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United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

The FAA Today

Headquarters and Field Organization

FAA HeadquartersAt the FAA's Washington headquarters are the offices of the agency's top officials, the Administrator and Deputy Administrator.

Also found here are the six Associate Administrators who direct the major line-of-business organizations described in the other sections of this "The FAA Today" photo selection. Other headquarters executives include the Chief Counsel and nine Assistant Administrators responsible for a range of policy, information, and support functions.

Geographically, FAA is divided into nine regions with headquarters in cities from Anchorage to Atlanta. The agency's two largest field facilities are the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center at Oklahoma City, Okla., and the William J. Hughes Technical Center at Atlantic City, N.J.

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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.

Terminal Doppler Weather RadarsRadar 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.

Navigation 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 airspace 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 available, but its reliance on human teamwork remains constant.

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Research and Acquisitions

FAA engineers and scientists are constantly seeking new techniques and equipment that will benefit aviation and the National Airspace System. They work closely with industry, universities, and other governmental agencies.

Fire testExamples of the many areas investigated include human performance in aeronautical tasks, improvement of runways, and the effects of corrosion on aircraft structures. Full-scale crash tests and other experiments explore the effects of impact forces and fire. The resulting data are used to improve structural design, cabin materials, and evacuation methods.

ComputerAn important focus of the FAA's technical expertise is the acquisition of new and upgraded equipment for its own facilities. The photo at right represents one example, the Host and Oceanic System Replacement, known as HOCSR. This powerful new computer system has now been deployed at all Air Route Traffic Control Centers, providing a basis for further upgrades designed to speed and protect en route flights. Another major path of development involves the application of satellite technology to air navigation and landing systems.

These programs are part of an unending quest for technical excellence in the swiftly changing field of aviation.

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Regulation and Certification

In the pursuit of safety, the FAA issues rules and sets standards for both aeronautical equipment and people working in the aviation field.

InspectionAircraft certification begins in the manufacturing plant, where FAA experts work with company engineers to ensure high standards of airworthiness. If all goes well, new models receive a type certificate, followed by a certificate authorizing production. Individual planes must also be certificated to ensure their conformity to standards, and the FAA applies the same scrutiny to engines and other components. If problems appear during the service life of an aircraft, the agency issues airworthiness directives requiring corrective action.

Pilot testingAny person involved in operating or maintaining an aircraft must hold an FAA certificate. Pilots must demonstrate the knowledge, skills, and experience prescribed for the type of certificate and rating desired. Similar certification is required for such groups as mechanics, dispatchers, and instructors.

InspectorAirlines, too, must have an operating certificate. FAA teams evaluate training, performance, and maintenance to check their continuing compliance. Repair stations, flight schools, and air carrier airports are also covered by certification requirements. These programs carry FAA people into every corner of the aviation world, where they act in cooperation with industry to guarantee high safety standards.

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Airport tower constructionThe Nation's airports are an indispensable part of the airspace system. To meet the current and future needs of these facilities, the FAA administers a grant program that allocates funds on a cost-sharing basis.

Fire truckThe grants assist public-use airports with a wide variety of improvements. Examples of eligible projects include runway construction and upgrading, purchase of rescue and firefighting equipment, installation of lighting, and noise-abatement measures.

The FAA maintains a national plan of airport requirements, evaluates the environmental impact of development plans, and administers a noise-compatibility program. The agency provides standards and technical guidance on airport planning, design, safety, and operations. The FAA certificates the safety of airports served by air carriers.

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Commercial Space Transportation

Space launchFollowing its inception in 1989, the U.S. commercial space sector grew at an accelerating pace and by 1998 had achieved its 100th space vehicle launch. In 1995, meanwhile, the FAA assumed responsibility for safety regulation of this field of enterprise, a task initially performed by the Office of the Secretary of Transportation. The FAA's program encourages the industry and ensures its safety by licensing commercial spaceport facilities and the launching of payloads on expendable vehicles.

The photograph shows a Zenit-3SL lifting off from its ocean-based platform in an FAA-licensed launch by an international consortium. Commercial space payloads provide services that include communications, remote sensing, and scientific research.

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Last updated: Tuesday, November 16, 2021