A friend of mine lives exactly 5 miles from a small but busy airport that accepts commercial traffic (small commercial jets). Yesterday I noticed that many airplanes were flying low right over his house on the approach to the airport. They seemed to be following the same route. The main runway points in the direction of this house. Is there a technical name for the several mile 'air road' that leads to the airport runway? Edit: Airport is Teterboro Airport (TEB).

  • 5
    $\begingroup$ There was probably a recent terrible collision at this airport with ten aircraft involved. $\endgroup$ – mins Apr 10 '17 at 13:59
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The terrible 10 plane collision must have occurred on the day that Justin Bieber's pot spoke caused his pilots to don oxygen masks as they flew into Teterboro: nbcnews.com/news/investigations/… $\endgroup$ – PaulP Apr 10 '17 at 14:50
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ @mins it's the planes half-embedded in the asphalt that worry me the most. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Apr 10 '17 at 14:55
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @DavidRicherby something something Philadelphia Experiment $\endgroup$ – Michael Apr 10 '17 at 19:34
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @mins: Only ten? I see at least seventeen... $\endgroup$ – Sean Feb 13 at 23:10

The best term to describe it would be the 'final approach segment', which is defined by ICAO as:

This is the segment in which alignment and descent for landing are made. Final approach may be made to a runway for a straight-in landing, or to an aerodrome for a visual manoeuvre.

The FAA defines the same as:

The FAS begins at the PFAF and ends at the landing threshold point (LTP). The FAS is typically aligned with the runway centerline extended. The segment OEA is divided into the FAS OCS and the visual segment obstacle identification surface (OIS).

Note: Both Eurocontrol (which refers to the ICAO document) and Jeppesen define it only for instrument approaches.

  • $\begingroup$ or "final" for short $\endgroup$ – Michael Apr 10 '17 at 19:33

From a controllers point of view it's the extended centerline (the middle markings on a runway are called centerline), from a pilots point of view it's called final (approach).

  • $\begingroup$ "From a controllers point of view it's the extended centerline": Not all approaches are aligned with the RCL (visual/circling, IGS/LDA, MLS, PBN), and sometimes you just fly approximately in the reverse direction before making a half turn (like at Innsbruck were the 180° is started at 2 NM from the threshold). $\endgroup$ – mins Feb 14 at 1:26

In the US almost all (99.99999999%) of commercial flights are IFR flights. Meaning that the pilot uses the instruments to fly the plane instead of looking out a window. In the real world, the pilot may not even be able to see anything useful out of the window. Usually they can "see" the runway, but that's not always true either and not really important for this answer. What is important is that most if not all commercial flights are IFR flights.

So if you take a look at this chart https://skyvector.com/files/tpp/1704/svg/00416IL19R.svg you will see that all instrument approaches to runway 19 R are funneled down this same path. You will also see that oval that looks like it's in the middle of the path.

So what happens, in a broad sense is that planes come in an a vector (normally) and then then are either already on that approach, OR are "worked" into that approach depending on "stuff" (like GPS, VOR, or other navigation means). Then they get put into that holding pattern. (the oval in the middle of the path) The oval is a set of headings that you follow for about 60 seconds each, making a "1 min turn" at each end. So you would essentially fly in this oval till it was your turn to land. Then finally ATC would clear you for landing (other stuff may happen in the mean time), you would then execute your "Final Approach" which would, when flying ILS mean either "capturing" the glide scope (for auto landings) or making sure your CDI (a device in the cockpit that tells you if your off course) is in the right spot, and doing the normal stuff like slowing down and sticking your wheels out (again much more happens in this phase but it's dependent upon the aircraft more then anything else, but almost every aircraft that lands on the ground will have some kind of wheels and a CDI of some kind is required for IFR flight).

That "vector" extends quite a way, and it's not uncommon at some airports to have that vector extend well beyond their ATC zone. That last tiny bit where the airplane is coming down is usually referred to as three separate things.

  • The Final Approach [vector] by pilots as that is the vector they use for that maneuver.
  • The [Extended] center line by ATC, as on their devices that is what it is. The center of the runway, extended back far enough that aircraft can line up with it.
  • Approach Corridor , by media and newspapers and others. While it's not a proper term, it's a common one.

What's important to know is that EVERY IFR flight landing at that runway will use that approach. If they can't then they have to use a different runway (it's how the radio signals work). Add to that the fact that a busy but small airport will likely have all it's landing on one runway, while all it's take offs are on another (or may just all it's landings from a direction) It's really hard to tell. It's up to the airport. But it would not be unheard of for an Airport to say that all landings happen on (in our example) 19R or 1L.

It's also not uncommon for bad weather or other issues to force traffic to an "unusual" runway. For example really strong East to West winds might cause the airport to make aircraft land on runway 10 or 28. In addition there may be city or state rules that affect what runway can be used.

And thus you get a lot of traffic, over a small area of sky.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Are you really sure about that 99.9999999999??? Sheduled airline transportation yes, but ther is MUCH much more commercial air trafic does. $\endgroup$ – Vladimir F Apr 11 '17 at 6:02
  • $\begingroup$ And the EVERY is a big nonsense. Visuals are much more common in the US in comparison to Europe. (And yes, visual approaches are part of IFR.) $\endgroup$ – Vladimir F Apr 11 '17 at 6:04
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ 99.9999999999% of flights is a very specific number. This is exactly 1 in 10 billion flights. According to the FAA, there were 8,727,961 commerical flights in the US in 2015, let's round that up to 10 million flights per year. This number is probably increasing. So coteyr is saying here there is a non-IFR commercial flight in the USA no more than often than once in a 1000 years. Given that the sample period must be less than that as flight was invented only ~100 years ago, essentially this means that a non-IFR flight has never occurred. $\endgroup$ – Calchas Apr 11 '17 at 7:38
  • $\begingroup$ My understanding is that insurance will require the use of IFR. The FAA of course doesn't care (except about the rules) but the combination of insurance and the FL180 ceiling for VFR flights makes commercial VFR flights extremely rare. $\endgroup$ – coteyr Apr 11 '17 at 11:33
  • $\begingroup$ "EVERY IFR flight landing at that runway" if that's the every you mean then I think (still may be wrong) you are wrong every IFR flight will use a combination or the ILS signal and the localizer. Those don't move. VFR flights (which is not in the EVERY I spoke of) would try their best to stay center line on the runway from that approach. There is no way any plane would use a different approach to land at that runway. That would be called crashing. $\endgroup$ – coteyr Apr 11 '17 at 11:38

A word I hear often is "approach corridor", which kind of describes what you're talking about.

  • $\begingroup$ Approach corridor seems to be the best fit. I'm surprised that there isn't an official term for it; although perhaps there isn't a practical need for such a term on aviation charts, etc. Both pilots and control towers have their own name for it as it relates to them. $\endgroup$ – PaulP Apr 10 '17 at 14:36
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ @PaulP Except "approach corridor" doesn't mean anything to pilots or controllers so is not a best fit, in fact, not a fit at all. $\endgroup$ – Simon Apr 10 '17 at 16:12
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @PaulP Well, your question title is wrong since you asked for a technical term, which is "final approach". Why is a phrase that is wrong, better than one that is? I don't understand what you mean by "forcing a point of view". $\endgroup$ – Simon Apr 10 '17 at 17:12
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @PaulP It is not "final approach segment", it is simply final approach as in the answer from aeroalias. It is understood both by pilots and controllers. The extended centreline is also understood by both but does not describe what you are asking about. $\endgroup$ – Simon Apr 10 '17 at 17:44
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @PaulP ...and you need to edit the question title if you want a non-technical term, although the question then becomes a matter of opinion. $\endgroup$ – Simon Apr 10 '17 at 18:30

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.