We know that each air traffic control facility has a "supervisor", a person who is "in charge of the controllers", so to speak.

What exactly are the duties of the supervisor? Here are some of the things I've guessed:

  1. Resolve conflicts between a pilot and a controller (by assigning a different controller to the position? Taking over the radio directly?)
  2. Assist in emergency situations (coordinate with nearby airports / approach sectors?)
  3. Deciding when to merge / split sectors, when to bypass noise reduction procedures due to weather etc.

Am I correct?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I can very easily see #1 getting outright dangerous very quickly. You don't just replace someone in a high-stress situation and have everything instantly work out. And of course the pilot doesn't report (in the managerial sense) to anyone in ATC. It's generally in every pilot's interest to comply with ATC, because ATC has the "bird's-eye" view of their airspace which each pilot can only observe a narrow cone of, but the pilot still has the choice of exercising their authority over their aircraft if in their judgment doing so is required to avoid or to deal with an emergency situation. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Nov 29, 2017 at 10:36
  • $\begingroup$ For which country are you asking? $\endgroup$
    – pcfreakxx
    Feb 3, 2021 at 17:38

2 Answers 2


In the FAA, there are two types of "supervisors" who might be on duty at any given time: a genuine managerial supervisor, who is part of the managerial pay scale and is not part of the bargaining unit (union); or a "controller-in-charge," a "line" controller (a bargaining unit employee) who has been certified to perform most but not all supervisory duties if a supervisor is on break, not scheduled that day, etc. Sometimes the supervisor or CIC will be working a control position, or they might be working at a desk in the back of the operation not talking to any aircraft directly.

In either case, the general duties of the supervisory position are:

  • Running the shift (determining the break schedule, approving sick leave, etc)
  • Assigning controllers to combine or decombine control positions as traffic and complexity warrant
  • Assigning on-the-job training to ensure trainee controllers get sufficient training time
  • Monitoring the operation and, if they feel it is necessary, instructing a controller to take a specific action to ensure safety (this happens very rarely!)
  • Coordinating with surrounding facilities—not about individual aircraft (the controller on position does that) but about traffic management initiatives, contingency situations (e.g. telling people "we lost commercial power so we're on generators, be prepared in case we lose those too"), etc
  • Answering the commercial phone if people call (survey pilots informing where they will be operating, military ops calling to see if a plane can come do practice approaches, someone claiming they saw a UFO, noise complaints, etc, etc)
  • Keeping the daily log up to date (logging equipment outages, runway closures, etc)
  • Coordinating with other facilities or airport operations regarding emergency aircraft or crashes

The CIC authorized to carry "on the spot" corrections—telling the controller on position they need to do something else for safety reasons—but is not authorized to perform personnel actions like officially counseling a controller about a loss of separation. That's reserved for the actual supervisors.

Of note, if you hear a controller give an instruction and then another controller comes on the frequency and gives a different instruction, that isn't a supervisor. That's the instructor plugged in alongside their trainee controller. During training the certified trainer controller is responsible for the position, so they will give their trainee latitude to make their own mistakes but will step in to prevent an actual safety event.

  • $\begingroup$ Nice answer! When a "tower supe" is needed in order to Line Up & Wait, is that a CIC or is that something else? $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Feb 3, 2021 at 14:24
  • $\begingroup$ @RalphJ we don't use LUAW at my facility but looking at the 7210.3BB, 10–3–8 a.4 and a.6 only say that both the local position and the sup/CIC position must not be combined with any other positions. It's a requirement that the position be staffed, by either a sup or a CIC. $\endgroup$
    – randomhead
    Feb 3, 2021 at 14:58
  • $\begingroup$ So then in practice they'd also need a Ground controller, since that couldn't be combined with Local? Thanks for the insight into the world I talk to often but rarely get to visit! $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Feb 3, 2021 at 15:19

That is a very complex question. What do you mean with ATC facility, exactly? ACC, sector control, approach or something else? Their operation will depend heavily on the type and if it is US, EU or somewhere else.

I can tell you, that there will not be any conflicts between a pilot and an air traffic controller, everybody is very professional, if a pilot really does something wrong or does not comply, a report will be issued, after the fact.

An ACC may receive an emergency call and re-route the plane accordingly. But typically they won't handle emergencies, as the vast majority happens during take-off.

En-route conflicts will not occur in a managed sector, if there should be one unexpectedly, the pilots are responsible, as a last resort you have the TCAS. At least in europe, that is the order of precedence.

Sectors are split according to a fixed plan. Controller roasters are similar to pilot roasters. You can't change them on a whim. Controller workload is watched closely. Also the errors they may make.

Noise reduction is a concern of SIDs/STARs (the routes close to an airport) of the given TMA and they are not in the purview of either an ATC controller or supervisor. They are issued after a lengthy process by the ANSP.

This is a general answer for the situation in EU/US. Things may be different elsewhere.

The ATC facilities:


In a tower, the supervisor will usually
- ensure safe conduct of the watch
- check flight plans, slots, etc
- liase with centers, cfmu, airlines, etc
- handle, support, supervise emergencies
- day-to-day management
- controller management (breaks, time, etc)

Depending on the airport controllers will occupy a wide range of positions.


Approach is typically a different facility, that is colocated and has their own supervisor. The tower supervisor will coordinate with the approach supervisor.


The ACC has similar duties to a tower. The difference is, that the positions are for one sector, there are much more positions. There may be two controllers per sector. You will then have 1-2 "supernumerary controllers" for X controllers.

Apart from that you will have a number of assistants and other personnel for a variety of duties.

In an area control center, the supervisor will ensure, that all this works well together, so much more responsibility.


taxiway assignment

In this situation, we are in the tower on ground control. There is not much a pilot can do other than follow the instructions. Sometimes they have to wait, sometimes they are forgotten or they loose their slot. Sometimes the lineup is slow, there are a number of things that could happen.

It should be noted, that most airports have a departure management software to de-conflict aircraft management. Most pilots know that.

Here a supervisor might go and ask, if a plane can be squeezed in, if it lost its slot.

speed / altitude

In controlled airspace, a pilot will follow the instructions to the letter. There might be communications issues, "climb to" / "climb trough" If they don't comply here, that would be a major issue and would trigger all sorts of alarms. It could ultimately end with two fighter jets next to the aircraft...

plane crash

The controller would handle the aircraft and emergency services, the supervisor will call approach, they will divert all aircraft, most likely back in stacks, then he will close the airport for traffic. Every airport has an ATIS, the message there would be updated. Then the ACC is informed and also cfmu/network manager.

  • $\begingroup$ I read this answer over and over again, and I am really having trouble understanding it and how it addresses the question. Re 1: conflicts do happen, especially in busy airspace. A report is filed later, but something has to be done on the spot to resolve it. Re 2: An aircraft can declare an emergency anywhere and at any point in time. And no idea what TCAS has to do with an emergency. Re 3: A noise reduction policy may route planes to land with non-precision approach or less favorable wind. $\endgroup$
    – kevin
    Dec 4, 2017 at 14:42
  • $\begingroup$ Re 1: In europe capacity planning is such, that the planes are deconflicted before even taking off. Afaik, the same is true in the us. Re 2: Yes, an aircraft can declare an emergency at any time. I rephrased it. But they typically don't have them en-route. Re 3: SIDs/STARs are very strict, the pilots fly them as they are in the AIP. Once a ACC is responsible, the plane is already in the upper airspace and noise is not an issue anymore. $\endgroup$
    – mike
    Dec 4, 2017 at 16:43
  • $\begingroup$ That's what I don't understand in your question. Noise, emergency and such are typically handled in a Tower or Approach. Most emergencies happen during take-off. Some time during/after the climb-out they are handed off to an ACC. Noise will not be an issue anymore. And like I wrote before, when an AC is en route it is de-conflicted, they fly their waypoints and that's it. In my opinion, you need to be more specific about the situation you are taking about. $\endgroup$
    – mike
    Dec 4, 2017 at 16:44
  • $\begingroup$ I think we are having very different interpretations (maybe I should edit to clarify). Re 1: I meant conflict like, an argument between a pilot and a controller, such as taxiway assignments, speed restrictions, altitude restrictions etc. Usually the conflict arises due to being inefficient / waste of time to at least one party. Re 2: say a plane crashed on landing. The tower controller is busy coordinating rescue units, and somebody has to alert approach to stop sending planes to that airport, then somebody has to alert whatever it is further up the chain. $\endgroup$
    – kevin
    Dec 4, 2017 at 17:12
  • $\begingroup$ I think I know the disparity now: by "air traffic control facility" I mean a location which provides ATC service: clearance, ground, tower, approach, departure, en-route etc. While it appears your definition is en-route only. $\endgroup$
    – kevin
    Dec 4, 2017 at 17:18

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