Air traffic controllers coordinate the movement of air traffic to ensure that aircraft stay safe distances apart. Air traffic controllers work in control towers, approach control facilities, or route centers. Their work can be stressful because total concentration is required at all times. Night, weekend, and rotating shifts are common.
Air traffic controllers’ primary concern is safety, but they also must direct aircraft efficiently to minimize delays. They manage the flow of aircraft into and out of the airport airspace, guide pilots during takeoff and landing, and monitor aircraft, as they travel through the skies.
Controllers usually manage multiple aircraft at the same time and must make quick decisions to ensure the safety of the aircraft. For example, a controller might direct one aircraft on its landing approach, while providing another aircraft with weather information.
The following are examples of types of air traffic controllers:
Tower controllers direct the movement of vehicles on runways and taxiways. They check flight plans, give pilots clearance for takeoff or landing, and direct the movement of aircraft and other traffic on the runways and other parts of the airport. Most work from control towers, as they generally must be able to see the traffic they control.
Approach and departure controllers ensure that aircraft traveling within an airport’s airspace maintain minimum separation for safety. They give clearances to enter controlled airspace and hand off control of aircraft to en route controllers. They use radar equipment to monitor flight paths and work in buildings known as Terminal Radar Approach Control Centers (TRACONs). They also provide information to pilots, such as weather conditions and other critical notices.
En route controllers monitor aircraft once they leave an airport’s airspace. They work at air route traffic control centers located throughout the country, which typically are not located at airports.