I'll preface this by saying I'm not a pilot so I don't know much about Air Traffic Control.

How does Air Traffic Control work for Red Bull air races? Does:

(1) each plane taking off need to contact the local airport's ATC and let them know what they plan on doing/request permission for it, or

(2) do the event organizers schedule a block of time and airspace with ATC and take care of managing that block by themselves?

The latter seems feasible from my (non-pilot) perspective:

  • there's only one plane at a time on course (easy to manage)
  • it's a pretty well defined area that they'll be staying within.

It would help the event by:

  • perhaps allowing some of the long-range communication systems to be removed from the airplanes (reducing weight - useful for racing)
  • give the pilots fewer things to think about prior to their run on the course
  • transferring the control of take-offs and landings to the organizers makes it easier for them to stay on schedule

I think there would be advantages for them to do it the second way, and I think it would be technically possible to safely do it that way. However, it's not what I think is "standard procedure" and I wonder if they strayed from standards for their events' organization.

So are they doing it the first or second way? If they're doing it the first way, why? It seems inefficient, could they do it the second way (legality/regulation -wise)? Did I miss something that would make method (2) more trouble than it's worth? Or maybe they're doing it some other way I didn't think about?


1 Answer 1


This is a fairly broad question since the races move around the world the the regulations vary heavily depending on where its occurring but ill answer for the FAA understanding that most countries treat this kind of stuff similarly. The Air race its self has its own control tower of sorts that talks directly to the pilots to clear them onto and off of the course (this seems to be #2 in your question) but local ATC will be involved for departures.

Depending on where they intend on flying they may need to get a special flight permit, these are applied for in advance with the FSDO. I dont know if this is something the teams need to do or if this is something organizers handle. If the country has such regulations a TFR may be issued, for example this one from the french race (thanks to @mins for digging it up!). This keeps traffic out of the way so the organizers don't to worry about a Cessna 150 putting through the course @90Kts trying to "watch the race".

The planes typically depart from a local field close to the course. Here in the US they need to follow the same procedures as anyone else, if its controlled that means ground and tower coms if its uncontrolled thats CTAF announcements.

Once in the air they will head to the race course. Since these planes are effectively VFR radio com's is not mandatory outside of controlled airspace. The tower may simply transition them outside of the terminal area to the course frequency when appropriate.

According to this walk through the aircraft has one radio for taking to "race control" who clear them through the course. This behind the scenes video will walk you through how race control works and what they do.

No communication occurs during the race its self, you can see in this video the pilot is mostly concentrating on breathing and flying.

Once off the course they will either loiter around if they need to run again or head back to the airport, heading back is the same as any flight, fly on over and call up the tower to request landing.

This podcast is also a pretty great overview on the race and what it takes to be a pilot.

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    $\begingroup$ Excellent answer. I have never participated in a Red Bull air race, but have been in a few military flyovers of public events. I will just add that typically a TFR, (temporary flight restriction) will be published for the affected area, and participants will be assigned a transponder code so that ATC can positively identify those authorized to enter the TFR in order to help keep others out. Once you are inside that area the communication/control of the aircraft shifts away from traditional ATC services and responsibility. $\endgroup$ Jan 31, 2019 at 19:30
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelHall I had thought about that as well, i could not find any reports for the Red Bull TFR (which of course does not preclude their existence) and without a link to one I did not want to add it. $\endgroup$
    – Dave
    Jan 31, 2019 at 20:31
  • $\begingroup$ I think a lot of races are in Europe where maybe they have less GA traffic to worry about? Anyhow, I would imagine that a similar event in the states would most likely have a TFR associated with it. Just an educated guess... $\endgroup$ Jan 31, 2019 at 23:32
  • $\begingroup$ @mins if you dont mind ill add that doc to the answer. $\endgroup$
    – Dave
    Feb 3, 2019 at 19:53

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