ATC Strategy When Frequencies are Busy


I tried searching for a similar topic but couldn’t find one…

I have been trying real hard to master ATC the past few months. One thing that isn’t taught on any video or test are how to handle large amounts of volume on your ground and tower frequencies when controlling both.

Outside of sending a broadcast message that the airport is busy and to expect delays, I’m curious to know what some of our experienced ATC do in terms of strategy in successfully handling very busy frequencies? I find myself getting overwhelmed and that’s not going to fly if/when I become IFATC.

I’m not looking for a specific perfect answer…just tips/tricks/input that could help me and others who face similar circumstances become a better controller.

I appreciate any and all feedback.



I would like to know this too, as it would be very useful.


A good tip is to trust the pilot , especially on expert server. They’re smarter than you think!


Just don’t control 2 frequencies at once at a busy airport. For example, if most people are in the SoCal region and LAX is open, don’t take both tower and ground as it could get pretty busy. Try to take just one frequency, but at smaller airports like SNA or PSP then you could probably control both tower and ground. Best of luck when applying for IFATC!


I agree and I do give benefit of the doubt on ts1. I just give instruction as if they are going to follow them, even if they dont.

I guess what I am getting at is when I get to a point when all of the planes on tower and ground are blinking in my face, I get a sinking feeling like I’m failing the pilots. I don’t want to do that. I’d like to know what are some tips on how to handle so many requests at once. I try to stay in order as its taught in the training video that ATC is first come first served, but falling behind like that makes me lose track…if that makes sense. At that point I try to evaluate who is ready for takeoff or landing…but then I feel bad for the pilots who are ready to taxi. You see where I’m going with this?


Thanks. I’m in the IFATC process now. I was at EGLL today and I just couldn’t keep up. I appreciate the feedback.


@Grizpac : @RTG113 provides the best most logical answer you’ll get to this question, Ask yourself would you work both Tower and Ground at a B in the real world? Learn your trade 1 position at a time. If you need to combine operations in the future you’ll be ready for the round up.


You are correct, it is the most logical answer. However, small airports get busy too…but probably not Heathrow busy. I also see IFATC frequently control both at the same time with large volumes…I just wasn’t sure their strategy as to how they go about doing it…as mentioned I’ve been going at this for a few months now and I still can’t keep up sometimes :(


It should also be noted that when I started this afternoon at heathrow, there were 2 planes…that quickly morphed into 20-something within minutes.


Yeah I get you. I like to take a breath and deal with things individually. Try not to think of the other blinking lights whilst dealing with a request


It builds with experience. Use the SOUP acronym.

S = swipe- any unnecessary aircraft on your frequency, simply swipe them off your screen so you can focus on those who need to be in contact with you.
O = observe- look at the situation around your airport. What’s going on? Weather? Traffic flow? Backups? Anything that can hinder with your controlling?
U = utilize- use every tool you have at your disposable to assist in managing traffic. If you have approach, communicate! If you have multiple runways, use them!
P = prioritize- what aircraft need your immediate attention? Start with those closest to you/requires instructions first and work your way up and outwards. Seize the moment and stay in control of developing situations.

I’m trademarking SOUP. Hungry and fun.


Take a deep breath and focus on person individually. Don’t rush through things because that’s when mistake occur. Deal with everyone one by one cause they know to expect delay.


I love this @JoshFly8 …you are always so helpful!


The only way to improve your ability to handle large volumes of traffic is to handle large volumes of traffic. That’s not quite the tautology that it seems to be. Just like anything else, only encountering it and pushing through will get you there.

Obviously, that’s not the answer you’re looking for, so here’s a few things to consider:

Prioritize based on the urgency of the need. Meaning, if you have someone LUAW with an inbound, keeping an eye on the exiting aircraft and getting that guy off the ground before the inbound has to go around is more important than someone receiving a pushback command.

When I’m controlling a busy airport like KLAX or KJFK, I make sure everyone on Tower and in need of sequencing or clearance is taken care of before I go through a sweep of pushback requests, etc. I don’t bounce to ground for every pushback request instantly. If they wait a few seconds, there’s no danger. If I don’t clear or sequence those in the immediate airspace, that’s more of an issue than a guy having to sit for a sec at the gate.

In the air, if it’s busy, don’t be afraid to assert your control over the airfield. If you have pilots atop each other, you can separate with a 360 (not on final, that’s go around). You can utilize extend downwind. But mostly, make sure you sequence as early as you can ascertain which will be the correct sequence. If pilots don’t follow sequencing, don’t be afraid to just let them come on down then send them on a go around.

Many controllers on TS tend to try to call everyone’s base, etc. There’s no need for that, typically. Let the sequencing be your control. If they don’t follow, send them around.

Work your way out from tower to the end of your airspace, more immediate need to less so. 25 miles out, give them a pattern entry, then you have some time while they continue inbound to work on ground, etc.

Monitor speeds and spacing while planes are invound. Know the plane you have at the hold short for departure. Is it an A388? Or a 319? That affects how much space you need to get them off the ground. Have a plan for what you’re gonna do when the inbound lands before it lands. Do you have enough space to land up? Do you need to send the second inbound around?

This probably doesn’t come out in the written word as I think about it in my head, but there really is no substitute for experience. You can’t find the ability to manage huge volumes in a book. You just have to be stranded at KJFK and work through it. Much like building up speed on a guitar, pushing your processing speed can only be done with practice and experience.

Of course, I’m talking about what happens when you become IFATC (where you’ll gradually build up from low- to high-trafficked fields) on Expert.

On the Training Server, you just wait for the guys to take off from the ramp and skip the line :)

[Edit: The above should say SOUP :). Sorry, I like to write.]



That’d make for a nice thesis, though. ;)


I’m definitely going to be using this acronym when controlling in the future!


@Tim_B I appreciate the response. You as well…always so helpful. Thank you!


I still cant handle large traffic for long periods without getting flustered. While im working at becoming more active controlling as well as growing size of airport as i move on in IFATC.

I ask for help to tag on the frequencies if im not confident.

If its too much for me, although i still mess up, i use the airport is busy expect delays so the few ground aircrafts wanting to push back would wait a little while i settle tower.

If the traffic is too packed and i still cant get ground off, I’ll start denying entry when it becomes chaotic to me.

Its probably not that good but ive managed to buy sometime to think but i also fail sometimes. Im still working on all these as i climb in IFATC. At the end of my failures i just keep a mental note on how I could do better after this session then work on the issues the nexe session.

As Tim mentioned, the only way to get it is do it enough =p


Agreed! A while ago I was controlling at KSAN on expert and the situation proves your point perfectly. There was around 20 aircraft without approach service, so it was quite difficult since there was only 1 runway. But eventually, pilots just started lining up in a neat and beautiful approach line after being given a simple approach instruction and often followed the pilot in front before they even got on my frequency! It truly surprised me and is one of my favorite moments on IFATC so far.

I only took one screenshot, it is at one of the weaker points. The line ended up being easily twice as long.


As a first thing, a deep breath !
, no panic,
organize -
you must always have a strategy, a plan, but much more important A PLAN B, you always have to calculate someone running the commands late, so replace it with The one that follows it, just as my other colleagues say.
But believe me,is very adrenaline!