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The pressure cooker is the Terminal Radar Control tower at Los Angeles International airport, where air traffic controllers (ATCs) monitor more than 1,200 landings and takeoffs every 24 hours. It is the world's third busiest air terminal (only Chicago's O'Hare and Atlanta International are busier), but for ATCs it is the world's most demanding duty, since four of the world's seven busiest airports are located within 40 miles of Los Angeles International (LAX). At any time of day, one-fourth of the planes aloft in the U.S. are in flight patterns over the 40- by 100-mile Los Angeles basin. During rush hour an ATC may have 20 planes stacked in holding patterns over his runway or runways, all of them coming in on instruments he's monitoring. LAX has only four parallel runways to handle its 495,000 yearly landings and takeoffs. At random moments each day, equipment fails--and for a few seconds or minutes the ATC goes deaf, dumb, and blind. ""It is then that bis heart races and his chest tightens and his stomach muscles constrict and his blood pressure soars in what has been medically described as a feeling of helplessness and impending disaster which generates more stress than man was built to endure."" And, in that pressure cooker, all is not well. The ATCs' shifts rotate during the week and tend to grind up marriages, not to mention unbalancing everyone's sleeping hours. Nerves, stomachs, minds give way. There is no apparent relief in sight and air traffic is reaching critical mass. . . . If you fly much, don't read this book.

Pub Date: Feb. 22nd, 1978
ISBN: 0393334562
Publisher: Norton