Check Local Listings
Our sponsor:

Stories: Controlling the Skies

Debra Griffith

Story Location: Warrenton, Virginia More stories in this location

Who’s responsible for managing the traffic in America’s skies? The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) looks after the complex flight management system and Debra Griffith is an air traffic control manager in their Air Traffic Control Command center in Northern Virginia.

Every two hours Debra leads a teleconference, where every major airline, airport, shipping company, the secret service, NASA and the military listen in to hear updates about the day’s flight plan.

One of Debra’s major concerns is the weather. She and her team watch the weather all day from their own weather unit, keeping track of the forecast across America – even watching the weather channel. Over 70% of their flight delays are caused by bad weather, like fog and thunderstorms, which are the most disruptive kind of bad weather for flying. Debra says places like Texas and Florida are always having thunderstorms.

Debra’s job is to restructure the flight plan, re-routing planes to avoid the bad weather. Re-routing planes has a knock on effect on the whole system and the flight plan has to be adapted accordingly – to avoid bottle necks in the air traffic.  With five to six thousand flights active during the peak portion of the day, it’s a complicated juggling act.


Shop PBS About the Presenter Yel Kwon