Author: Brandon J Kearns – Director of Flight Operations
When you look up into the sky near an airport and see airplanes harmoniously lined up on final approach, you might wonder how on earth that happens. Is it some freak occurrence that caused those planes to appear to be moving in perfect unison? The best way to relate this harmonious flying dance to something that you experience often is that airplanes are controlled very much like a police officer at an intersection. The officer must ensure that he only allows a certain group of cars to move at any given time, ensuring all the while that things are happening as efficient and safe as possible. The person in the aviation world who most closely relates to this officer is the Air Traffic Controller.
Pilots must work intimately with the Air Traffic Controllers every day on every flight. Without them nothing would happen and everything would turn into chaos.
In the current day and age air traffic has grown exponentially causing the skies to become overly congested and exceptionally busy. Due to this ever changing environment Pilots must be able to adapt. They must get you from Point A to Point B in the most efficient manner possible but also doing so within the limitations or provisions placed on them by Air Traffic Control. Air Traffic Control (or ATC) will slow you, turn you, speed you up, and even divert you if necessary. All of this is intended to keep your pilots and you safe. Being a pilot myself I have never been afraid to ask for what I want, and most of the time I will get it. However, when I do not get that “Cleared Direct to John F. Kennedy” airport request when flying over Las Vegas, it is probably for a reason that I cannot see but the Controllers are aware of. I just accept it and get another cup of coffee.
So the next time that you are at the airport waiting to board your flight and the speakers come to life “Ladies and Gentleman flight 3307 with service to New York has been delayed due to Air Traffic Control” you will know that there is someone standing in the intersection of the skies, telling you to wait for a few more minutes while the other lane of traffic is finished coming through the intersection.