What is air traffic management?

Air Traffic Management primarily consists of three distinct activities: 

Air Traffic Control

It's the process by which aircraft are safely separated in the sky as they fly and at the airports where they land and take off again. Tower control at airports is a familiar concept but aircraft are also separated as they fly en route; Europe has many large Air Traffic Control Centres which guide aircraft to and from terminal areas around airports.

Air Traffic Flow Management

It's an activity that is done before flights take place. Any aircraft using air traffic control, from a business aeroplane to an airliner, files a flight plan and sends it to a central repository. All flight plans for flight into, out of and around Europe are analysed and computed.

For safety reasons, air traffic controllers cannot handle too many flights at once so the number of flights they control at any one time is limited. Sophisticated computers used by Air Traffic Flow Management calculate exactly where an aircraft will be at any given moment and check that the controllers in that airspace can safely cope with the flight. If they cannot, the aircraft has to wait on the ground until it is safe to take off.

Aeronautical Information Services

These services are responsible for the compilation and distribution of all aeronautical information necessary to airspace users.

These include information on:

  • safety,
  • navigation,
  • technical,
  • administrative
  • or legal matters and their updates.

The information can take the form of maps showing the air routes and air traffic control centres and the areas that they are responsible for; or it can be notices, information circulars or publications. Some of these publications contain orders which must be carried out.

Some are simply to give useful information - on prevailing weather, for instance: all of them are aimed at promoting the safety, regularity and efficiency of air navigation.