Thousands of planes fly all over the world every day. Their movements are monitored and dictated by air traffic control, a service which most national governments fund and support. Air traffic control is designed to keep planes away from each other while ensuring that air traffic runs smoothly and efficiently. In addition, in many countries, air traffic control is the first responder in emergency situations involving aircraft.
There are numerous aspects to air traffic control. Many people are familiar with the air traffic control towers installed in airports to monitor incoming and outgoing flights. There are also regional command centers which handle air traffic in a certain region, and many nations may have a central control station as well. Military bases and facilities also have their own air traffic control, although the military controllers certainly interact with those handling civilian airspace. These facilities combine their staff and equipment to ensure that all of the aircraft in the airspace over a country are monitored while in flight.
At airports, air traffic controllers decide when planes will take off and land, and which runways they may use. Ground controllers work directly with the aircraft, coordinating their movements on the ground to ensure that they reach the right runways and terminals. Once an aircraft takes off, it is monitored by a regional control center, and as the plane travels, it may be handed off through multiple regional centers, including international air traffic control centers if necessary.
The technology involved in air traffic control is quite extensive. Planes communicate with the ground through transponders and radios, while air traffic controllers use a variety of tools to plot aircraft in flight. Air traffic controllers are extensively trained in the use of their equipment, and they must also be good at thinking on their feet and thinking spatially. They must also be able to make rapid decisions in emergency situations, and the pressures of the job can get very intense, especially during peak flight periods.
Since clear and rapid communication is vital, commercial air pilots and air traffic controllers around the world are generally expected to speak English. Regional air traffic controllers may use their native language when they communicate with fellow citizens, but they also need to be able to talk with pilots from other countries. By dictating a universal language for aircraft control, all countries can be assured that air travel is smooth and safe for all.