Air Traffic Services

Operating and maintaining the National Airspace System requires complex equipment and highly skilled personnel. This group of photos illustrates some of the chief elements of this vast enterprise.

Tower interiorThe image at right shows the interior of a typical Airport Traffic Control Tower. The controllers here keep aircraft safely separated as they take off, land, and move along runways and taxiways. Nationwide, terminal air traffic controllers handle roughly 75,000 flights per day.

TowerThe FAA operates about 450 towers. They range from imposing spires at the Nation's busiest airports to relatively modest structures such as this one at Lawton, Oklahoma. (left)

TRACONAs they enter and leave the immediate area of the airport, pilots receive guidance from Terminal Area Approach Control Facilities, known as TRACONs.

In the photo to the right, a controller at the El Paso TRACON is using the new Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System (STARS).

New TRACONTo increase efficiency in regions of high traffic volume, several TRACONs may be consolidated into large facilities such as the Southern California TRACON at San Diego, shown at left.

DSR equipmentFlights proceeding between terminal areas come under the control of Air Route Traffic Control Centers, 21 of which are located throughout the Nation. The controller at right is using the new Display System Replacement (DSR) equipment recently implemented at these en route centers.

Command CenterTo the left is the Air Traffic Control System Command Center at Herndon, Va. Controllers here observe the "big picture" of traffic patterns nationwide and take action to speed the flow.

FSSFlight Service specialists, such as the one shown at right, record the flight plans of pilots and provide them with weather briefings and other necessary data. Most of this work is carried on at 61 Automated Flight Service Stations nationwide.

RadarRadar systems of several types provide data needed to keep the Airspace System operating. Surveillance radars keep controllers abreast of the positions of aircraft, while secondary radars gather altitude and identification data from airborne transponders. Airport Surface Detection Equipment tracks the movements of ground vehicles and taxiing planes. Terminal Doppler Weather Radars (left) help controllers to warn pilots of potentially dangerous conditions.

Bavigation aidAs they fly the airways, pilots rely on a network of navigation aids that the FAA operates throughout the country. An example is this Very High Frequency Omnidirectional Radio Range / Distance Measuring Equipment (VOR/DME) in northern Alaska. FAA is also applying satellite technology to air navigation and instrument landing.

Airway technicianA host of technical skills are required to keep all of this sophisticated equipment in working order. This vital responsibility belongs to the FAA's airway technicians, who represent the agency's second largest career field after air traffic control personnel.

AircraftTo monitor the aispace system, the FAA maintains its own fleet of airplanes equipped with precision receivers, recorders, signal analyzers, and other devices. These aircraft assure the integrity of communications, radar, and navigation aids.

The National Airspace System is constantly evolving as new technology becomes avaialble, but its reliance on human teamwork remains constant.