ATC Archives – A Traveler Meets Air Traffic Control in 1963 (FAA Movie)

This historical footage is ideal for those that have an interest in ATC procedures, technologies and responsibilities. As a student, watch this video and identify how the technologies and communication styles (and languages) have changed.

From your point of view, with the use of technology today, do you think it is easier to be an ATC professional today, or would you prefer to be one during the time this video was made?

Video background

A very lucky travelled meets an ATC Professional in 1963 and has a quick lesson about what ATC is.

Air traffic control (ATC) is a service provided by ground-based controllers who direct aircraft on the ground and through controlled airspace, and can provide advisory services to aircraft in non-controlled airspace. The primary purpose of ATC worldwide is to prevent collisions, organize and expedite the flow of traffic, and provide information and other support for pilots. In some countries, ATC plays a security or defensive role, or is operated by the military.

To prevent collisions, ATC enforces traffic separation rules, which ensure each aircraft maintains a minimum amount of empty space around it at all times. Many aircraft also have collision avoidance systems, which provide additional safety by warning pilots when other aircraft get too close.

In many countries, ATC provides services to all private, military, and commercial aircraft operating within its airspace. Depending on the type of flight and the class of airspace, ATC may issue instructions that pilots are required to obey, or advisories (known as flight information in some countries) that pilots may, at their discretion, disregard. Generally the pilot in command is the final authority for the safe operation of the aircraft and may, in an emergency, deviate from ATC instructions to the extent required to maintain safe operation of their aircraft…


In 1921, Croydon Airport, London was the first airport in the world to introduce air traffic control.

In America, Air Traffic Control developed three divisions. The first – Air Mail Radio Stations (AMRS) was created in 1922 after World War 1 when the US Post Office began using techniques developed by the Army to direct and track the movements of reconnaissance aircraft. Over time the AMRS morphed into Flight Service Stations. Today’s Flight Service Stations do not issue control instructions, but provide pilots with many other flight related informational services. They do relay control instructions from ATC in areas where Flight Service is the only facility with radio or phone coverage. The first Airport Traffic Control Tower, regulating arrivals, departures and surface movement of aircraft at a specific airport, opened in Cleveland in 1930. Approach/Departure Control facilities were created after the invention of RADAR in the 1950s to monitor and control the busy airspace around larger airports. The first Air Route Traffic Control Center, which directs the movement of aircraft between departure and destination was opened in Newark, NJ in 1935, followed in 1936 by Chicago and Cleveland…

Airport control

The primary method of controlling the immediate airport environment is visual observation from the airport control tower (TWR). The tower is a tall, windowed structure located on the airport grounds. Air traffic controllers are responsible for the separation and efficient movement of aircraft and vehicles operating on the taxiways and runways of the airport itself, and aircraft in the air near the airport, generally 5 to 10 nautical miles (9 to 18 km) depending on the airport procedures.

Surveillance displays are also available to controllers at larger airports to assist with controlling air traffic. Controllers may use a radar system called secondary surveillance radar for airborne traffic approaching and departing. These displays include a map of the area, the position of various aircraft, and data tags that include aircraft identification, speed, altitude, and other information described in local procedures. In adverse weather conditions the tower controllers may also use surface movement radar (SMR), surface movement guidance and control systems (SMGCS) or advanced SMGCS to control traffic on the manoeuvring area (taxiways and runway).

The areas of responsibility for TWR controllers fall into three general operational disciplines; Local Control or Air Control, Ground Control, and Flight Data/Clearance Delivery—other categories, such as Apron Control or Ground Movement Planner, may exist at extremely busy airports…

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