Air traffic control

Published on 9 January 2008 (updated on 11 January 2008)


The primary role of air traffic control is to prevent collisions between aircraft, as well as collisions on the ground.

South Control Tower at Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport : air traffic controllers at their control posts
South Control Tower at Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport : air traffic controllers at their control posts
(rights reserved by the DGAC - Photo Véronique Paul)

Flight rules

When flying, the pilot applies:

either visual flight rules (VFR): The flight is said to be visual if it is carried out in conditions such that the pilot can himself safeguard against risks of collision with other aircraft or possible obstacles,
or instrument flight rules (IFR): In this case, the pilot is advised by on-board radio equipment and ground equipment.

Air spaces

Air traffic occurs in air spaces which comprise flight information regions (FIR) and inside these, controlled air spaces, dangerous zones and regulated zones. Air traffic services are carried out in classified air spaces.

Types of control

In flight information regions, air traffic services handle flight information services and the alerting service. This consists of supplying useful advice and information enabling the safe and efficient execution of flights and of alerting organisations entrusted with search and rescue and giving assistance. In controlled air spaces, these services must also:

- prevent collisions between aircraft,
- prevent collisions on manoeuvre areas between aircraft and fixed or mobile obstacles,
- accelerate and phase air traffic.

Flights benefiting from these services are said to be controlled. The flight information service or alerting service, handled particularly by a flight information centre or an AFIS organisation, is also available to other flights.

The air control service has three main functions:

1 - Regional control

This deals with the management of cruise aeroplane traffic inside <> of air space and is carried out:

• either by a regional aerial navigation centre (CRNA). There are five in France: Brest, Paris, Rheims, Bordeaux and Aix-en-Provence,
• or by the organisation handling the approach control service, but in this case in a controlled air space with limited range.

Regional control is not directly affected by the control tower.

2 - Approach control

This deals with the continuous management of traffic together with regional control in arrival and departure phases and of all the airfields connected to it.
It is carried out:

• either by an approach control centre,
• a regional control centre, when this deals with approach control in all or part of the control region,
• or by a control tower, when this deals with approach in a control zone or in all or part of a terminal area.

3 - Airfield control

This deals with transition at take-off and landing with approach control and manages use of the runway (local control) and movement on the platform (ground control) by the actual control tower.

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