The FAA's air traffic controllers ensure the safe and efficient flight for about two million aviation passengers per day - or almost one billion people per year. Air traffic controllers safely manage more than 60 million aircraft annually to their destinations.
The U.S. air traffic controller workforce consists of approximately 15,000 dedicated and well-trained men and women working in air traffic control towers, terminal radar approach control centers, and en route control centers managing 30.2 million square miles of airspace.
Air Traffic Control Tower Controllers...
...work in the glassed-in towers you see at airports. They manage traffic from the airport to a radius of 3 to 30 miles out. They give pilots taxiing and take off instructions, air traffic clearance, and advice based on their own observations and experience. They provide separation between landing and departing aircraft, transfer control of aircraft to the en route center controllers when the aircraft leave their airspace, and receive control of aircraft on flights coming into their airspace.
Terminal Radar Approach Controllers...
...work in radar rooms, using terminal radar sensors to assist the aircraft until it reaches the edge of the facility's airspace, usually about 20 to 50 miles from the airport and up to about 17,000 feet, before handing it off to the En Route Center Controllers.
Miami Air Route Traffic Control
En Route Center Controllers...
...work in 21 centers across the country, in a location away from the airport. You will never see them during the course of your flight, but they will normally direct your aircraft for the bulk of your ride. Controlling traffic usually at or above 17,000 feet, the typical center has responsibility for more than 100,000 square miles of airspace generally extending over a number of states. These controllers give aircraft instructions, air traffic clearances and advice using radar or manual procedures they keep track of the thousands of planes in the sky at any one time. Due to the radar equipment, they work in semi-darkness and guide aircraft on the scope.