In the beginning, the air traffic control was an attempt to organize flight operations through the application of rules, regulations, and procedures. These rules were supposed to be carried out by pilots and were mainly derivations of existing ground and marine rules of the roads and water. Since the earlier flights were of short duration the rules basically were to enforce a “keep to the right” connotation. The early development of the airplane in Europe made it apparent that there should be a more standardized means of enforcing air traffic rules. This came about to facilitate a larger number of aircraft in different countries.
At the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919, following World War I, the International Convention for Air Navigation was agreed upon internationally. As a result of this meeting, the International Commission for Air Navigation (ICAN) was created to develop the general rules and regulations for air traffic.
Perhaps the grandfather of today’s Instrument Flight Rules was the following ICAN admonition: “Every aircraft in a cloud, fog, mist, or other condition of bad visibility shall proceed with caution, having careful regard to the existing circumstances.”
Since ICAN existed as the only international agency concerned with the operation of aircraft, its rules and procedures were applied in most countries where aircraft were operated.
The United States was not one of the signers of the ICAN convention, however, it followed some of the concepts when it developed a program to established air traffic rules for the navigation, protection and identification of aircraft. It included rules as to safe altitude of flights and rules for the prevention of collisions between vessels and aircraft. In 1927, a program was inaugurated to establish a Federal Airways System, a network of radio beacons and later a similar network of four-course low frequency radio ranges were laid out to connect principle cities in the United States.
The installation of light beacons was a major part of this program. These lights were used to assist in the identification of airways at night.
The first airway traffic control center was established at Newark in 1935 for the main purpose of providing a unified coordination mechanism to handle the airline traffic for the Chicago, Cleveland, and Newark airports.
The Newark Center was used as a training ground for personnel scheduled to operate the three centers under the cooperative plan of the airlines. In April of 1936, the second center was placed in operation in Chicago, and the third at Cleveland during the month of June during that same year. (See Diagram Below)
(figure available in print form)