You're talking to approach... Now what?

I thought I would continue my “now what?” series. This time we will talk about the approach frequency. The approach frequency makes sure traffic is routed to the destination in an efficient and orderly manner. When the frequency is busy, such as a FNF, this can be a daunting task for the ATC controller.

  • Watch, don’t listen : As Joe has pointed out many times before, when there are 30 planes on the approach frequency there can be a significant delay in when the command is displayed on the screen versus you hearing it. Please take action when you see the command and not when you hear it. If you wait until you hear the command it can make you out of position and cause a missed approach. The correct procedure once you receive a vector is to 1) Set AP heading and begin the turn-so the controller sees you’ve received the vector 2) Acknowledge the vector to ATC 3) Set the AP for ALT.

  • Approach after takeoff : Sometimes the tower will hand you off to the approach controller who will then act as the departure frequency. This is often done when the frequency is slow. If the frequency is busy, do not switch to the approach controller after takeoff unless told to. If you are connected to approach or departure. once you take off maintain RWY heading until vectored by the controller. Do not turn at 500AGL for example.

  • With You : If you are inbound and tune into approach, simply ask for service (Inbound, etc). There is no need to say “With you” and then ask for service. For the love of everything good in this world, if you are going to ask for service, just ask for it, do not say “With you” first. (If I could make this blink, spin, and dance on the screen I would) On the flip side, if you are handed off from tower to approach or departure you can simply use “check in”. The controller will respond with “radar contact”. You can follow your plan but be aware that the controller may reroute you as needed in both vectors AND altitude.

  • Flight Following (may change) : You may ask for flight following to follow your flight plan. Thank you first off for filing a flight plan, second, be aware that as you get closer to your destination you may get vectored away from the airport to align with traffic flow. If you are flying a commercial jet (non-GA), you should be asking for ILS/GPS instead of FF.

  • Turning on your own : This applies while ATC is vectoring you inbound, NOT on the final turn to final (see next bullet). Approach has a plan, we know you are there, we haven’t forgot about you. Just because you are going past the runway or even away from the airport, we are doing it for a reason. Please do not turn on your own unless told to. This really holds true if you are sent on a downwind journey, we will tell you where to turn.

  • The turn to final : !!!! ATC will NOT line you up perfectly straight with the runway. !!! There is no reason a radar controller should ever do this is IF. Even on a GPS or RV (Radar Vector), you should be handed off to tower on base or downwind. There are many posts on why that is and suggest you look into how to intercept the ILS. ATC will vector you within 30 degrees either way of the runway. We will often say “… turn right 250, descend and maintain 3000 until on the localizer”. This means we are done giving you vectors. That clearance and turn to 250 puts you 20 degrees off of the runway heading of 270. It is YOUR responsibility to make that final turn to the runway heading at the right time. If you do not turn on time, you run the risk of being vectored to the back of the line to try again. This is another reason to be at the correct speed on approach, remember the faster you are the wider your turn will be.

  • Be patient : Approach encompasses a large portion of the map and contain many planes. If you are given a command, execute the command and wait for the next. There is no need to reply with “With You” every 30 seconds or even ask for ILS approach again and again. We know you are there.

  • Spread out! : This is more of a general observation but it impacts the approach controller. Spread out in the map. Everyone wants global but when we have large regions like SoFlo open there are clumps of planes all within a few miles of each other heading to the same place. When they all call in for approach at the same time (which happens), the controller has to break up the clump to avoid collisions.

  • Be real with your altitude : Use some common sense with your altitude. If the airport is 60 miles apart, going up to FL380 is probably not the best idea unless you want to be put in a hold while you descend. Be sure to read Joshua’s post regarding block descents. We will tell you where we want you to be altitude wise, but it is up to you on the rate. Don’t be too fast or you are sitting at 3,000 MSL for the next 30 miles. If you descend to slow you might end up vectored away from the airport for the scenic route or in a hold.

  • VFR is not a free pass : Flying VFR is not a free pass to fly however you like. Listen to ATC if a command is given.

  • Visual Approaches : Know what visual approaches are before asking for it. Asking for a visual approach will require you to respond with “Airport in sight” before actually being cleared. The controller will not line you up for landing. It is still the pilot’s responsibility to align themselves for landing.

I’m sure other ATC will have some things which I can add but I wanted to throw some things out there to be thinking about while under the control of approach. I wanted to explain why we do some of the things we do so you can get a better understanding of what we are looking at.

Thank you for your time, follow ATC instructions, and happy flying.


#NowWhat lol


That is a great info we all need that thanks for the info.


I second this :)


I’ve been flying IF for a while now and I still learned something new thanks to this. Great job and thank you for taking the time to provide it to us.


You should make a ‘Now what?’ series. I know you already have one about ground frequency, they’re both really helpful :)


Next one: You’ve departed and have switched frequencies… Now what? Seriously, this would be great.


@Chris_S. MaxAsked:

On Flight Following: Is it only permitted for GA’s in congested airspace & offered as a not to interfere Service, ATC work load permitting?
is the Freq switch on launch to Approach really proper procedure? Or is a modification of AIM procedures because. IFATC chooses not to staff Departure routinely?
What is the proper Request to bypass Approach and contact Tower directly for an aircraft on a non-ILS visual approach to a modified Pattern short Final?
(Think about this one it’s an ATIS setup & gottya)


Flight following will usually be allowed during departure, but you will often be vectored upon arrival into your destination, especially if you are flying into a busy airport at peak traffic times. Besides, as I’m sure you know, you should only request flight following in a GA VFR aircraft.

Yes, we do this often, usually when approach has a light workload and can handle two stations at a time. A separate departure frequency is usually only used during peak traffic hours. Besides, this happens all the time at smaller fields IRL. The approach controller regularly will also work departure.

You can ask approach for radar vectors to the field, and we will vector you to downwind or base. However, bypassing approach is never a good idea, especially during peak traffic hours. You run the risk of being ghosted if you continually avoid it after several guards. Tower usually doesn’t like to accept visuals that are not sequenced into the line by approach during heavy traffic, but there are exceptions.

Hope this helps.


@Nicholas_L… MaxSez: Noted. Obviously IF rules apply. Interesting interpretations of the AIM. Make it work, sound good to me. Really like the “GHOST” warning that Sez it all. Gooday.


Nice tutorial.

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Great stuff, Chris! This is very informative.

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Chris this is really good. We should make this a required reading.


I agree with everything but this. I will offend put people on a straight in approach for radar vectors. Which isn’t wrong.


I’ll just add to the approach as departure question…this is definitely more of an IF controller interface issue. It doesn’t make sense to have multiple tabs (frequencies) up on the screen when you can give the exact same vector as an approach controller.


They should be transferred to tower before you give a straight in. RV points you towards the airport. But you’re also clearing a RV, which is the point I think Chris is trying to make.


It appears my counter parts don’t feel the same as I 😔 Go VFR change your flight plan. This should be followed with a frequency change. Why not allow a Cessna to enter the pattern rather then vector them into heavy traffic. It’s a lot easier to squeeze a GA into a short tower pattern then a big radar pattern. If they go VFR clear them into the airspace.


If they are 10 or more miles out why would I switch them to tower on base? Your not going to see or know where the airport is from that distance. So a straight in vector is appropriate to point them toward the airfield before handoff.


Oh ok. I get you. I’ll use my Maintain current heading, clear for the radar vector approach, RWY 27 command from now on.


If they’re already on base, why wouldn’t you transfer them when in sight? Why give them the final vectors to line up perfectly?

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