Computers: Red For La Guardia, Brown for J.F.K.

An intricate system augurs a new era for air-traffic control

At first glance, the image that flashed on the 19-inch computer screen looked like an ordinary road map. Then John Richardson, acting manager of the Federal Aviation Administration's Central Flow Control Facility in Washington, began tapping at his keyboard. With one stroke he zoomed in to an aerial view of the New York metropolitan area, divided not along town or county lines but along sectors of airspace. With another keystroke he eliminated hundreds of tiny black dots showing the location of low-flying aircraft and private jets. What remained on the screen were larger, winged symbols representing commercial airliners. With a few...