I feel fairly certain that when the Wright brothers flew, they did not need to contact air traffic control for clearances.

These days, it isn't uncommon for the entirety of a flight to be under ATC control, from before leaving the departure gate to after landing. Even flights in uncontrolled airspace can make use of services provided by ATC.

Ignoring early departure and late approach and landing, and instead focusing on the en-route or cruise part of flight, when was the first time civilian aircraft were directed or guided from one aerodrome to another by air traffic control (or perhaps rather, what would later evolve into modern ATC; I doubt it was called "air traffic control" at the time) in a manner similar to today's? Where in the world did this take place?

  • $\begingroup$ In the 1920's U. S. Airmail used a slightly older method $\endgroup$
    – TomMcW
    Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 18:26
  • $\begingroup$ Probably about the same time we called them aerodromes. $\endgroup$
    – Trevor_G
    Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 23:47
  • $\begingroup$ I think you need to be clearer about the distinction between "control" and "make use of services". As a GA pilot flying VFR, I can use services such as flight following, traffic advisories, even flight plans, but once I'm away from a towered airport (or other controlled airspace), those are voluntary, not controlling. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Dec 28, 2017 at 3:12

1 Answer 1


In 1920, Croydon Airport, London was the first airport in the world to introduce air traffic control.

In the United States, air traffic control developed three divisions. The first of air mail radio station was created in 1922 after World War I when the U.S. Post Office began using techniques developed by the Army to direct and track the movements of reconnaissance aircraft.

In 1930, the first radio-equipped control tower in the United States began operating at the Cleveland Municipal Airport.


  • 3
    $\begingroup$ This answer would be great with some references. $\endgroup$
    – Jamiec
    Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 11:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Jamiec Thanks for the advice. I added a link. $\endgroup$
    – Squareoot
    Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 13:49
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ This is interesting, but it doesn't seem to answer the question about en-route ATC (as opposed to Ground/Tower/Approach/Departure at a particular field.) $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 17:17

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