It is National Air Traffic Control Day this July 6 and we cannot be more excited! This day is held especially on this date because it is the anniversary of the day the air traffic control system was established in the U.S. Each year, the work, skill, and ingenuity of the men and women of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are recognized and honored on this day.
History of National Air Traffic Control Day
The Wright brothers’ invention — the very first powered aircraft — ushered in the age of flight around the world. Back then, aircraft were mostly used by the military and the civilian postal service but as aircraft began being used for civilian passengers, concern turned towards the integrity of the aircraft itself and the safety of take-offs and landings. By the early 20th century, as passengers began to use air travel in larger numbers, this concern slowly evolved to include air traffic safety as well. It was clear that control and safety of flights in the air were almost as important as the safety of landings. This concern came on the heels of a mid-air crash in France in 1922 due to fog that resulted in the deaths of seven people and the establishment of the first air routes in the English Channel. As more mid-air collisions occurred in the U.S., a consortium of airliners started monitoring the operation of their flights. During the early 20th century, multiple independent air traffic control centers were set up by independent carriers. These operations were later taken over by the Department of Commerce.
Early on, air traffic controllers would use blackboards to note the positions that the pilots reported, and maps indicating where they placed the aircraft to avoid mid-air collisions. They calculated the speed of the aircraft and the flight time to foresee the future position of the planes and thus warn the pilots in case of a collision. These blackboards and maps were later substituted by flight progress strips, but such a system is still used in oceanic areas with no radar coverage or low workload aerodromes.
The middle of the 20th century brought new inventions. Now pilots and controllers could speak directly, eliminating the need for a middleman — they used ‘flight handlers’ for this job. Radar was also invented, which made it possible for airplanes to fly as close as five kilometers apart from each other without problems. The current air control system — the National Airspace System — was created by the United States Bureau of Air Commerce, and is said to be a model for the world aviation community.
Senate Joint Resolution 188 designated this day as National Air Traffic Control Day to create awareness about the United States National Airspace System and to encourage people to express their gratitude and respect for the air traffic control personnel keeping them safe as they travel. President Ronald Reagan proclaimed the day on July 6, 1986, and we have celebrated it ever since.
National Air Traffic Control Day timeline
The Wright brothers succeed in inventing the first aircraft, heralding the dawn of a new era in which people can take to the skies.
Flights begin carrying passengers in significant numbers, increasing the need for air traffic control.
The International Commission on Air Navigation (ICAN), under the direction of the League of Nations, attempt to develop air traffic control rules.
Archie League, from St. Louis, becomes the first air traffic controller.
Several private flight carriers create their own air control center in Newark, New Jersey — the first of its kind — to supervise their own air routes.
Two more air traffic control centers are established by private carriers in Cleveland and Chicago.
The arrival of radar means flights can now work more seamlessly, ground-air communications are better, and the system can safely integrate the constantly increasing number of air operations worldwide.
President Ronald Reagan issues a proclamation for National Air Traffic Control Day, saying, "Let us remember with gratitude those who have dedicated themselves to making the system what it is today, and let us thank those who are working to make it even better for tomorrow."
On the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the air traffic control system in the U.S., the very first National Air Traffic Control Day is held, which has been celebrated ever since.
National Air Traffic Control Day FAQs
Can you become an air traffic controller after age 31?
While the FAA requires you to apply for training before you turn 31, the one exception is former military air traffic controllers. They can begin work even if they are older than 31.
Why do air traffic controllers have to retire at 56?
The FAA is one part of several federal employee groups whose retirement is mandated at 56 years of age. Additionally, several skills required of air traffic controllers exhibit a decline in later years.
How is air traffic controlled?
Air traffic controllers ensure each aircraft maintains a minimum amount of empty space around it at all times. They monitor the location of each aircraft via radar and communicate with the pilots in case of any problems.
How To Celebrate National Air Traffic Control Day
Celebrate air traffic controllers
If you know someone working as an air traffic controller, take the time to let them know you appreciate them. Wish them a happy National Air Traffic Control Day. Maybe send them a special flight-themed gift basket, and take the time to learn about their job.
Expand your knowledge
Learn all you can about National Air Traffic Control Day, its history, the National Airspace System, and even the beginning of air travel. The Federal Aviation Administration website also offers information on how to become an air traffic controller, if you or someone you know is interested.
Raise awareness about this day
Share with your friends and family what you have learned about air traffic control and the people who make air travel safe for us. Go online and share your thoughts about this event. Let at least one other person know about this day.
5 Fun Facts About Air Traffic Control
We really really need it!
The U.S. has about 5,000 aircraft in the air at any given time, 5.3 million square miles of domestic airspace, and 24 million miles of airspace over the oceans.
Air traffic controllers in the U.S.
The U.S. FAA claims there are around 14,000 air traffic controllers employed by the country.
Air traffic controllers have their own language
Called 'radiotelephony', this is the lingo or jargon that’s understood mainly by pilots and other aviation professions.
Air traffic controllers need their breaks
Every 90 or 120 minutes, air traffic controllers are sent on mandatory half-hour breaks to protect them against fatigue.
They're not at the airport
Air traffic controllers work at a Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) facility or at a routing center that might be located far away from the airport.
Why We Love National Air Traffic Control Day
We show our gratitude
When we take a flight somewhere, how many of us take the time to wonder about our safety? Since we started celebrating National Air Traffic Control Day, we are more conscious of the work that the lovely personnel, air traffic controllers, and technicians put in to keep us safe. Celebrating this day has given us a chance to express our gratitude and raise awareness so others can do the same.
We learn about air traffic controllers
The men and women that work tirelessly to oversee flights and their safety from departure until arrival deserve as much recognition as the Wright brothers still enjoy. National Air Traffic Control Day does its part to contribute to this cause.
We celebrate history
Devising means to control the air-bound traffic was inevitable with the advent of more passenger flights and it is fascinating to learn more about it. What if private airline companies had not formed their own air control towers? What if the initial collisions that spurred such measures had not occurred?
National Air Traffic Control Day dates