Ask An Air Traffic Controller: Vectors and Say Again?

In this episode enroute air traffic controller M.T. answers two questions:
  • Can a ATC Center controller vector an airplane to a final approach at an airport that does not have a terminal radar approach control (TRACON).
  • A listener's question about what to do when a pilot says "Say again," to an air traffic controller, but still does not understand the clearance.

In this audio show, enroute air traffic controller M.T. answers two questions:

  • Can a ATC Center controller vector an airplane to a final approach at an airport that does not have a terminal radar approach control (TRACON).
  • A listener’s question about what to do when a pilot says “Say again,” to an air traffic controller, but still does not understand the clearance.

Operation Raincheck

M.T. talks about Operation Raincheck, in which any pilot or student pilot can visit an air traffic control center for a tour of the facility. If you go, you will not only get to tour the center, you will be able to talk directly to air traffic controllers and watch them work air traffic. There are two ways to find out about Operation Raincheck in your area.

  1. Go to and do a search for events in your area, or,
  2. Call the air traffic control center near you and ask about visiting.

Here is a .pdf list of phone numbers for air traffic control centers in the United States and Canada. I’d recommend calling the number listed under the heading “Administration”: ARTCC phone numbers

Know What’s Really Important?

Did you notice the most important thing about this audio show? M.T. answered a question sent in by a listener. That means you can get your questions answered too.

  • Had a clearance from ATC that didn’t make sense?
  • Heard something on the radio that sounded crazy?
  • Have a question, any question, about air traffic control?
  • Ask and you will get an answer. Use the comment box or write to me at, or call our voicemail at 678-719-2823. (Yeah, I know it’s not toll-free, you cheapskate. Use your free nights and weekends minutes on your cellphone if you don’t want the long distance charge.) Talk to me Bubba!


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6 thoughts on “Ask An Air Traffic Controller: Vectors and Say Again?”

  1. Hello good day!
    I’m a new airline pilot and was just wondering when atc give vectors for final approach (traffic considered).

    Final app course is 240
    Aircraft coming in from the south at radial 170 inbound.
    Will atc at 30nm to station give vector left heading?

    Your reply would be appreciated.
    Steven Chow

    1. Hey Steven:

      First, congratulations on becoming a new airline pilot! I hope you have a long and happy career.

      If I understand you correctly, your question is, when will ATC begin to vector your aircraft for final approach. Meaning, if you are inbound to an airport on a radial, when will ATC pull you off of that radial and begin vectoring your airplane. I hope I have that right. As for your example, you didn’t say whether the 350-degree radial (170 inbound) you are on starts at a VOR directly on the airport or from a VOR that is off the airport property. It really doesn’t matter though and here’s why:

      If that is what you are asking, here is the answer. It depends on the airport.

      If the airport is in Class D airspace, and inbound traffic is handled by an enroute center, the center controller will begin vectoring your aircraft far enough out to line you up on a 10 to 15 mile final approach. Vectoring may begin more than 20 miles from the airport.

      If the airport is in Class C airspace, the approach controller will usually begin vectoring your airplane as you enter the Class C Outer Area, which begins 20 miles from the airport.

      If the airport is in Class B airspace, vectoring will usually begin as you enter the outer ring of the Class B airspace, which varies widely in diameter depending upon the airport. On the other hand, if you are on a Standard Terminal Arrival (STAR) route, the end of the STAR may take you all the way to the beginning of the base leg for an instrument approach. For example, Boston’s Logan International has several STARs that take from an arrival fix all the way to the end of the downwind leg, about 12 miles from the approach end of the runway. Boston Approach Control will not give you a heading to turn to base leg until you reach the end of the STAR. Orlando International has STARs that turn your airplane onto base leg and then approach control will give you one turn to an intercept heading for final approach.

      Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International, and Las Vegas’ McCarran International have RNAV Visual Approaches that take you from the end of STAR all the way to landing on a runway. If you are assigned an RNAV Visual Approach at those airporta, you will navigate all the way to the runway using GPS and ATC will not vector your aircraft at all.

      So, Steven, there is no single answer to your question other than, it depends on the airport. Thank you for asking. If you have anymore questions, feel free to write to me.


  2. Good morning Jeff,
    I have only listened to three of your podcasts (lessons) so far… but I have already added your website to my favorites list! I am just about to start instructing at a new flight school, and having a resource such as this will be detrimental to my new students. I appreciate your positive attitude, as well, and I look forward to continuing to follow you in the future. Lastly, I will definitely be an owner of your book!
    Thanks again,

    1. Allen I think you meant to say this website would be instrumental to your students. You said ‘detrimental’ which means causing harm to.
      Burt K

      1. well yeah, I didn’t mean to imply any negativity. Besides, instrumental would have made for a good pun to be included somewhere within my comment. Sorry for the wrong word being used, guess this indicates the importance of proper communication.

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