When you look at the Federal Aviation Administration's highly developed air traffic control organization, it's difficult to imagine a time when there were only 15 controllers at three centers. But, 75 years ago today, that's exactly what we had.
On July 6, 1936, the Bureau of Air Commerce took over the operation of the first air traffic control centers in Newark, Chicago, and Cleveland. Faced with a growing volume of air traffic, the 15 employees who made up the original group of in-route controllers took position reports from pilots to plot the progress of each flight and to make sure the flights were not on conflicting routes.
Today, thanks to the system these early controllers set in motion, American aviation is enjoying its safest period ever. As Federal Aviation Administrator Randy Babbitt said, “As a pilot, I am in awe of the aviation safety and technological advancements that have been made in the last 75 years."
And I am pleased to say that we will never stop working to make our skies even safer.
The Bureau of Air Commerce also did not provide controllers with equipment. Each station relied on its staff and local suppliers for equipment design and fabrication. So it's no exaggeration to say that these pioneer controllers actually created the first-generation air traffic control system. As the Bureau said, these 15 men were "laying the foundation for what promises to become a vital part of flight operations throughout the country."
In the 75 years since then--with more than 15,000 controllers now managing 50,000 flights each day--America's air traffic control system has grown considerably, and the Bureau's prediction has certainly come true.
Since those first three control centers, America's air traffic control system has expanded to more than 300 control towers and centers. And the FAA continues to pioneer new technologies that will make American aviation safer and more efficient.
Our Next Generation Air Transportation System--or NextGen--will transform air traffic control from a system of ground-based radars to one based on satellites. In addition to improving safety, the new system will allow planes to fly more direct routes to their destinations, saving time and fuel and reducing emissions. The new system is even expected to reduce the amount of noise in communities near airports.
This technology may seem to be a far cry from the primitive tracking process in place on July 6, 1936, but the mission remains the same. For 75 years, the Bureau of Air Commerce and its successor the Federal Aviation Administration have worked consistently to help America's air travelers get where they're going safely.