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This paper considers the fundamental and pervasive role of communications in the operation of the current air traffic control system and in the planning of the advanced systems of the future. The authors discuss the evolution of the present system through its successive "generations" and present the major features of the proposed upgraded third-generation system, with emphasis on the communications requirements imposed by the elements of the upgraded third. Advanced systems concepts, both satellite and ground based, applicable to oceanic as well as continental service, are discussed. The overview concludes with a discussion of communications in relation to automation. The potential capacity of advanced system designs can best be realized by highly automated management.