ATC and Public Relations

ATC and Public Relations

33RD ANNUAL CONFERENCE, Ottawa, Canada, 18-22 April 1994

WP No. 149

ATC and Public Relations


The Job of an ATCO is very difficult to explain in detail to the general public. However, the general public is very much interested in ATC. In almost in every ATC unit you will find visitors every day. In most countries there is even a Public Relation Officer showing and explaining ATC to guests. It is important that the general public is informed how we deal with their safety from the moment the aircraft is starting the engines. IFATCA also recognises the importance of public relations. In the past our Federation even produced a videotape (“A Blip’s Trip”).

Also to the press, explanation is important. Not only general information, but in detail. From publications one can conclude that the aviation press is not always completely aware of how the ATC is organised, the procedures involved and the shared responsibility between ATCO and Pilot.

Also in industry public relation plays a very important role. Compared with ATC public relations, industry is executing public relations in a much more ‘aggressive’ way. Compare advertising, how it is done today with some years ago. It is this ‘aggressive way’ that is coming into the world of ATC.


There are signals that the aggressive way of executing PR is becoming a tendency in the privatised ATC world. Why? More and more ATC units are being privatised and more and more industry management is applying for management posts within the new ATC Company’s. Together with this new kind of management in ATC, a new approach to ATC public relation is introduced. In the paragraph above the word “tendency” is used. It is necessary to be more specific. At least in the Netherlands there are people thinking of having a so called “Public Room”. This place will be open to any visitor who wants to know something about ATC. Until this stage there is nothing against it. The point is that the visitor will get access to actual radar data and radiotelephony without any guidance.

The great danger is that people without any ATC background will start to interpret radar data, without knowing airspace layout, separation criteria, ATC procedures, Letters of Agreement, special transponder settings, ICAO codes and abbreviations, etc. etc. The big difference with the present situation is that there is no explanation from an ATC expert. Without this explanation one could jump into all kind of strange and untrue conclusions. For the general public it would be more understandable if they see a special prepared tape on a radar screen together with audio explanation.

If you look to the present IFATCA policies, much is said about ‘Recordings and transcripts’, ‘Use of recorded data’ and ‘Access to recorded data’ especially in relation to the protection of the ATCO.

Nothing is said about the use of actual data. Most probably because this is completely new in the ATC world. Nevertheless, rules are needed in relation to use of actual radar data and radiotelephony.


Public relation in the ATC world is important. In industry, public relation is more aggressive than within ATC. There is a tendency of having facilities where the public has a free access to actual radar data and radiotelephony. Due to this free access, there is a great danger of misinterpretation or misuse of information. Protection is needed of the ATCO in relation of a free access to actual radar data and radiotelephony.


IFATCA recognises that Public Relation can play an important role in the promotion of ATC services. However, unsupervised public access to actual radar and radiotelephony data can lead to misuse and misinterpretation. Therefore, access to actual radar and radiotelephony data, other than that regulated by the relevant national legislation, shall not be approved.

Last Update: September 20, 2020  

December 23, 2019   288   Jean-Francois Lepage    1994    

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