Air traffic controllers' primary concern is safety, but they also must direct aircraft efficiently to minimize delays. They manage the flow of aircraft into and out of the airport, take-off and landing, and monitor aircraft as they travel through the skies. Air traffic controllers use radar, computers, or visual references to manage the movement of the aircraft in the skies and ground traffic at airports.
Controllers usually manage multiple aircraft at the same time and must make quick decisions to ensure the safety of aircraft
Read more about the different types of air traffic controllers: those who work in:
Air traffic controllers working in towers have a direct view of the airport and aircraft and use radio communication to issue instructions and clearances. The instructions and clearances they provide help maintain a safe and orderly flow in the air within a defined airspace which is referred to as the "control zone", as well on the ground on runways and taxiways.
Tasks will range from handling large commercial aircraft to small recreational aircraft on training circuits and anything in between. Depending on the size of the unit, controllers may work in big or small teams.
Larger airports have a radar control facility that is associated with the control tower where it is referred to as ‘terminal area control’ or ‘approach control’. Approach controllers are responsible for providing all air traffic control services within their airspace. Traffic flow is broadly divided into departures, arrivals, overflights, and VFR aircraft.
As aircraft move in and out of the approach airspace, approach control hands them off to the next appropriate control facility. Approach control is responsible for ensuring that aircraft are at an appropriate altitude when they are handed off, and that aircraft arrive at a slow enough rate to permit safe landing.
Approach controllers usually handle traffic in a 30 to 50 nautical mile radius from the airport and from the surface of anything from 2,500 feet to 24,500 feet. Because every airport is unique, the actual airspace boundaries and altitudes assigned to Approach controllers are based on factors such as traffic flows and terrain, and vary widely from airport to airport.
Not all airports have approach control available. In this case, Area Control Centre will coordinate directly with the tower and provide this type of service where radar coverage permits. Under these circumstances, the separation minimums between aircraft are usually increased.
Area controllers monitor aircraft once they leave an airport's airspace. They work at air route traffic control centres located throughout the country, which typically are not located at airports. Each centre is assigned an airspace based on the geography and air traffic in the area in which it is located. As an airplane approaches and flies through a centre’s airspace, area controllers guide the airplane along its route. They may adjust the flight path of aircraft to avoid collisions and for safety in general. Route controllers direct the aircraft for the bulk of the flight before handing to terminal approach controllers.
Some air traffic controllers work at the Air Traffic Control Centre, where they monitor traffic within the entire national airspace. When they identify a bottleneck, they provide instructions to other controllers, helping to prevent traffic jams. Their objective is to keep traffic levels manageable for the airports and for area controllers.