15 spread across three airway traffic control centers in Newark (at right), Chicago, and Cleveland. Beacons had barely replaced bonfires and voice radio communication was cutting edge technology. Radar replaced  position reports tracked on chart tables, and it didn’t come on the scene until the 1950s.

The essential aviation partnership between ATC and pilots is now at another critical transition, from radar to the satellite-based Next Generation Air Transportation System. Like the transition that preceded it, this change isn’t going as smoothly as the people who depend on it like, and that goes for the folks in ATC as well as the cockpit. I know it’s your birthday, and that I don’t say it often enough, but thanks for being there and for all you do. I wouldn’t be here without you. –Scott Spangler

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2 Responses to “Three Cheers for ATC on its 75th Anniversary”

  1. Randy Walberg Says:

    “Shame on you if your first thought of ATC is about falling asleep. Remember this: In a hypercritical world of finger pointing and blame bombing, anyone or anything who makes a mistake or suffers a lapse when the body can no longer sustain the minds commands, is forever vilifieduntil its the next persons turn.”

    Excellent point. A message that needs to be heard.

  2. Jeff Says:

    From a 19 year CPC, (thats what we’re called now), thanks for the pat on the back/kind words. We do try hard to get you there as quick and safely as possible.

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