Terminal Radar Approach Control


  • Approach control is responsible for controlling all instrument flight operating within its area of responsibility
  • Approach control may serve one or more airfields, and control is exercised primarily by direct pilot and controller communications
  • Before arriving at the destination radio facility, instructions will be received from ARTCC to contact approach control on a specified frequency
  • Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) controls aircraft from the terminal to en-route traffic control to one or more airfields
    • Typically controls aircraft approaching and departing between 5 and 50 miles of the airport
    • Approach control may serve one or more airfields, and control is exercised primarily by direct pilot and controller communications
  • Radar equipment allows a controller to "see" the aircraft even at that distance
  • Sequences and separates IFR and participating VFR aircraft


  • When contacting approach call with location, altitude and ATIS information
    • Use of "with the numbers" implies you only have received the wind, runway, and altimeter (WAR)
  • PILOT: "[Place] approach, [Callsign], [Level / Climbing To / Leaving / Descending To], [Altitude], with [Information], request"
  • Since you are talking to an approach control to reach an airport, they are going to give you clock directions until you spot it
  • Once you see it, report "field in sight"
  • Upon checking in, you can expect:
    • Expected approach type
    • Runway to be used if different from the approach
    • Surface magnetic wind
    • Ceiling and visibility if below VFR or the highest circling minimums
    • Altimeter
    • Weather
    • Pertinent information
    • Most military fields provide SFA (single frequency approach) for penetration approaches

Terminal Radar Approach Control Services:

  • Safety alerts
  • Traffic advisories
  • Limited radar vectoring (including assistance for VFR traffic) on a workload permitting basis
  • Sequencing at locations where procedures have been established for this purpose and/or when covered in a Letter of Agreement (LoA)
  • Will keep the pilot informed of the latest reported weather and actual field conditions such as current ceiling, runway visibility, surface winds, and runway conditions
  • Radar may be used to provide ASR/PARs and to provide vectors in conjunction with published non-radar approaches

Departure Restrictions:

  • ATC may assign departure restrictions, clearance void times, hold for release, and release times, when necessary, to separate departures from other traffic or to restrict or regulate the departure flow
  • Departures from an airport without an operating control tower must be issued either a departure release (along with a release time and/or void time if applicable), or a hold for release
    • Reference FAA Order JO 7110.65, Para 4-3-4, Departure Release, Hold for Release, Release Times, Departure Restrictions, and Clearance Void Times
  • Clearance Void Times:

    • A pilot may receive a clearance, when operating from an airport without a control tower, which contains a provision for the clearance to be void if not airborne by a specific time
    • A pilot who does not depart prior to the clearance void time must advise ATC as soon as possible of their intentions
    • ATC will normally advise the pilot of the time allotted to notify ATC that the aircraft did not depart prior to the clearance void time
    • This time cannot exceed 30 minutes
    • Failure of an aircraft to contact ATC within 30 minutes after the clearance void time will result in the aircraft being considered overdue and search and rescue procedures initiated
      • Other IFR traffic for the airport where the clearance is issued is suspended until the aircraft has contacted ATC or until 30 minutes after the clearance void time or 30 minutes after the clearance release time if no clearance void time is issued
      • If the clearance void time expires, it does not cancel the departure clearance or IFR flight plan. It withdraws the pilot's authority to depart IFR until a new departure release/release time has been issued by ATC and is acknowledged by the pilot
      • Pilots who depart at or after their clearance void time are not afforded IFR separation and may be in violation of 14 CFR Section 91.173 which requires that pilots receive an appropriate ATC clearance before operating IFR in controlled airspace
      • Pilots who choose to depart VFR after their clearance void time has expired should not depart using the previously assigned IFR transponder code
      • ATC: "Clearance void if not off by [clearance void time] and, if required, if not off by [clearance void time] advise [facility] not later than [time] of intentions"
      • Do not confuse this with the 30 minute restriction when filing a flight plan
  • Hold for Release:

    • ATC may issue "hold for release" instructions in a clearance to delay an aircraft's departure for traffic management reasons (i.e., weather, traffic volume, etc.)
    • The pilot may not depart utilizing that IFR clearance until a release time or additional instructions are issued by ATC
    • In addition, ATC will include departure delay information in conjunction with "hold for release" instructions
    • The ATC instruction, "hold for release," applies to the IFR clearance and does not prevent the pilot from departing under VFR
      • This means a pilot may cancel their IFR flight plan and proceed VFR, if conditions allow
      • The reason for the hold likely still remains and it is therefore possible that an IFR clearance may not be available after departure
        • ATC: "[Aircraft identification] cleared to [destination] airport as filed, maintain [altitude], and, if required [additional instructions or information], hold for release, expect [time in hours and/or minutes] departure delay"
  • Release Times:

    • A "release time" is a departure restriction issued to a pilot by ATC, specifying the earliest time an aircraft may depart
    • ATC will use "release times" in conjunction with traffic management procedures and/or to separate a departing aircraft from other traffic
      • ATC: "[Aircraft identification] released for departure at [time in hours and/or minutes]"
  • Expect Departure Clearance Time:

    • The Expect Departure Clearance Time (EDCT) is the expected runway release time assigned to an aircraft included in traffic management programs
    • Pilots may hear clearance delivery/ground control state: "[Callsign] you have an EDCT time of 1356, acknowledge"
    • You may still receive your clearance early, but you are expected to depart no earlier than 5 minutes before, and no later than 5 minutes after the EDCT
    • If practical, pilots departing uncontrolled airports should obtain IFR clearances prior to becoming airborne when two-way communications with the controlling ATC facility is available
    • The FAA recommends pilots check to confirm an EDCT within 45 minutes of departure

Tower En-Route Control (TEC):

  • Tower En Route Control (TEC) is an ATC program to provide a service to aircraft proceeding to and from metropolitan areas (tower to tower)
  • Learn more in the tower section

Radar Approach Control:

  • Where radar is approved for approach control service, it is used not only for radar approaches (Airport Surveillance Radar [ASR] and Precision Approach Radar [PAR]) but is also used to provide vectors in conjunction with published non-radar approaches based on radio NAVAIDs (ILS, VOR, NDB, TACAN). Radar vectors can provide course guidance and expedite traffic to the final approach course of any established IAP or to the traffic pattern for a visual approach. Approach control facilities that provide this radar service will operate in the following manner:
    • Arriving aircraft are either cleared to an outer fix most appropriate to the route being flown with vertical separation and, if required, given holding information or, when radar handoffs are effected between the ARTCC and approach control, or between two approach control facilities, aircraft are cleared to the airport or to a fix so located that the handoff will be completed prior to the time the aircraft reaches the fix. When radar handoffs are utilized, successive arriving flights may be handed off to approach control with radar separation in lieu of vertical separation
    • After release to approach control, aircraft are vectored to the final approach course (ILS, RNAV, GLS, VOR, ADF, etc.). Radar vectors and altitude or flight levels will be issued as required for spacing and separating aircraft. Therefore, pilots must not deviate from the headings issued by approach control. Aircraft will normally be informed when it is necessary to vector across the final approach course for spacing or other reasons. If approach course crossing is imminent and the pilot has not been informed that the aircraft will be vectored across the final approach course, the pilot should query the controller
    • The pilot is not expected to turn inbound on the final approach course unless an approach clearance has been issued. This clearance will normally be issued with the final vector for interception of the final approach course, and the vector will be such as to enable the pilot to establish the aircraft on the final approach course prior to reaching the final approach fix
    • In the case of aircraft already inbound on the final approach course, approach clearance will be issued prior to the aircraft reaching the final approach fix. When established inbound on the final approach course, radar separation will be maintained
      • The pilot will be expected to complete the approach utilizing the approach aid designated in the clearance (ILS, RNAV, GLS, VOR, radio beacons, etc.) as the primary means of navigation. Therefore, once established on the final approach course, pilots must not deviate from it unless a clearance to do so is received from ATC
    • After passing the final approach fix on final approach, aircraft are expected to continue inbound on the final approach course and complete the approach or effect the missed approach procedure published for that airport
  • ARTCCs are approved for and may provide approach control services to specific airports. The radar systems used by these centers do not provide the same precision as an ASR/PAR used by approach control facilities and towers, and the update rate is not as fast. Therefore, pilots may be requested to report established on the final approach course
  • Whether aircraft are vectored to the appropriate final approach course or provide their own navigation on published routes to it, radar service is automatically terminated when the landing is completed or when instructed to change to advisory frequency at uncontrolled airports, whichever occurs first


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