Air Traffic Control
Reference: FAA Aeronautical Information Manual, AOPA Publications

Today’s air traffic control system has evolved over many years since the early days of aviation. As the skies have became crowded flying is no longer limited to fair weather with miles of visibility. With this in mind, a system of rules and radar monitoring has greatly improved air traffic safety). Today you may fly either under visual flight rules (VFR) or instrument flight rules (IFR). We will cover this from a US perspective but essentially the basic principles apply throughout the world. This lesson covers VFR procedures only.

Visual rules dictate certain weather minimums exist (visibility, distance from clouds) before you can fly this way. If they don’t, then you must either not fly or plan a flight under instrument rules. In order to do so you must be rated for instrument flight. At Altair, that means completion of Instrument Flying training and passing the written exam that goes with it. Under visual rules (VFR), you are responsible for separation from other aircraft. In the instrument world (IFR) ATC has responsibility to provide aircraft separation in addition to any responsibility the pilot has. In the US, Class "A" airspace (the space above 18,000 feet), must be done under IFR. So to fly VFR means (1) Weather must be above minimums (usually 3 miles visibility; and 500 feet below 1,000 feet above and 2,000 horizontally from the clouds.

Except at towered airports, under VFR you generally are not required to interact with ATC since the responsibility for safety is yours. You are required to set your transponder to squawk 1200 whenever flying VFR. This tells ATC that you are a VFR flight and not being monitored by radar services. Depending on where you are, ATC procedures will differ.

Non-towered airports...

When there is no control tower position staffed, pilots should announce their intentions (taxi, departure, approach and landing), on the common traffic advisory frequency (CTAF) for the airport.

Towered airports...

On the ground, you should contact ground control (if staffed) or the tower for taxi clearance and takeoff clearances. For arrival, procedures depend on whether the airspace is:

Class "D" Airspace: Pilots must make radio contact with the tower (or facility providing ATC services), before entering the airspace. Class "D" is usually up to 2,500 feet AGL surrounding the airport.

Class "C" Airspace: Pilots must make contact with the facility providing ATC services (usually an approach controller) before entering the airspace. Class "C" is usually up to 4,000 feet AGL and ten miles surrounding the primary airport underlying its space.

Class "B" Airspace: Pilots must have an ATC clearance (on the ground departing or in the air arriving) before entering Class B. Class B airspace is individually tailored for the primary airport, but usually runs up to 10,000 feet AGL.

Airspace Classification VFR en route flights may at their option contact approach or center controllers and request flight following. This is provided by ATC if their workload permits. It means they will monitor your flight on radar and provide traffic advisories. It is a good way to make your flight safer.

Communications procedures...

What to communicate when to ATC depends on whether you are coming or going, and the type of airspace you are transiting. Also, VFR communications differs from when operating under IFR. VFR is a little less structured than IFR. This tutorial covers communications when operating under VFR. Focus on the VFR section.

For examples from the AOPA, you may also want to read this article for operations at towered airports (scroll down to the "communications" section) and here for operations at non-towered airports. Interactions with ATC in the vicinity of a class D (towered) and open communications at a non-towered airport are explained nicely.

Practice flight:

This time, we’ll use the FS2002 ATC. Make sure you have ATC active and AI traffic active (see instructions below). Once again from KLGB, preflight your aircraft, start your engines, do your before taxi checks and contact LGB Ground. Request taxi and east departure. We’re going to make a short flight from LGB to John Wayne-Orange County, KSNA. You’ll fly toward the El Toro VOR (ELB 117.20), which is on an approximate bearing of 105 degrees from KLGB. Follow ground instructions, then contact tower as instructed. Request takeoff clearance and follow tower directions making sure you read back instructions in all cases. Takeoff as directed.

At about 700 feet start your turn toward to the east toward the ELB VORTAC. You should have already tuned it in and set the OBS to approximate or expected bearing. Passing 1,000 feet, continue to climb to 1,500 feet. This is a short flight so we’ll stay low and set your OBS to fly TO ELB and make your heading accordingly.

When LGB tower advises you are leaving their airspace and frequency change approved you then tune in SOCAL approach on your COM radio. You don’t have to contact them yet but monitoring will give you a sense of the traffic in the area. Santa Ana John Wayne is Class "C" airspace so you’ll have to contact approach or the tower before entering about 5 miles past the Seal Beach VORTAC 115.70.

About five miles past SLI you should see KSNA dead ahead (you may have to scan right and left). You will be coming in perpendicular to the runways from the west. Go ahead and select the airport option in the ATC text box. Choose John Wayne-Orange County and tune to the tower. Request a full stop landing and begin a descent to pattern altitude. Follow tower’s instructions and enter the pattern. Land when cleared (or go around if instructed), clear the runway to the left and continue to follow ATC directions. Wait for ground clearance before taxiing to the gate. FS2002 ATC Configuration

Activating FS2002 ATC:

From the FS2002 Options menu, select Settings then ATC… Set as shown here. Use the tilde key (~ character) to toggle the ATC text window on and off. Turning on the “Aircraft labels” is a matter of preference. I find it easier to see airborne traffic with the labels on.


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