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I've seen different callsigns for en-route air traffic control, including Center, Radar, and Control (and Radio?). I suspect the only difference is the geographic location - Center in the U.S. (e.g. Salt Lake Center) and Radar and Control in Europe (e.g. Langen Radar, London Control).

Are there any other differences besides location? (is the location-assumption correct?) If not, why is it not standardized then?

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  • $\begingroup$ Related $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Commented Feb 2, 2018 at 15:45

3 Answers 3

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The Center suffix is indeed used in the US for the en route call signs under radar control. There is also New York Radio for the *non-radar* service over the Atlantic, for example.
Another example is the Director suffix that is not used in the US, but is used elsewhere for the final approach controller.

Standards

In this case we need a referee, enter ICAO Annex 10 Volume II Communication Procedures:

5.2.1.7.1.2 The unit or service shall be identified in accordance with the table below except that the name of the location or the unit/service may be omitted provided satisfactory communication has been established.

Unit/service available Call sign suffix Unit/service available Call sign suffix
area control centre CONTROL precision approach radar PRECISION
approach control APPROACH direction-finding station HOMER
approach control radar arrivals ARRIVAL flight information service INFORMATION
approach control radar departures DEPARTURE clearance delivery DELIVERY
aerodrome control TOWER apron control APRON
surface movement control GROUND company dispatch DISPATCH
radar (in general) RADAR aeronautical station RADIO

Deviating

Above are the standards, but member states are free to deviate. Since you mentioned UK and US examples, below is from UK AIP listing its differences:

GEN 1.7 DIFFERENCES FROM ICAO STANDARDS, RECOMMENDED PRACTICES AND PROCEDURES [...] 5.2.1.7.1.2

  • Approach control radar arrivals = DIRECTOR/ARRIVAL (when approved).
  • Precision approach radar = TALKDOWN.
  • HOMER (not used in UK).
  • Ground movement planning = DELIVERY.

Similarly from US AIP:

GEN 3.4 [...] 4.4.5.1 Pilots, when calling a ground station, should begin with the name of the facility being called followed by the type of the facility being called, as indicated in the following examples.

Facility Call Sign
Airport UNICOM Shannon UNICOM
FAA Flight Service Station Chicago Radio
Airport Traffic Control Tower Augusta Tower
Clearance Delivery Position (IFR) Dallas Clearance Delivery
Ground Control Position in Tower Miami Ground
Radar or Nonradar Approach Control Position Oklahoma City Approach
Radar Departure Control Position St. Louis Departure
FAA Air Route Traffic Control Center Washington Center

Also note:

GEN 1.7 [...]

The U.S. does not use the term "area control service" to indicate controlled flight in controlled areas.
The U.S. equivalent facility for an Area Control Centre (ACC) is an Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC).


Related: Where to find the callsigns of the en route controllers?

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  • $\begingroup$ Homer.........? $\endgroup$
    – TomMcW
    Commented May 10, 2022 at 17:29
  • $\begingroup$ @TomMcW D'oh! :D $\endgroup$
    – user14897
    Commented May 10, 2022 at 17:32
  • $\begingroup$ Definitely not who I'd want as ATC! $\endgroup$
    – TomMcW
    Commented May 10, 2022 at 17:34
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Actually, it is standardized, but not in the way you assume.

The suffix ("radio", "information", "radar", etc.) specifies the type of services offered by the station or, in some cases ("ground", "approach", etc.), the type of traffic or phase of flight handled by the station.

For example, a station named Springfield Radio won't offer radar or ATIS service; if it did, the suffix would be different ("Radar" and "Info", respectively, in this case). Just by a quick glance at the call sign, or overhearing it on the radio, the pilot can know what to expect from them.

Consequently, if Approach hands the aircraft off to Control during approach and landing, the pilot knows that something is probably amiss and can ask for confirmation; but if Approach hands them off to Tower or Tower hands them off to Ground, they know that all is probably well.

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There are a number of different "ATC" authorities:

Ground Control☆

Responsible for the movement areas on the physical airport. This includes both aircraft and airport service vehicles. Aircraft refer to this as "Ground".

Clearance Delivery☆

Gives an aircraft IFR (or sometimes VFR) clearance for flight plans.

Tower☆

Manages arriving and departing aircraft, usually takes over responsibility for aircraft as they approach a runway (take-off clearance) or as they approach the airport (hand-over from approach control).

Departure Control☆

Manages the airspace around the airport for departing flights providing separation and routing. Sometimes combined with Approach Control.

Approach Control☆

This is the first authority you talk to that is actually located at the airport. Manages spacing and arrivals and usually assigns runways. Also called "Terminal Control" and may be combined with departure control.

Enroute/Center/Area

This is the authority you talk to when you are going between airports. Usually a center controls a large area of airspace and can manage aircraft in those areas. Here are a list of FAA Centers, called "Air Route Traffic Control" or ARTCC for short. On the radio pilots usually use the term "Center".

Flight Service Station

This is a service provided to pilots but is not an air traffic control authority. Pilots may open/close flight plans or get en-route weather information on these frequencies. They are usually called "Radio", for example, "Stevens Point Radio, N12345 on 131.2"...


☆ - Typically located on the airport which the pilot is operating. This is not always the case though, there are remote towers and satellite airports that may include these services but not have them co-located with the field.

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