During peak air travel times in the United States, there are about 5,000 airplanes in the sky every hour. This translates to approximately 50,000 aircraft operating in our skies each day. How do these aircraft keep from colliding with each other? How does air traffic move into and out of an airport or across the country?

The task of ensuring safe operations of commercial and private aircraft falls on air traffic controllers. They must coordinate the movements of thousands of aircraft, keep them at safe distances from each other, direct them during takeoff and landing from airports, direct them around bad weather and ensure that traffic flows smoothly with minimal delays.

Photo courtesy Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
Air traffic controllers in an airport tower

When you think about air traffic control, the image of men and women in the tower of an airport probably comes to mind. However, the air traffic control system is much more complex than that. In this article, we will examine air traffic control in the United States. We'll follow a flight from departure to arrival, looking at the various controllers involved, what each one does, the equipment they use and how they are trained.