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When ATC gives you headings to fly, do they consider wind correction? In theory they should because they call it a heading and not a track, but do they? After all, the heading they want you to fly depends on wind direction and airspeed.

Or do they actually mean track instead of heading?

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When the controller says heading, he means heading. So if he wants you to go into a specific direction, he will take wind into account. The reason for issuing heading are:

  1. Every aircraft can fly it, because a compass is fitted on every aircraft. Track keeping requires more sophisticated avionics.
  2. If two aircraft fly adjacent to each other, the wind will offset them by the same amount and therefore separation is assured.

Quite often a controller will ask you to report your present heading prior to instructing a one so he can make more accurate adjustments to your course, especially if you were under own navigation before being vectored.

With Mode S radars and the right equipment in the aircraft, the current heading can be downloaded from the avionics without the pilot being aware of it.

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    $\begingroup$ #2 is not entirely true. When there's a significant crosswind, an aircraft flying a heading of 200 at 100kts will have a different track than an aircraft flying the same heading at 200kts $\endgroup$ – Philippe Leybaert Dec 18 '13 at 17:08
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    $\begingroup$ That is true, but in such a situation the separation issue will be resolved longitudinally before it becomes a problem laterally. $\endgroup$ – DeltaLima Dec 18 '13 at 17:13
  • $\begingroup$ Still, I wonder if a controller will provide the correct heading to a light airplane flying at 90kts with a 60kt crosswind (which is not that uncommon above 3000ft) $\endgroup$ – Philippe Leybaert Dec 18 '13 at 17:18
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    $\begingroup$ They'll certainly try! I've never heard a controller provide a track to be flown. $\endgroup$ – egid Dec 18 '13 at 17:20
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ATC gives headings, and they mean heading; any wind correction is included in the controller's planning. You'll occasionally hear controllers adjust headings ("turn 10 degrees left") because the wind exceeded their expectations.

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