Ground, Tower, Approach – Understanding Air Traffic Control

Ground, Tower, Approach – Understanding Air Traffic Control

Air traffic services are a part of flying that we encounter almost every flight and used effectively they can be extremely useful to us.  There are different levels, and units can provide different services depending on the type of flight being undertaken and how much information is required.

The most recognisable level is Air Traffic Control or ATC which can be split into different areas.


  • Ground – responsible for movement areas i.e taxiways, inactive runways, holding areas
  • Tower – responsible for active runways i.e take offs, landings, go-around
  • Approach – responsible for handling traffic within a certain radius of the airport

In other, less busy areas only a Flight Information Service (FIS) may be provided. This is available to any aircraft within a specific region and can give you information for a safe and efficient flight. This includes traffic, meteorological, aerodrome and hazardous information. In other airports, an air/ground service can also give you information but no control takes place.

There are other services that can be particularly useful to us, for example:

  • Lower Airspace Radar Service (LARS) – providing information to aircraft below FL95
  • Military Aerodrome Traffic Zone (MATZ) Penetration Service – for military aerodromes that have a MATZ and usually includes a radar service.

When figuring out how much information you require from the unit, under VFR flight there are only 2 options available:

  • Basic Service – any activity that may affect you. However it is subject to unit workload and avoiding traffic is still up to you. FIS Officers can only give this service.
  • Traffic Service – ATC will use radar to give detailed traffic information on conflicting aircraft. However they will not provide deconfliction.

It is worth noting that the role of all of these are to prevent collisions, provide advice, and maintain a good flow of traffic, with help provided if we need it. However, more importantly the service you receive depends on meteorological conditions, your altitude, and unit workload. It is still your responsibility to keep a good lookout.

If you need more information on any services, radio calls or procedures read CAP413 which is a great resource.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *