When approach is busy...

I was looking through a replay of my NY approach session yesterday, and it became painfully obvious that unnecessary requests were adversly affecting my response time between clears. Here’s what happens when it’s as busy as it was yesterday.

I was utilizing 4L and 4R, and was trying to pump aircraft in with 3-5mi spacing. Let’s say 4mi for the sake of discussion. If the speed is 180kts (unfortunately most pilots fly faster), they’re making 3+mi/min, so considering both runways, you’ve got roughly 30s between clears. When you’re working parallel runways, you need to guarantee spacing, so altitude and the accuracy of the final clear is critical. As a result, you may have to Camp on people for 5-10s before issuing the clear. Now you’re down to 20s. Another 5s is eaten up as you watch to see if the pilot will intercept. If not, you’ll need to issue a go around. Now you’ve got 15s left for ebpveryone else. In that 15s you need to scan the rest of the airspace, and make whatever adjustments are necessary to keep aircraft arriving such that you can fill the final approach line. You also need to watch the arrivals for separation issues caused by pilots flying at radically different speeds, and give initial vectors to new aircraft on frequency such that they don’t collide with other aircraft.

Even though that work is a blast when it’s going well, it is rather demanding, and requires a machine like approach to all those tasks in order to pull it off such that for the individual pilot, he has no clue he’s in the middle of a frenzy of activity. You actually get in a rhythm, clear someone, jump to your action points, the points in your arrival plan where you turn and/or make altitude adjustments, scan the field for separation issues, and give initial vectors to new arrivals on frequency. Rinse repeat.

What brings this process down to its knees are constant superfluous requests by people asking for the following…

Altitude requests
Unless you’re flying straight for a mountain, just maintain altitude. We’ll bring you down in line with our plan.

Runway changes
We put you on a runway for a reason. It may not be clear to you why, but just go with it. Tower may have a queue on ground so approach may be avoiding a runway(s). We also balance the load between runways, so you may not get the one you want.

Checking in
We know you’re on frequency, no need to check in after you get the initial vector

Approach service changes (Flight Following, Radar Vectors, Visuals, VFR)
Once you’ve been given a service, go with it. More than likely we won’t change it even if you ask.

Frequency change
Stay with approach until we tell you to switch to someone else or freq change ok.

Every time we get one of these requests, we’re taken away from the process we have in place to manage the airspace effectively. First we have to look at your situation and try to determine why you’re calling in again, then in most cases we have to repeat something to keep your tag accurate, or tell you to be patient. You’ve just eaten into the precious little time we have to manage the airspace.

Unfortunately, you can frequently have multiple requests like this pending, which can impact the quality of service everyone is receiving.

So, to make a long story short, be patient, we have a plan. Sometimes we do lose track of people. For those cases, if you are 50mi away from everyone else heading to the airport and flying away (use your map) go ahead and checkin. When that happens, I feel like an idiot, apologize, and get you back on track.

One final note, if you want out of an arrival line, create a flightplan to a different airport and ask for flight following to that airport. Don’t ask for frequency change. We see that as you trying to get around the plan we have in place.


The problem is some pilot are impatient and want to obtain what they request straight away. It’s tough being ATC when pilots are lacking Airmanship…


Hope you don’t mind if I bookmark your topic in my bookmarks :) . I am one exception to this where I’m wanting to learn, but I don’t want to be annoying , even on accident in busy airports, so this topic, along with the other topics my friends and other people I’ve met here have given me, will help me do just that. The New York airports looked like a mess, but everything looked under control, and I say to everyone controlling there yesterday: fantastic job :) .
You’re right that it just slows things down when these things happen…


The two biggest unnecessary things requested are altitude requests (both incoming and outgoing aircraft) and early frequency changes.

Be patient guys. 99.9% of the time we got ya under control.


I really don’t know how you do it. One day on approach from the Isle of Man to Dublin I was flying on the ES and I was I total awe in how the sky and approach was organised. I thought to myself I would love to do that. Everyone in a perfect line. A dream - but it wasn’t dream it was real. Having trained hard and managed to qualify for ATC on the ES my dream has been bought down a peg or two. It is really hard to provide good service when people don’t know the rules. That said THANK YOU TO THE RADAR BOYS AND GIRLS WHO PROVIDE US WITH AMAZING SERVICE. And for the older omong you, why am I still obsessed with John Locke?

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Well if you’re looking for the old fart In IFATC, you’ve found him.


Love your style of lining all aircraft up 😍
It looks like the real life which plan with STAR/SID and it’s really beautiful.


Also, please don’t ask for VFR whilst still having a FPL to my airport. That just makes me think you’re going to dash straight for the runway. Either divert (as said by @GHamsz above, don’t just start ignoring my instructions and fly away) or be patient and wait for us to bring you in. No need to tell me you’re with me every 15 seconds.

This FNF whilst working JFK initial approach I had a line of aircraft out to and past the TFR marker, and the most painful part was those who, in that line checked in every 30s. I’d understand your concern if you were the only aircraft in a 50nm radius, but please don’t check in if there’s a plane 10nm in front and behind you at that altitude. Is it really that hard to look at the map and see what the plan is?




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