Air Traffic Control – Glossary Definition


Want the definition of air traffic control? Learn the meaning of the ATC tower, see some examples, and get a better understanding of this airport term!

Wondering about the definition of air traffic control? Keep reading to learn the meaning of the ATC tower, see some examples, and get a better understanding of this airport term!

Air Traffic Control Sky Tower at Mumbai Airport
The air traffic control Sky Tower at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (BOM) in Mumbai, India. Taken by F. Malkani via [Public Domain].

What is Air Traffic Control?

Air traffic control, often abbreviated as ATC, is the practice of monitoring and coordinating local airspace from the ground to direct aircraft traffic, provide and receive air-to-ground communications, support nearby pilots, and prevent midair collisions.

Air traffic control usually refers to the control tower at the airport (the image above is an example), but may also be a control center somewhere else in charge of controlling a large area of sky to keep air traffic safe. The people working in air traffic control are often called air traffic controllers, flight controllers, air controllers, or air traffic control officers (ATCO).

Air traffic control is standardized internationally by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), an organization under the United Nations. As such, English must be used when requested, although local languages may be used as well.

Fun Fact: The now-defunct Croydon Airport, once the United Kingdom’s only international airport during the two World Wars, was the first airport in the world to have air traffic control operations in place (1920).

More on Air Traffic Control

Although air traffic control is a domain full of technology such as radar, mapping, and other advanced systems, visual observation is still the main method for monitoring the air traffic in the immediate vicinity, which is why air traffic control towers usually have tall, 360-degree windows.

In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulates all commercial aviation, and you can find many of their air traffic plans and publications on their website.

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