After World War II, commercial air travel grew considerably. Vacationers and business people alike increasingly chose the speed and convenience of flying when traveling to destinations hundreds of miles away, rather than spend several days on a bus or train.
As air traffic increased, pilots began using radios to communicate with controllers on the ground. Later, towers became necessary to manage the growing number of flights, ushering in the modern era of air traffic control.
Military and commercial flight coordination
In the 50s, the airspace was controlled by the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) and the military. However, the CAA had no authority over military flights which could penetrate controlled airspace with little or no warning to other traffic. As a result, a series of near misses and collisions between military and civil aircrafts continued to occur.
For example, on April 21, 1958, the mid-air collision of United Airlines Flight 736 and United States Air Force fighter jet near Las Vegas, Nevada resulted in the death of 49 people, sending both craft into uncontrolled dives toward the ground.
After further congressional hearings, the Federal Aviation Act of 1958 was passed into federal law establishing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
FAA was given complete authority over the control of all airspace in the U.S., including military flights. Furthermore, ATC facilities, procedures, and equipment received even more updates.
Today, planes fly in strictly controlled air corridors. The space among craft is also controlled due to the development of a nationwide radar system.
Although these improvements have contributed to safer air travel, fifty-two years later it seems the ATC system is due for another update.