Which ATC to contact when?

Hi all, here is a guideline to who you should contact and when:

  • ATIS: this is where it normally all starts when available. ATIS stands for “Automatic Terminal Information System”. This is a computer generated voice that will inform the pilot with the actual runway in use, runway condition, wind, temperature, visibility, airfield pressure etc etc. There is a huge list of stuff that can be in the ATIS. Just tune in and listen to it, in IF a controller could, for example, put in the ATIS “No pattern work allowed” so then you already know that you should not ask to remain in the pattern.

Also you use ATIS when you want to land at a certain airport, this way you can find out the runway in use and the weather, and the controller might have added some extra useful information in the ATIS.

Click on the link to listen to an actual ATIS from London Heathrow.

  • Ground: After you get the necessary airport information you can get started. On the ground frequency you will request for pushback or taxi. At most big airports you will need to pushback first but there are occasions that you could request for taxi straight away. There are a lot of occasions that the pilot is asking for pushback while he should request taxi or the other way around so please check the following pictures:

Request pushback:

Here you can see me parked in a spot where we need to pushback before taxiing out. You can see the yellow taxi line behind me, this is the line to follow when taxiing so to follow the taxi you need to “push backwards” first. “Request pushback”

Request taxi:

In this example the yellow line is in front of us and we can start taxiing straight away to follow it, “request taxi”.

When you request taxi, the ground controller will tell you “taxi to runway XX, contact tower when ready”. Remember, contact tower when ready! So please do not ask for frequency change. The moment you get close to the holding point you should switch to the tower frequency yourself.

  • Tower: When you are ready for departure you have to contact the tower controller. Please only request take off when you are #1! It does not make sense and it blocks the frequency if you are #5 for example and you request take off. Please do not ask to remain in the pattern if you fly to another airport. “Remaining in the pattern” means that you want to fly a traffic pattern, left or right, and you want to come back for landing or do some "touch and go"s.

  • Departure: After you get airborne, tower will tell you “contact departure on xxx.xx” So far this make sense, only important thing to highlight is that departure is not available in most airports and in the big ones it’s only used when it gets super busy. What happens when departure is not available you can read in 5 seconds… You normally stay with departure until reaching FL180 as around that time the approach controller will tell you to contact “center” or when you are being transferred to the approach controller or tower for your destination airport.

  • Approach:, the approach controller has a confusing name. He takes care of all the traffic inbound but he also takes care of the OUTBOUND traffic when there is no departure frequency available. You normally stay with approach until reaching FL180 as around that time the approach controller will tell you to contact “center” If you want to fly a pattern, you might be switched to approach when it’s busy to avoid confusion about sequencing. Sometimes you might stay on tower, it depends as so far we have no rule regarding this. When on the approach frequency don’t ask for frequency change to tower as the approach controller will hand you over to the tower when you are established on the localized.

  • Center: The center controller will take care of all traffic above FL180 and will take care of the “pre-arrival” sequencing. It might happen that when there is no other ATC unit available the center controller will guide you to the runway or he will control you below FL180, but ONLY when there is no departure or approach controller available.

So how can you see which ATC unit is available on which airport??

It is very easy to find out if ATC services are available. Please check the picture:

Just to make this picture I opened all available frequencies in London Heathrow, you can see I have selected EGLL and all active ATC positions show up and the controllers name / nickname is also there.

There are 2 different options; when ground and/or tower is open you will see the airport identifier in green.

When any other frequency is open you will see the identifier in green with between brackets (APP). This means any combination of departure, approach and or center is open.

Important note: when ATC tells you, “Frequency change approved”, please switch to any unicom as you are out of the airspace of the controller and we don’t want you to remain in our screen full of flightstrips.


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Did the link with the ATIS work? :)


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Hopefully many will find this to be very valuable. And make IF a much better flying experience for all.
Thanks for all the time you put into this tutorial and other ones. As many of us know your are a very busy man.


Moved to tutorials! Great! :)

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Why is there an ils approach request on departure

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Incase you want to come back to the airport you can request it so departure can send you to the approach controller.

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Thank you this is what I like to wake up to in the mornings! Good quality community tutorials to help many. Fantastic work, thank you for the time you have given us.

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How do you become ATIS? It’s always blocked?

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ahh okay. thank you though :)

This just crossed my mind:

If you are holding short on a certain runway shouldn’t you say “ready for departure” instead of “ready for takeoff”? I think there was an accident because of this.

I always say “ready for take-off” and the runway number that I’m taking off on. I have heard pilots say " ready to go runway 19R".

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Ah okey, it’s not a big deal then :)

I always hate it when someone requests ILS/GPS to a departure controller.


Yes, the word take-off should never be used until Tower gives you your take-off clearance. Until that point both th epilots and ATC should use the term departure.


Maybe we could change that in Live :)

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Here you go @Simon_H

Nice, thanks ☺

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