Why IFATC Can't Always Give You Your Preferred Runway

While controlling, I know some get frustrated when it seems as if ATC is refusing a green runway of your preference out of spite or some other reason.

I thought I’d present two different scenarios to help clarify, and illustrate that it’s not simple caprice or malice that prevails in diverting you off course.

I will use Runway 12 at KMIA as my example. In this first scenario, I have no departures on 12, no inbounds for the eastbound runways, and no one in pattern. Clearing you for 12 is no problem.

In the second scenario, I have heavy inbounds on the eastbound runways, as well as multiple planes in patterns which cross the ILS cone for 12 on downwind and final. Here, there is no way I can clear for 12, as it would be impossible to ensure that everyone times it perfectly to fit through the gaps.

As you can see from the second image, it’s not always possible to give you your preferred runway, even if it’s “green”. But it’s not out of spite.

Other scenarios include departure versus arrival runways, etc.

Hopefully, this clarifies a scenario that I know is frustrating for some, especially if they’ve seen one plane able to land on their preferred runway while they are diverted.


Well said and very good Examples 👍


I encounter this problem atleast once every week, thank you for posting this and explaining to the pilots why sometimes we can’t give them the preferred runway.


100% agreed! Sometimes when I’m doing tower and I’m using a different runway than the main one, I always see people coming in for landing on the main one and I keep telling them to use the one we’re using, so they don’t listen and I have to halt all the takeoff traffic just so that person can land (if the runways intersect).

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@Tim_B. Well Done Tim. We all face this Flight Planning /Approach problem. There is a partial solution. It’s called the “Automated Terminal Information Service (ATIS)”
Max Sends

(Pls see the ATIS Tutorial and the archive for a history of FDS 2+ year struggles re-implementing this service)


Looks like the group might have been jamming you up there… lol


Yeah, if I ever catch up with whoever those knuckleheads were…


Elusive group I hear


They’re slippery, for sure.

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So slippery they only have one name…The Group.

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Yeah you didn’t have to blur our names.

Anyway, yes. KMIA rwy 12 is a very good example of this. Even though your can fly direct from TPA to MIA and end up on the ILS for rwy 12, it is not always the best choice.

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Must have been “The Event”!


Very well put! - I often get frustrated with IFATC for this, but you have put it so well. Thanks.

[Before the inevitable question: Expert Server. I don’t control on TS1. Don’t ask.]

Another issue that has come up twice in as many days for me:

A Red runway does not necessarily mean that runway is closed. In fact, it may even be the runway currently in use, due to varying reasons. If the ATC tells you to go to a red runway, that’s what they want you to do.

Some of the reasons:

  1. Special Cases: Think KASE (land 15, TO 33) and PHTO (land 26).

  2. An updated METAR has recently changed the colors, but there is already heavy inbound and outbound traffic. We cannot effect an insta-runway-change. It takes time, and it takes some shuffling. So if we tell you to go to a red runway, please do so.

  3. The translation from METAR to runway colors in IF can be “off” or “arbitrary”, for lack of better words.

An example: Yesterday evening at KMIA, THE METAR was VRB05. IF translates this into a heading of 360 @ 5 kts. It ended up making the westbound runways yellow and the eastbound red. The issues, beyond trying to effect a quick change that’s likely to switch back soon anyway, are that even if the wind were due north, the east- and westbound runways are equidistant from due north, essentially, and the wind is only at 5 kts [i.e. negligible].

In these and other situations, ATC has a reason for using the runways that they do.

One other thing:

If you request a landing, don’t get the runway you want, don’t simply request a frequency change. This is not telling us you’ve aborted your landing. And when the ATC follows the freq change request with a “Say Intentions”…say intentions. If you intend to depart, say so. Repeatedly requesting frequency changes when your last request was to call inbound is not providing the info necessary.


See the above regarding EHAM in the currently active region, Amsterdam.

Wind is 090 @ 5kts.

That’s effectively a very manageable crosswind at either the 18s or the 36s. The 36s are yellow, the 18s are red. I see it.

But I can also do math. So when I say expect 18, no need to request 36 three more times. Slight wind at 90 degrees to either runway. Don’t worry about the colors. Worry about the math.

Logistically, when I have 10 aircraft already being vectored to the 18s, I’m not gonna sneak you into 36.


I always think twice before controlling there. The pilots get confused with so many runways and taxiways. Also lots of controversy with runway usage.

A388s wanting 22…

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