Free time! That was Wednesday afternoon’s motto. Ten of us chose to spend the afternoon at the Iceland Air Traffic Control Center, which manages aircraft over a large part of the North Atlantic. Though it would never be permissible in the United States, we were given a full tour of the center, including the control room. We got to watch and listen as controllers directed aircraft across the Atlantic Ocean.
The controllers sit at stations with advanced computer software that allows them to track and visualize each aircraft. When an aircraft is in radar range, it can be tracked on screen. I was surprised to learn that a large part of the center’s airspace doesn’t have radar coverage. The airspace immediately surrounding Iceland is the only area over the northern Atlantic that does. Over the rest of the ocean, controllers have to rely on updates from pilots to keep track of the aircraft.
Though I knew a little bit about the aviation system before the visit, I learned a lot about how aircraft are managed during trans-Atlantic flights.