Air Traffic Control (ATC) System

Most nations of the world today have established airspace, air traffic units, and air traffic services to promote a safe, orderly, and expeditious flow of traffic. Furthermore, in the interest of standardization, many nations are establishing systems according to the standards and recommended practices adopted by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Navigators must understand what these air traffic services are and how they can be used.

  • Air Traffic Service—a general term referring to any of the following services:
    • Air Traffic Control (ATC)—a service provided by ground agencies to prevent collisions and to expedite and maintain an orderly flow of traffic. ATC includes such services as area and en route control, approach control, and tower control. It is used primarily under instrument flight rules (IFR).
    • Advisory Service—provided to give air information that is useful for the safe and effective conduct of flight. This service is usually associated with the visual flight rules (VFR) environment and includes such services as weather conditions, location of known traffic, status of navigational aids (NAVAID), and status of airports and facilities.
    • Alerting Service—a service provided to notify applicable organizations regarding aircraft in need of search and rescue aid and to assist such organizations as required.
    • Airspace—when it has been determined that air traffic services are to be provided, portions of the airspace are designed in relation to the air traffic services that are required. Consult Flight Information Publication (FLIP) for an in-depth explanation of airspace.
    • Air Traffic Service Units—provide the air traffic service within defined airspace.
    • Air Route Traffic Control Centers (ARTCC)— provides ATC to IFR flights within controlled airspace.
    • Approach Control—provides ATC to aircraft arriving at or departing from one or more airports.
    • Airport Control Tower—provides ATC service for airport traffic.
    • Flight Service Station (FSS)—operated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to provide flight assistance service.
    • International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)—establishes international rules for ATC, the ICAO was formed in April 1947. ICAO is affiliated with the United Nations as a specialized international body dealing with aviation matters. The member states (refer to flight information publications (FLIP) General Planning (GP)) of the ICAO) subscribe to ICAO rules and procedures. These rules and procedures are used except for national deviations, which are usually filed with ICAO. Since standardization in ICAO is based upon the same technical principles and policies which are in actual effect in the continental United States (CONUS), American airmen can fly all major routes following the same general rules of the air, and governed by the same traffic control service with which they are familiar at home.
    • Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)— the United States is a member of ICAO and follows ICAO standards. Deviations from ICAO standards are filed with ICAO. The FAA is responsible for air traffic services in the United States and its possessions according to the Federal Aviation Act of 1958, which consolidated all air traffic regulatory agencies under the control of the FAA. Some of the responsibilities of the FAA include:
      1. Operates the ATC system within the United States airspace.
      2. Establishes and ensures compliance with Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR), which is binding on the entire aviation community.
      3. Issues certificates to aircrew members, maintenance personnel, and control tower operators.
      4. Investigates aircraft accidents.
      5. Maintains communication stations and conducts flight checks on NAVAIDs.

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