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Airport Navigation Facilities

An airport is a location where aircraft such as fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, and blimps take off and land. Aircraft may be stored or maintained at an airport. An airport consists of at least one surface such as a runway for a plane to take off and land, a helipad, or water for takeoffs and landings, and often includes buildings such as control towers, hangars and terminal buildings. Larger airports may have fixed base operator services, seaplane docks and ramps, air traffic control, passenger facilities such as restaurants and lounges, and emergency services. Amilitary airport is known as an airbase or air station. The terms aerodrome, airdrome, airfield, and airstrip may also be used to refer to airports, and the terms heliport, seaplane base, andSTOLport refer to airports dedicated exclusively to helicopters, seaplanes, or short take-off and landing aircraft.

Air Navigation Facility

Any facility used in, available for use in, or designed for use in, aid of air navigation, including landing areas, lights, any apparatus or equipment for disseminating weather information, for signaling, for radio-directional finding, or for radio or other electrical communication, and any other structure or mechanism having a similar purpose for guiding or controlling flight in the air or the landing and takeoff of aircraft.

Air Route Surveillance Radar

Air route traffic control center (ARTCC) radar used primarily to detect and display an aircrafts position while en route between terminal areas. The ARSR enables controllers to provide radar air traffic control service when aircraft are within the ARSR coverage. In some instances, ARSR may enable an ARTCC to provide terminal radar services similar to but usually more limited than those provided by a radar approach control.

Air Route Traffic Control Center

A facility established to provide air traffic control service to aircraft operating on IFR flight plans within controlled airspace and principally during the en route phase of flight. When equipment capabilities and controller workload permit, certain advisory/assistance services may be provided to VFR aircraft.

Air Traffic Clearance

An authorization by air traffic control for the purpose of preventing collision between known aircraft, for an aircraft to proceed under specified traffic conditions within controlled airspace. The pilotin-command of an aircraft may not deviate from the provisions of a visual flight rules (VFR) or instrument flight rules (IFR) air traffic clearance except in an emergency or unless an amended clearance has been obtained. Additionally, the pilot may request a different clearance from that which has been issued by air traffic control (ATC) if information available to the pilot makes another course of action more practicable or if aircraft equipment limitations or company procedures forbid compliance with the clearance issued. Pilots may also request clarification or amendment, as appropriate, any time a clearance is not fully understood, or considered unacceptable because of safety of flight. Controllers should, in such instances and to the extent of operational practicality and safety, honor the pilots request. 14 CFR Part 91.3(a) states: "The pilot in command of an aircraft is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of that aircraft." THE PILOT IS RESPONSIBLE TO REQUEST AN AMENDED CLEARANCE if ATC issues a clearance that would cause a pilot to deviate from a rule or regulation, or in the pilots opinion, would place the aircraft in jeopardy.

Air Traffic Service (ATS) Routes

The term "ATS Route" is a generic term that includes "VOR Federal airways," "colored Federal airways," "jet routes," and "RNAV

routes." The term "ATS route" does not replace these more familiar route names, but serves only as an overall title when listing the types of routes that comprise the United States route structure.


The FAA provides air traffic control service through a number of facilities and assigned areas of air traffic control responsibility. The following provides a brief description of the different types of air traffic control facilities.

Air Route Traffic Control Centers (ARTCC)

The FAA has established Air Route Traffic Control Centers (ARTCC), known as Centers, in the continental United States to control aircraft operating under instrument flight rules (IFR) within controlled airspace and while in the en route phase of flight. ARTCCs also provide limited air traffic service to VFR aircraft operating in controlled airspace. An ARTCC assigns specific routes and altitudes along federal airways to maintain separation and orderly air traffic flow. The B-3 ARTCC uses radio communication and long range radar with automatic tracking capability to provide en route air traffic services. An ARTCC splits its airspace into sectors and assigns a controller or team of controllers to each sector. As an aircraft travels through the ARTCC, one sector hands off control to another. Each sector guides the aircraft using discrete radio frequencies.

Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON)

The ARTCC delegates certain airspace to local terminal facilities, which assume responsibility for the orderly flow of air traffic arriving and departing from major airports, such as MSP. These facilities provide radar vectoring, sequencing, and separation of IFR aircraft. They also provide air traffic service to aircraft operating from smaller airports within the TRACONs boundaries, and traffic advisories for VFR aircraft operating in the area. TRACONs can be located at an ATCT or in close proximity to the airport. TRACONs use radar to guide aircraft, and therefore they do not have to be located at an airport facility. Like ARTCCs, a TRACONs airspace may also be divided into a number of different sectors to make the workloads of air traffic controllers manageable.

Airport Traffic Control Tower (ATCT)

Traffic at busy airports is controlled by an ATCT. ATCTs are located at the airport and provide local air traffic control, usually within five nautical miles of the airport. Air traffic controllers in towers primarily use sight to track and control aircraft. Large commercial airports, such as MSP, typically have several runways that can be used simultaneously. As a result, these airports operate in a safe, systematic departure and arrival configuration (or flow) that is based on the prevailing winds and the physical layout of the runways. MSP typically operates in an east or west flow. If airports are in close proximity to each other (such as MSP and St. Paul Downtown Airport, or Flying Cloud Airport), operations at the airports must be able to smoothly interact. This requires extensive planning and coordination between the air traffic control facilities, including ATCTs, TRACONs, and ARTCCs that operate within an area.

Global navigation satellite system (GNSS)

Global navigation satellite system (GNSS). Satellite navigation system that provides autonomous geospatial positioning with global coverage. It allows small electronic receivers to determine their location (longitude, latitude, and altitude) to within a few meters using time signals transmitted

Terminal radar service areas (TRSA)

Terminal radar service areas (TRSA). Areas where participating pilots can receive additional radar services. The purpose of the service is to provide separation between all IFR operations and participating VFR aircraft.

Radar approach
Radar approach. The controller provides vectors while monitoring the progress of the flight with radar, guiding the pilot through the descent to the airport/heliport or to a specific runway.

Lighting Facility
Many airports have lighting that help guide planes using the runways and taxiways at night or in rain or fog. On runways, green lights indicate the beginning of the runway for landing, while red lights indicate the end of the runway. Runway edge lighting consists of white lights spaced out on both sides of the runway, indicating the edge. Some airports have more complicated lighting on the runways including lights that run down the centerline of the runway and lights that help indicate the approach (an Approach Lighting System, or ALS). Low-traffic airports may use Pilot Controlled Lighting to save electricity and staffing costs.

Nondirectional Radio Beacon (NDB)

A low or medium frequency radio beacon transmits nondirectional signals whereby the pilot of an aircraft properly equipped can determine bearings and home on the station. These facilities normally operate in a frequency band of 190 to 535 kilohertz (kHz), according to ICAO Annex 10 the frequency range for NDBs is between 190 and 1750 kHz, and transmit a continuous carrier with either 400 or 1020hertz (Hz) modulation. All radio beacons except the compass locators transmit a continuous three-letter identification in code except during voice transmissions.

VHF Omni-directional Range (VOR)

VORs operate within the 108.0 to 117.95 MHz frequency band and have a power output necessary to provide coverage within their assigned operational service volume. They are subject to line-of-sight restrictions, and the range varies proportionally to the altitude of the receiving equipment.

VOR Receiver Check

The FAA VOR test facility (VOT) transmits a test signal which provides users a convenient means to determine the operational status and accuracy of a VOR receiver while on the ground where a VOT is located. The airborne use of VOT is permitted; however, its use is strictly limited to those areas/altitudes specifically authorized in the A/FD or appropriate supplement.

Tactical Air Navigation (TACAN)

For reasons peculiar to military or naval operations (unusual siting conditions, the pitching and rolling of a naval vessel, etc.) the civil VOR/Distance Measuring Equipment (DME) system of air navigation was considered unsuitable for military or naval use. A new navigational system, TACAN, was therefore developed by the military and naval forces to more readily lend itself to military and naval requirements. As a result, the FAA has integrated TACAN facilities with the civil VOR/DME program. Although the theoretical, or technical principles of operation of TACAN equipment are quite different from those of VOR/DME facilities, the end result, as far as the navigating pilot is concerned, is the same. These integrated facilities are called VORTACs.

VHF Omni-directional Range/Tactical Air Navigation (VORTAC)

A VORTAC is a facility consisting of two components, VOR and TACAN, which provides three individual services: VOR azimuth, TACAN azimuth and TACAN distance (DME) at one site. Although consisting of more than one component, incorporating more than one operating frequency, and using more than one antenna system, a VORTAC is considered to be a unified navigational aid. Both components of a VORTAC are envisioned as operating simultaneously and providing the three services at all times.

Distance Measuring Equipment (DME)

In the operation of DME, paired pulses at a specific spacing are sent out from the aircraft (this is the interrogation) and are received at the ground station. The ground station (transponder) then transmits paired pulses back to the aircraft at the same pulse spacing but on a different frequency. The time required for the round trip of this signal exchange is measured in the airborne DME unit and is translated into distance (nautical miles) from the aircraft to the ground station.

Navigational Aid (NAVAID) Service Volumes

Most air navigation radio aids which provide positive course guidance have a designated standard service volume (SSV). The SSV defines the reception limits of unrestricted NAVAIDs which are usable for random/unpublished route navigation.

Instrument Landing System (ILS)

The ILS is designed to provide an approach path for exact alignment and descent of an aircraft on final approach to a runway.The ground equipment consists of two highly directional transmitting systems and, along the approach, three (or fewer) marker beacons. The directional transmitters are known as the localizer and glide slope transmitters.

Simplified Directional Facility (SDF)

Simplified directional facility (SDF). A NAVAID used for nonprecision instrument approaches. The final approach course is similar to that of an ILS localizer; however, the SDF course may be offset from the runway, generally not more than 3 , and the course may be wider than the localizer, resulting in a lower degree of accuracy. The SDF provides a final approach course similar to that of the ILS localizer. It does not provide glide slope information. A clear understanding of the ILS localizer and the additional factors listed below completely describe the operational characteristics and use of the SDF.

Microwave Landing System (MLS)

The MLS provides precision navigation guidance for exact alignment and descent of aircraft on approach to a runway. It provides azimuth, elevation, and distance. Both lateral and vertical guidance may be displayed on conventional course deviation indicators or incorporated into multipurpose cockpit displays. Range information can be displayed by conventional DME indicators and also incorporated into multipurpose displays.

The LOng RAnge Navigation-C (LORAN) system is a hyperbolic, terrestrial-based navigation system operating in the 90-110 kHz

frequency band. LORAN, operated by the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), has been in service for over 50 years and is used for navigation by the various transportation modes, as well as, for precise time and frequency applications. The system is configured to provide reliable, all weather navigation for marine users along the U.S.coasts and in the Great Lakes.

VHF Direction Finder

The VHF Direction Finder (VHF/DF) is one of the common systems that helps pilots without their being aware of its operation. It is a ground-based radio receiver used by the operator of the ground station. FAA facilities that provide VHF/DF service are identified in the A/FD.

Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS)

The FAA developed the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) to improve the accuracy, integrity and availability of GPS signals. WAAS will allow GPS to be used, as the aviation navigation system, from takeoff through Category I precision approach when it is complete. WAAS is a critical component of the FAA's strategic objective for a seamless satellite navigation system for civil aviation, improving capacity and safety.

Ground Based Augmentation System (GBAS) Landing System (GLS)

The GLS provides precision navigation guidance for exact alignment and descent of aircraft on approach to a runway. It provides differential augmentation to the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS).