Air Traffic Control Highlights Essays

Air Traffic Control Essay

Nearly all air traffic controllers are employed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), an agency of the Federal Government.

Replacement needs will account for most job openings, reflecting the large number of air traffic controllers who will be eligible to retire over the next decade.

Competition to get into FAA training programs is expected to remain keen; however, graduates of these programs have good job prospects.

Air traffic controllers earn relatively high pay and have good benefits.

The air traffic control system is a vast network of people and equipment that ensures the safe operation of commercial and private aircraft. Air traffic controllers coordinate the movement of air traffic to make certain that planes stay a safe distance apart. Their immediate concern is safety, but controllers also must direct planes efficiently to minimize delays. Some regulate airport traffic through designated airspaces; others regulate airport arrivals and departures.

Although airport tower controllers or terminal controllers watch over all planes traveling through the airport's airspace, their main responsibility is to organize the flow of aircraft into and out of the airport. Relying on radar and visual observation, they closely monitor each plane to ensure a safe distance between all aircraft and to guide pilots between the hangar or ramp and the end of the airport's airspace. In addition, controllers keep pilots informed about changes in weather conditions such as wind shear, a sudden change in the velocity or direction of the wind that can cause the pilot to lose control of the aircraft.

During arrival or departure, several controllers direct each plane. As a plane approaches an airport, the pilot radios ahead to inform the terminal of the plane's presence. The controller in the radar room, just beneath the control tower, has a copy of the plane's flight plan and already has observed the plane on radar. If the path is clear, the controller directs the pilot to a runway; if the airport is busy, the plane is fitted into a traffic pattern with other aircraft waiting to land. As the plane nears the runway, the pilot is asked to contact the tower. There, another controller, who also is watching the plane on radar, monitors the aircraft the last mile or so to the runway, delaying any departures that would interfere with the plane's landing. Once the plane has landed, a ground controller in the tower directs it along the taxiways to its assigned gate. The ground controller usually works entirely by sight, but may use radar if visibility is very poor.

The procedure is reversed for departures. The ground controller directs the plane to the proper runway. The local controller then informs the pilot about conditions at the airport, such as weather, speed and direction of wind, and visibility. The local controller also issues runway...

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The present thesis is comprised of four essays that address important gaps in passenger- and cargo-airline research. Seminal studies in airline economics that rely on cross-section methods make critical homogeneity assumptions and preclude time-specific effects. The essays in this thesis use panel data, which allow for certain assumptions made by cross-sectional studies to be relaxed, while shedding light on the intertemporal features of air transport.

The first chapter investigates the cost structure of air cargo carriers by applying a total cost model used in passenger-airline studies. Using quarterly panel data (2003-2011) on the domestic operations and costs of FedEx Express and UPS Airlines, empirical results indicate that the air cargo industry exhibits increasing returns to traffic density and constant returns to scale. Accounting for carrier-specific differences in cost structure and network size, FedEx is found to be more cost efficient than UPS (a finding that is reversed when network size is not controlled). Individually, UPS exhibits substantial economies of density and constant returns to scale while FedEx's cost structure is characterized by weak economies of density and constant returns to scale. Both carriers exhibit economies of size.

The next three chapters embody papers that use quarterly panel data of city-level air traffic, airline delay, and socioeconomic variables. Spanning 10 years (2003-2012), the panel structure of the data permits the use of fixed effects to control for city-specific heterogeneity.

The second chapter presents a paper prepared for the Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP). The study demonstrates the within-city traffic impacts of urban size, employment composition, and wages, providing new insights into the determinants of passenger and air cargo traffic. The essay also confirms that airport traffic is proportional to population, and that service-sector employment and higher wages induce passenger travel and goods movement. A city's share of manufacturing employment, however, only impacts air cargo traffic. Passenger enplanements exhibit more sensitivity to the proportion of urban workers providing non-tradable services, compared to the share of workers in tradable service jobs.

The third chapter, co-authored with Andre Tok, examines the determinants of air cargo traffic in California. The study uses a shorter 7-year panel (2003-2009), and shows that service and manufacturing employment impact the volume of outbound air cargo. Total (domestic) air cargo traffic is found to grow faster than (proportionally to) population, while wages play a significant role in determining both total and domestic air cargo movement. Metro-level air cargo tonnage are also forecasted for the years 2010-2040, indicating that California's total (domestic) air cargo traffic will increase at an average rate of 5.9 percent (4.4 percent) per year in that period.

The final chapter is co-authored with Volodymyr Bilotkach, and it provides the first evidence on the impact of airline delays on urban-sectoral employment. Controlling for unobserved city-specific differences, the empirical estimates of the effects of air traffic on total employment are comparable to previously reported measures. However, service-sector employment is found to be less sensitive to air traffic than other studies suggested. New evidence confirming that delays have a negative impact on employment is also provided, a finding that is robust to various model specifications.

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