by Jonathan M. Stern
The Air Traffic Control Handbook
The primary document detailing ATC procedures in the United States is Handbook 7110.65, the Air Traffic Control handbook. An FAA publication, the ATC handbook provides both the procedures and the terminology that controllers use in most situations. When a situation not covered by the handbook is encountered, air traffic controllers are required to exercise their best judgment.
The ATC handbook covers the nitty gritty details of such things as how intersecting runways may be used and the specifics of how much separation must exist between aircraft. Perhaps most significant in the handbook is the section on duty priority. The first priority of the air traffic control system is the separation of aircraft and the issuance of safety alerts, both as required by the ATC handbook. Safety alerts are warnings to pilots about potential collision hazards, with terrain or other aircraft.
Interestingly, ATC is generally only responsible for separating IFR aircraft from other IFR aircraft. Traffic advisories are an additional service, which, like other additional services, are contingent upon equipment limitations, traffic volume, frequency congestion, and workload. Pilots, regardless of whether they are operating under VFR or IFR, are responsible for exercising vigilance to avoid other aircraft.
The see and avoid rule is a basic premise to the operation of the current National Airspace System. Even where the aircraft has blind spots created by its layout or configuration, pilots are expected to shift in their seats and/or manipulate the airplanes' controls to alleviate the effect of the blind spots.
Air traffic control services are generally provided on a first come, first served basis. For example, IFR aircraft do not have priority over aircraft operating under visual flight rules. The common exceptions to the first come, first served rule are aircraft in distress, air ambulance flights, search and rescue flights, and presidential aircraft flights (Air Force One, Marine Two).
The Federal Aviation Administration has a program designed to get pilots into ATC facilities so that they can learn more about the controller's job. Operation Raincheck is a program designed to familiarize pilots with the ATC system, its functions, responsibilities, and benefits. Pilots who desire to visit an ATC facility are requested to contact the facility in advance of the visit. Likewise, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has a program that encourages pilots to carry air traffic controllers for familiarization flights in their airplanes. Controllers are also allotted a number of airline familiarization trips every year, during which they ride in the cockpit jump seat.
You already read in the chapter "Avionics" about the various types of facilities that provide ATC services, In this chapter, you read about two programs that allow the computer user to try a hand at being an air traffic controller and one program that introduces additional ATC functions into the Flight Simulator program.
The first program is Tower Controller, which is an air traffic control tower cab simulator. The second, TRACON, simulates a terminal radar approach control (TRACON) facility, the type of facility that provides radar ATC services for aircraft arriving, overflying, and departing a terminal area. The third software package, Flight Simulator Flight Shop, has a variety of functions, one of which is creating ATC Adventures for use with Flight Simulator. Flight Shop simulates the piloting side of ATC far more accurately than Flight Simulator can.