Many of us that fly use the “system”. We depend on Air Traffic Control (ATC) to get us in one piece to our destination, providing vectors and altitudes en route and additional sequencing and separation at towered fields. It requires an instrument rating and certain currency requirements. but the added safety is worth the effort.
Hundreds of thousands of passengers depend on the pilots who depend on the controllers every day. Guys like me, who don’t fly “big iron”, get the same help as a 747. That’s because two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time. So there are published airways, departure procedures and published approaches. Sometimes things may get off track due to equipment problems. ATC has come to my rescue, on more than one occasion, and has kept many others from having a very bad day. There’s procedures for lost radio contact in IFR situations, but that’s a tough place to be in. The voice on the other end of the line is reassuring when in the goo.
ATC certainly saved the day last April when a King Air pilot was incapacitated. Most are knowledgeable and helpful. A few are obnoxious and rude. Regardless, in the air, they are the traffic cops and you follow their speeds and directions. You can deviate if it compromises safety but be prepared for a friendly chat with the FAA . On balance, these folks are great.
The terminal radar control (TRACON) areas are probably the most frenetic but there are plenty of class B & C tower controllers and air route traffic controllers (ARTCC) that really earn their pay.
For a great write up of life in the fast lane in one of the busiest airspaces you should check this New York times story:” Something’s got to Give “. You’ll be surprized. Meet Jughead, The Wheel and Doctor Freeze. Find out why a “deal” is anything but. I can only wonder at the environment that seems both art and science that amazingly works every day.
h/t to Dan for the story