October 2011 Issue

ATC At The Crossroads

The average controller has less experience than ever. As the workforce is rebuilt and new technology comes online, we need to work a bit harder to ensure safety.

The U.S. air traffic control system is a living, breathing thing, one borne from necessity. As the system has matured, new procedures and technologies have been implemented, and many of those developments have impacted our cockpits. Even so, the men and women who staff the ATC system today perform many of the same basic tasks their predecessors tackled 50 or more years ago. Air traffic continues to grow—the airlines are doing okay, even as GA activity remains relatively flat—so plans are in place for even greater system automation, the Next Generation Air Transportation System, or NextGen. Meanwhile, the controller workforce also is undergoing changes, some of them self-inflicted, but all of them having an impact in our cockpits.

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