The air traffic control system in the U.S. is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation and under the jurisdiction of the Federal Aviation Administration.
How it works in the U.S. is most interesting, especially if you are not yet a pilot, but want to be. You may have seen "the tower" at airports. The men and women controllers who work there control air traffic within just a few miles of the airport. This is typically called the "terminal air space." These controllers are responsible for instructing pilots during takeoff and landing and also during taxiing; they grant what is called "clearances," which are instructions to the pilot on how and when to proceed when taxiing, takeoff and landing.
However, once an aircraft leaves the terminal air space, another controller, a TRACON controller, will manage the movement of that aircraft when it is approximately in a 40 miles radius of the airport from which it has just departed or is about to land. The primary responsibility of the TRACON controller is safe aircraft separation of aircraft in the sky at that moment.
It might surprise you to learn that most air traffic controllers never see the aircraft they are responsible for. That is because they are not typically located at the airport, but at an Air Route Traffic Control Center. They use sophisticated radar tracking systems to keep aircraft safe distances from each other. There are 21 of these centers throughout the U.S. These controllers are also called the "en route controllers" and they take over the aircraft control once it leaves the terminal airspace. Air Route Traffic Control Centers have the responsibility for aircraft in between airport locations.
The complete U.S. air traffic control system is managed at the Command Center outside Washington, D.C. At that center, air traffic control experts watch over the entire U.S. system; typically, there are over 5,000 aircraft in U.S. skies at anytime. The air traffic controllers all over the country inform pilots of weather conditions, for example, but at the Command Center specialists look ahead at weather and other issues in order to adjust air traffic capacity to meet the demand of aircraft. At the Command Center, air traffic specialists are also aware of security issues, runway closures and any other situations the could have an impact on air traffic in the U.S.
If this fascinates you, maybe you should consider becoming a pilot? For more information on training to be a pilot, contact Phoenix East Aviation. See www.pea.com
for more information.