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Air Traffic Control aboard Aircraft Carriers

Air Traffic Control aboard Aircraft Carriers is a little bit different compared to land-based Air Traffic Control provided by air traffic control towers or centers. A NIMITZ - class aircraft carrier is the working place for approx. 40 air traffic controllers. Their workload is based on the prevailing weather situation. There are three different cases: case I (5+ nautical miles visibility and 3,000ft+ ceiling), case II (5+ nautical miles visibility and ceiling between 3,000ft and 1,000ft), and case III (visibility less than 5 nautical miles and ceiling below 1,000ft as well as the period between 30min after sunset to 30min before sunset). The controllers control more the worse the weather gets.

The airspace structure around the aircraft carrier can be seen on the graphic below:

Carrier Airspace

The Carrier Control Zone is pretty much like a class D control zone around a land aerodrome. This Carrier Control Zone as well as the Carrier Control Area are only active during carrier flight operations. If a civilian aircraft penetrates this airspace, an operations specialist from the carrier's combat information center will contact the pilot of the aircraft in the way "aircraft squawking xxxx your are in xx airspace" and will instruct him to leave the airspace.

The actual air traffic control work aboard the carrier is done in the Carrier Air Traffic Control Center (CATCC) by a departure controller, a marshal controller, two approach controllers, and two final approach controllers. During a shift there are two supervisors and also a few more positions - usually manned by junior controllers - listening for fuel states. Additionally, there is another room which is like base ops or flight data.

Departing flights follow one of the different departure procedures and establish initial contact with the departure controller shortly after take-off and leave the carrier's frequency when departing the carrier's control area. The departure controller is also in control of the tankers holding overhead the carrier.

- more to come -

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