The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration today marked the 75th anniversary of federal air traffic control as American aviation experiences its safest period ever. Since its inception with 15 workers operating in just three control centers in 1936, the agency has become a world leader, pioneering safety improvements and developing new technology to speed up flights, save fuel and improve safety.
“The United States has the safest air transportation system in the world. But as the last 75 years show, we will never stop working to make our system even safer,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
“As a pilot, I am in awe of the aviation safety and technological advancements that have been made in the last 75 years,” said FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt. “NextGen represents the next milestone in aviation innovation. The FAA is committed to transforming our national airspace system so passengers can reach their destinations even more safely and more efficiently than they do today.”
Federal air traffic control began on July 6, 1936, when the Bureau of Air Commerce took over the operation of the first airway traffic control centers at Newark, N.J., Chicago and Cleveland. Faced with a growing demand for air travel, the 15 employees who made up the original group of controllers took radio position reports from pilots to plot the progress of each flight, providing no separation services. At the time, the fastest plane in the commercial fleet was the Douglas DC-3, which could fly coast-to-coast in about 17 hours while carrying 21 passengers.
Since then, the air traffic system has expanded from three control centers to include 131 federal stand-alone airport traffic control towers, 132 towers for terminal area approach control, 29 stand-alone terminal radar approach controls and 21 en route traffic control centers. The number of controllers has grown from 15 to more than 15,000, a workforce that handles an average of 50,000 flights each day. The DC-3 has given way to jet aircraft that can carry hundreds of passengers and fly from New York to Los Angeles in about five hours.
The FAA continues to pioneer new technologies that will make air traffic control safer and more efficient. The Next Generation Air Transportation System, or NextGen, will transform air traffic control in the U.S. from a system of ground-based radars to one based on satellites. In parts of the country, controllers already are beginning to track aircraft via satellites with a state-of-the-art system called Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast, or ADS-B. ADS-B will be available nationwide in 2013 and will enable more direct routes, saving time and money while also lowering the industry’s environmental footprint.
This month the FAA will celebrate the 75th anniversary of federal air traffic control by highlighting advancements in air traffic controller training, NextGen, how the FAA handles convective summer weather and aviation infrastructure improvements.