The beginnings of air traffic control date back to the 1920s. The past hundred years is a story intertwined with the most important as well as most tragic events in European history. However, is there one ATC story that can be told? Viewing photos of people, emotions, situations, solutions and systems shows development, striving for perfection, determination in ensuring security and order in the sky. Undoubtedly, however, air safety has become the foundation for the development of air traffic control. Thanks to the gradually introduced global regulations, as well as the experience and good practices of each of the States, it become a universal value, long before the European borders has opened. Radars, which during World War II showed only two flight parameters – direction and altitude, today are flooding air traffic control centers with endless streams of information about every machine passing within their range. Airports that once required a fairly even field covered with grass are now cities with their own lives. Progress in aviation would not have been possible if the aviation industry was constantly not trying to cross new borders and develop by introducing new means of communication, navigation and surveillance. Air traffic control has played, and will continue to play, a key role in this development. It is its units and their constant modernization and development that allow every day millions of passengers to reach all parts of the Earth safely.

The first radio stations were the size of large two-door refrigerators, and data transferred from the deck as well as issued instructions and permits were recorded on flight progress strips, which were a kind of basic “operational memory” of controllers. Today, all centers are equipped with computerized data processing systems, super accurate radars, multilateration, ADSB Space and sophisticated equipment for both verbal and digital communication. Only the main priority of every ATC body – security – has not changed.

The exhibition prepared as part of the cooperation of the A6 Alliance communication teams is the beginning of the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the history of air traffic control. This is just a start to the story of incredible achievements in the development of air traffic control. Only to a minimal extent, it presents what is behind us and shows how far we have traveled.

But that was until March 2020. Since the coronavirus pandemic, everything has changed and aviation has been grounded like never before. The post-crisis world of aviation will not be the same as before. We will be ready to meet the requirements of the new normal and be in the forefront of the top European air navigation agencies in terms of efficiency and innovation. So that is why currently all our forces were redirected to testing innovative solutions developed by our knowledgeable experts for new technologies. For example, we have already entered a new phase of putting drones to use by emergency services. There is still a lot to improve and modernize in aviation. And this is our common task for the next 100 years of ATC.

Certainly this is not the Summer that we expected, but still there is much to be grateful for. With the social isolation, it’s even more important to stay connected. We work hard to protect our employees, cope with the crisis and support our partners and customers. As aviation stakeholders, we have to stay together at this time. May our sky fill up with thousands of aircraft again!

Janusz Janiszewski,
Acting President of the Polish Air Navigation Services Agency and the Chairman of the A6 Steering Board

A6 Alliance

The A6 Alliance was founded in 2011 by the six ANSP members of the SESAR JU – DFS (Germany), DSNA (France), ENAIRE (Spain), ENAV (Italy), NATS (UK) and NORACON – a consortium including Austro Control (Austria), AVINOR (Norway), EANS (Estonia), Finavia (Finland), IAA (Ireland), LFV (Sweden) and Naviair (Denmark).

In 2015 PANSA (Poland) became a full member of the A6 Alliance, together with the COOPANS Alliance for work associated with Deployment Manager and SESAR 2020; and the B4 Consortium for work associated with SESAR 2020. The A6 Alliance has also reached a collaboration agreement with Skyguide in relation to SESAR 2020 R&D activities.

The A6 Alliance members are responsible for the safe management of more than 80% of Europe’s air traffic, and more than 70% of the investment in the future European ATM infrastructure.

The A6 Alliance is focused on SESAR development and deployment, SESAR deployment execution (planning, governance, funding), and key strategic areas of A6 common interest related to transport and aviation legislation.

A6 Alliance actively participates in working out changes in air traffic management system in Europe. We are a platform of close cooperation, implementing solutions for future air transport. Together we create air traffic management of the future.

The A6 Alliance is an inclusive initiative for ANSP contribution to modernising the European ATM system and welcomes interest and input from non-A6 members.

In the 1970s the air traffic controllers of DFS used to think, that more than a million flights would not be possible. However, in the mid 1980s DFS reached the one million flight threshold for the first time. It seemed as if the capacity limit had been reached, in 1995, a new record was set. DFS controlled two million IFR flights in one year thanks to new development in technology and revamped processes.

Tower simulator in Langen
Control Center in Munich
Remote Control Tower in Saarbrücken
Control Center in Langen
Precision approach radar (1967)

Today DFS air traffic controllers still guide the aircraft to their destinations as safely and punctually as it has always been. They select the most feasible direct route, which is as environmentally friendly as possible. This poses a difficult challenge in an airspace as busy as the one above Germany with more than three million flight movements per year.

Control center in Frankfurt (1970)
ATC training centre
Control Center Frankfurt in 1970

In the 1960s with the coming of computers, the first software application used in the air navigation was the printing of strip and its transmission to/from the operations room. Women operators converted flight plans into punched cards that they would then introduce into the calculator. Strips were used to identify the route and the position of each flight in the control sector. For the first time, ergonomics, modularity and an easy access to equipment for maintenance are at the heart of the CWP conception. Otherwise, female ATCOs become more and more present in the operations room. With this generation of devices, the French air navigation service provider handled 1 million flights a year.

4-FLIGHT: conversion training for controllers at Reims ACC
Radar data display today - detailed
A 3D visualisation of the flight path
Mode-S radar
Operations Room in Paris ACC (1960’s)

The French air navigation services controlled 3.3 million flights in 2019. To accompany this continuous growth of traffic since 40 years in a durable way, DSNA personnel can be proud of its numerous technical and operational achievements during this decade or ongoing. Thanks to the high degree of skills, they demonstrate, day after day, their great motivation to meet the requirements of today’s and tomorrow’s performance in terms of safety, environment, capacity and cost-efficiency of the Single European Sky for the benefit of the customers and airspace users.

Controller Working Position (1960’s)
Printed flight strips sent the planning controller
Flight plans manual processing (1960’s)

ENAIRE, the air navigation manager in Spain, has a long track record and extensive experience in air traffic management. The state-owned entity Aena was created in 1990, and in 2014, its airport and air navigation areas were split, with the latter being renamed ENAIRE. Today, it renders control services at 21 airports, as well as en-route and approach control from five ACCs. In addition, ENAIRE provides communications, navigation and surveillance services to 45 air control towers. ENAIRE managed 2.1 million flights in 2019.

ATC ops room today
Malaga TWR - datalink service (2019)
Aerodrome control tower in Malaga (2017)
ACC Stockholm (LFV)

The growth of air traffic, automation, the emergence of new actors such as drones and the commitment to sustainability are some of the challenges of the sector that ENAIRE is determined to overcome. From our position as a global air navigation service provider, we are responding by promoting digitisation and interoperability (iTEC) in the ATM system and the deployment of satellite navigation.

Madrid ACC (1990’s)
Canarias ACC (late 1990’s)

ENAV was created in 1996 following the transformation of AAAVTAG (Azienda Autonoma di Assistenza al Volo per il Traffico Aereo Generale) into a public company named “Ente Nazionale di Assistenza al Volo”. ENAV was entrusted with the handling of civil air traffic control, which, until 1979, had been managed by the Italian Air Force and subsequently, from 1982, by AAAVTAG.

Inside the Tower Simulator
ATCOs in Rome’s ACC
ATCOs in uniform in Rome’s ATCAS
ENAV’s flight inspection’s fleet
Fiumicino airport in Rome (1961)

Today ENAV is one of largest ANSPs in Europe and, following its IPO (Initial Public Offering) in 2016, is the only ANSP worldwide listed on a stock exchange. Its goal is to ensure the safety and punctuality of the millions of passengers who fly in Italian airspace, while contributing to the growth of national and European air transport through a relentless focus on efficiency and continuous innovation. ENAV is fully committed to developing new technologies, new procedures and new projects aimed at reducing CO2 emissions thanks also to the continuous training of operating personnel.

TWR at Fiumicino airport under construction
ATCOs in uniform in Rome’s ATCAS

On 25 February 1920, the UK Air Ministry gave approval for the construction of a new building at Croydon Airport, just south of London, to be ‘erected 15 feet above ground level’ and with ‘large windows to be placed on all four walls’. This building was to be called the ‘Aerodrome Control Tower’ and at a stroke coined both the term that has remained synonymous with Air Traffic Control for the past 100 years and the design that remains instantly recognisable.

London City Airport digital tower
UK airspace structure today
Prestwick centre ops room
First TWR at Croydon Airport (1920)

A century on from the birth of air traffic services in the UK, over 2.6 million flights now travel through British airspace every year, safely and efficiently handled by NATS air traffic controllers. New technology and the modernisation and systemisation of airspace across the UK over the coming decade will guarantee a  sustainable future for aviation for generations to come.

Croydon ATCOs at work
Airco DH-4 at Londonis Croydon Airport (1920)

Roots of the air traffic control in Poland reach the 1920’s and 1930’s. However the airspace management as we know today was born in the mid-20th century, when flight procedures, ATCO’s licences and first radars were introduced. Along with the air transport development and the growing demand for ATCO’s, the first air traffic control centre was established and the Polish ANSP launched a full-time ops personnel training. The name of the company has changed, but all those duties and activities last to this day, shaping current frames of the Polish Air Navigation Services Agency.

PANSA ops room - ACC
Aerodrome Control Tower in Katowice
Beechcraft King Air 350 of PANSA’s Flight Inspection
Warsaw ACC - military positions (1980’s)

Today, the Polish Air Navigation Services Agency is the one providing safe, smooth and efficient flow of the air traffic over Poland. It integrates both manned and unmanned air operations, making the Polish airspace a  friendly environment for all users. PANSA uses state-of-the-art and eco-friendly solutions, understanding the importance of innovativeness for the development of modern aviation. The Agency fulfil its mission from Warsaw and many regional units across Poland.

ATS training centre in Rzeszów (1960’s)
Warsaw TWR ops room (1970’s)
Precision Approach Radar display in Kraków (1970’s/1980’s)

April 3rd 2006 was a landmark day in the history of European Air Traffic Control. On that day the COOPANS alliance was established and signed by the partners IAA, LFV and Naviair. Austro Control joined in 2010 followed by Croatia Control in 2011 and NAV Portugal in 2018. The original purpose of the alliance was to upgrade and standardize the partners ATM systems into a single unified ATM system that uses common software and entails harmonized maintenance processes and operational concepts. COOPANS thereby enables the partners to cut their development costs through continuous – and from 2014 synchronic – upgrading of the ATM system.

Austro Control ops room
ATCC Malmo (LFV)
ACC Lisbon in 2020 (NAV Portugal)
ACC Stockholm (LFV)

Today COOPANS harmonization is unique in Europe with the 7 control centers in Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, Austria and Croatia, where the system has been fully harmonized since 2014. The idea of standardized and harmonized systems has not been generally unfold among European ANSPs. The normal is individual customized systems varying from control center to control center. This means that in general most of the European control centers (ACCs) still today operate with individually developed systems. In 2016 the COOPANS Alliance was awarded the Single European Sky Award at the World ATM Congress in Madrid for moving forward the harmonisation of the European ATM landscape.

ATCC Malmo (LFV)
ACC Lisbon in 2020 (NAV Portugal)