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Imagine multiple controllers talking on the same frequency would be a nightmare for pilots and other controllers.

So in real life how many controllers are there for each frequency? If there are more than one, how do they split the work load?

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There is one frequency per sector and there can be two controllers per sector, one working the scope / talking to aircraft and one assisting with flight strips and coordination with adjacent sectors. If the sector does not require a second controller to coordinate and assist with flight strips, there will only be one controller doing all tasks single-handedly.

In some cases, two sectors are combined and both frequencies are manned by the same controller, but this is only done in low-traffic times, where overlapping transmissions have a low probability.

A good and well-written source to understand how ATC sectors and split workload works is the AVWeb Series of Say Again? by Don Brown.

See this related question for more information:
What is the maximum number of planes a controller can control?

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  • $\begingroup$ That very series (Say Again) actually mentions that the usual case is that there is no D-side :) $\endgroup$ – falstro Feb 24 '15 at 11:38
  • $\begingroup$ @falstro I reworded the answer. Most sectors in Germany don't have a D-side either, especially not the FIS specialists. $\endgroup$ – SentryRaven Feb 24 '15 at 12:42
  • $\begingroup$ @falstro & SentryRaven, would one of you define D-side for the curious, non-pilots among us? $\endgroup$ – FreeMan Feb 24 '15 at 13:10
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    $\begingroup$ @FreeMan D-side, or Data-side, handles the flight strips, checking for potential conflicts before they get to the radar, and so on. The one handling the radar and the radio is called R-side (I think for radio-side) $\endgroup$ – falstro Feb 24 '15 at 13:11
  • $\begingroup$ I have heard were controllers of adjacent sectors would speak on the frequency (this is in the US). It usually happens when someone did not switch properly and they just ask them to switch over to their frequency, or when they want to stay in contact with someone who is out of the range of their frequency. Only happens rarely though! $\endgroup$ – Maverick283 Feb 24 '15 at 16:17

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