Where is Approach taking me?

The approach frequency can be a beast to deal with when it is busy. Every now and then I will receive some questions from pilots asking why they were vectored the way they were. On top of that I have had pilots turn early (resulting in “please follow instructions”) or the more annoying “with you” thinking I forgot about them.

After talking to some other approach controllers I thought I might explain the logic to why we do things a certain way.

  • The biggest thing I tell controllers when I am training them for approach is to have a plan. There may be 4 planes right now but since you just logged on that means there is a clump coming in from KSAN or EGBB that you may not be aware of. You need to have an idea in your head on how you are going to route them given the current runway operations.

  • Let’s start out with the general concept. This is my plan for EGLL when we are landing to the west. Planes from the north will enter the north side of the pattern, planes from the south and west will come in from the south. Keep in mind that planes do not have to enter at the same spot, just as long as I can get them into the flow safely.

  • Now from time to time the airspace gets really crowded or there is traffic at EGLC. For this, I like to try to send planes around the airport. This also helps out when people call in at FL250 30 miles from the runway by giving them more time to descend. This also lets me decide at the end of the line if someone is going to L vs R. I can coordinate with my tower controller so we can be more efficient in serving the pilots.

  • One of the most annoying things with EGLL is that you get people from EGLC who take off and wants to land immediately at EGLL. As much as this is a cool way to get a quick landing, it is not realistic. If there is a line of planes, please do not expect to get vectored directly to the runway. In this case I send you for a scenic view of EGLL. (Blue line) If the flow is heavy, expect a longer upwind!

  • Lets talk about Hawaii shall we… PHTO loves traffic since it is at the other end of the region. However because of that we run into the issue of volume. Add to that the fact that it is a single runway and we have a mess to handle to allow for outbound traffic. Because of the terrain, I like to use an S shape pattern when things get really busy. The S pattern also helps to make logical altitude steps. The top may be at FL120, next level FL090, then FL050, etc. This helps to keep planes organized and at a safe distance.

  • Just because your airport has one runway does not limit you on your options when it is busy. EGBB is a busy airport with one runway. Instead of having a long line that spreads the region, you can utilize both downwinds depending on where they are coming from. The right downwind can get a shorter base/final call than the left who gets cleared further back and a little higher. When it is super busy, you can stack them in an S pattern to help manage the airspace (short green dots).

  • Lastly, let’s talk about “Delay Vectors”. This gets the most questions from pilots after a session because it seems odd. A delay vector is a quick out of the way vector with the sole purpose of creating space between planes. This is a great technique to use when first spawning and realizing that you have a number of planes all next to each other. One plane can remain on its course but the other plane can turn right to create some space then turn back towards the airport. It does not look like much on a map but a few miles worth of delay vectors can really make a difference and eliminate a need for 360s later on.

Keep in mind that there is no 100% perfect way to do it and each region has its own difficulties to work around. But the main point to remember is that approach has a plan and there is no need to check in (“With you”) just because you are in a pattern and it has been more than a minute since approach contacted you. Also if you see that there is heavy volume at your destination airport and you expect to fly your flight plan, please expect a deviation as you get closer to fit you in traffic. We try to accommodate flight plans but some times with the load it just doesn’t fit.

In addition, as always, please remember that approach will not line you up with the runway. We will get you to a final 30 degrees and then it is up to you to make the final turn! PS. Making the final turn at <190 kts is easier than making it at 245. :)

Happy flying, approaching, and landings!


Wonderful topic. Really there should not be a problem with Where is App going with this vector. I will say the only time I have ever wonder where App was putting me was when App dint give a heads up of closing and closed with a lost line of aircraft.


@Chris_S… MaxSez: Excellent factual, graphic, supported explanation of the Approach Controllers challenge. At some point the Fledgling Pilot will understand there flying hiways in the sky and all road do not lead directly to ones destination!

The only thing beyond the control of the author here regarding Approach and operations is the failure of FDS to address and correct in a timely fashion the program problem associated with the Controller “Holding Points” interface. If the “Holding Point” program where operational and “ATIS” where functioning as designed the Approach Flow Control Problems evidence daily would quickly improve! Just Saying…

(Food for the active mind: Require Airliners to " fly Airways en-route" for long hauls now. Global if implemented with shotgun (non-airway) routing as flown now will be chaos)


Excellent topic @Chris_S !!! The one thing I am missing there is the flyovers. That’s probably the one that I have the most problems with… a lot of pilots don’t understand the idea of flying over the airport to the opposite downwind and request altitude changes, re-request ILS/RV, check in, etc… maybe something to add to your graphics either KSAN or EGBB RWY 33 (this one I like the approach to the east with a flyover back into the right downwind).


Exactly! Why waste a pilot’s time by sending them upwind only to circle the airport when I can cross them well over the airport. I just need to get them to that side, don’t care how!


What a brilliant topic! Thanks for taking the time to put this together.
Hope many Pilots will take the time to take this in.

Also a great learn for anyone who wants to learn to become an Approach ATC!


I enjoyed every second reading every single words in this topic! I’ve never read any topic this good and it’s well written. Now I am aware of where Approach might vector me to and I’ll keep this in mind when I control Approach later in the future :)

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Approach knows what they’re doing 99% of time, but one time I was on the downwind like 20 miles from the beginning of the ILS intercept for EGLL even after requesting approach multiple times they did not acknowledge me even while they were vectoring other planes, so then I just diverted to another airport - and this was on expert server!

Very well stated and explained Chris. Bravo Zulu!

Connection issues most likely… I’ve seen this happen.

When I switched over to the other airport’s tower they cleared me to land right after requesting

So instead of talking about a few of the 99% good experiences, you choose to talk about the 1% when something didn’t go your way.


Since you asked…

  1. I was on approach to PSP a few weeks ago, controller tells me to make a left 360. I make the left 360 and then he hits me with “please follow instructions”. I then disconnect to avoid a possible ghosting, PM the controller a LiveFlight screenshot along with the details. He then responded, offering an apology saying that he too was unsure, checked LiveFlight and was going to tell me to disregard but I was already gone.

  2. Some newly crowned grade 3 cuts in front of me about 12 miles from the runway. He was previously told to use a different runway. Every time APPR kept telling him to follow instructions, he kept requesting the runway I was cleared for and he was not. After some time APPR hits him with “check tutorials on forum” and sends him off on his way to a 7 day TS1 vacation.

  3. I had to go around at KSAN because of someone who took rather long to begin their takeoff roll. I contacted approach and realized there was a pretty long line of planes on approach, at least 5-6 planes long with 4-5 NM spacing. I expect to be sent all the way back, but instead ATC notices a space in between 2 planes in the ILS cone, so he gives me a tight base turn and tells the plane behind me to maintain slowest speed.

  4. On approach to 28R at KPDX I’m taken on a scenic approach, above a river in between 2 canyons. At one point, I was even lower than the height of the canyons, and ATC managed to get the headings and altitudes perfectly so I don’t go for a swim or fly straight into the mountains.

Those are some of them. Of course I can’t remember each and every good experience from the top of my head.


When at happens, you can be fairly certain you are unknown. We can’t respond.

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The first time I got vectored by approach by IFATC I had no idea what was happening, but after that I could understand all the traffic flows and all that stuff 😉👍


Great topic. Being approach is frustationg not knowing where people are going and people don’t listen. Hope more people listen now. Also makes me a better pilot

I would like to address one thing here as well…

While ATC strives to provide excellent service to all of our pilots, it can get difficult with large volumes of traffic. Now I do realize it’s fairly easy for pilots to simply take the easy way and consider only themselves and what’s convenient to them. We all know that this just makes things more difficult and less fun.

We as atc enjoy doing what we do - albeit it getting incredibly busy/stressful at times - and pilots taking the time to do the smallest things to help us out goes an extremely long way to making things that much less stressful for us. I can list just a few easy things that help us out tremendously:

  • When filing a flight plan and approach is active at your destination, find the general line that the controller is using to bring aircraft in and build your fpl on that line in a general sense. This tells approach that you are already being mindful of his operations.
  • If approach is not active, either bring yourself in and lining up for a downwind or find the flow of traffic and start forming a line with good spacing. This helps the tower controller sequence you all in and operate the runways more smoothly.
  • Whether approach is active or not, descend early. If we as controllers see you are already at a reasonable altitude for the distance you are from your destination, that saves us time from having to accommodate time for you to descend to a more appropriate altitude and helps us focus on other things.

We understand pilots just want to have an enjoyable flight and we as atc strive to provide excellent service to everyone. But trust me when I say this: interaction and service between pilots and atc is a two-way street. Just simple things to help out atc makes our jobs easier and allows us to be that much better at providing service to everyone.

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MaxSez: “Flyovers” are kind of a VFR/Ga thing me thinks! They would not be required most of the time if IFR airliners where required to file en-route via airways. What say you @MannyG?

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Yes, you are probably correct @Maxmustang although spacing is also key here. I see beatiful flight plans all the time - that’s of no help to me if there are 4 aircraft flocked. Going back to my EGBB runway 33 with all of the straight ins from the London region. Number of outbound runways > inbound runways - that’s an issue. The flyover is a way of putting them on a line and creating turns so we can create proper spacing. To your poijt, it may not be realistic from a commercial airliner perspective but the volume of traffic is not realistic either so we must adapt.

Side note: a lot of pilots really like flyovers, anytime I have a flyover pattern going on I get DMs showing appreciation for the approach work.


With STARs and C/D and airway routing and across-the-board ATC coverage, I’d say you’re probably right. Alas…