VATSIM Guide – Tower and Approach/Departure Facilities (Episode 4)

In this episode of the VATSIM Guide, we will take you through the two facilities that are very similar to each other – Departure/Approach and Tower. These two facilities, in summary, take care of departing and arriving aircraft.

Tower (ICAO_TWR)

Let’s start off with the Tower. It is a very basic ATC facility as it takes care of aircraft on the approach and aircraft on the runway. You contact the Tower right after you spawn (if there is no Ground or Delivery), or after Ground facility sends you to contact them as you approach your runway holding point.

Contacting Tower

Before we start with the subject, it is recommended to read our previous article about what happens if there is no Ground facility available. Let’s say you’re now at the runway holding point S7at EHAM runway 24, and you wait for take-off clearance as KLM1009 to London-Heathrow.

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PILOT: Schipol Tower, good morning KLM1009 at holding point S7 Runway 24

ATC: KLM1009 good morning, line up and wait runway 24

PILOT: Line up and wait runway 24, KLM1009

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This line-up and wait can happen when there is still an aircraft on the runway. You will be cleared to take off after lining up. Tower can also tell you something like “behind arriving aircraft, line up and wait runway 24“, this can occur when there is an aircraft on short final. If this is your case, you can only line-up the runway after he lands.

ATC: KLM1009, wind is 235 (heading) 16kts, runway 24 cleared for takeoff

PILOT: Cleared for takeoff, KLM1009

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With the takeoff clearance, you can freely take off, but sometimes, ATC may tell you to “report airborne” after receiving takeoff clearance. This means that you need to tell the ATC when you’re not on the ground anymore, so the other aircraft can land or take-off behind you.

PILOT: Airborne, KLM1009

ATC: KLM1009 contact Departure on [Frequency]

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PILOT: Contact Departure on [Frequency], KLM1009, goodbye

Departure and Approach (ICAO_APP)

After you’re airborne, you’ll move to the Departure/Approach facility. The name varies depending on your state of flight. When you’re departing, you’re contacting the Departure facility. When you’re arriving, you’re contacting the Approach facility.

Working with the Departure and Approach facility is fairly easy as well. All you need to do is contact them, as other ATC facilities. After departure, you report your passing altitude.

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PILOT: Schiphol departure, good morning, KLM1009 passing 3000 (no need to say feet, ATC know what you mean), with you

ATC (DEP): KLM1009, good morning, identified, climb FL120 (12 000ft)

PILOT: Climbing FL120, KLM1009

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Identified means you’ve got your squawk code and mode C set correctly – ATC can see all the required information. As the ATC told you to climb to FL120, you need to climb up to the 12 000ft in standard pressure. Departure may give you some further climbings (for example to FL250), depending on their range and abilities. And sometimes, even a route direct to some point.

ATC: KLM1009, proceed direct to LOGAN

PILOT: Direct to LOGAN, KLM1009

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The range of the Departure and Approach facility isn’t big, so as you achieve a certain altitude, the approach may let you go to Unicom, or will hand you off to the local Center facility.

Approach (ICAO_APP)

Let’s say you have Approach and Tower facilities also in London Heathrow. Here, the approach facility will contact you through private messages. The message will most-probably look like this:

PRIVATE MESSAGE FROM ATC: Please contact me on [Frequency]

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VATSIM Guide - Tower and Approach/Departure Facilities (Episode 4) - VATSIM Guide

You have to contact the approach facility on a dedicated frequency. Contacting the approach may be a little bit tricky, and it varies from the situation. Let’s say you’re descending to the ILS altitude, and you’re inbound MEA waypoint.

PILOT: Heathrow Approach, good morning, KLM1009, passing 7000 for 3000 (means you’re in 7000ft and you’re descending to 3000ft), inbound MEA (Mike Echo Alpha), with you.

ATC: KLM1009, good morning, MEA2A* arrival runway 27L, descend to 3000ft, QNH1014

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PILOT: MEA2A arrival, runway 27L, and descend to 3000, KLM1009

*the arrival may not be accurate, it is only for demonstrational purposes

At this stage, you’ve got your arrival intentions. These may vary from the airport and conditions. Sometimes, the ATC may give you also so-called vectoring, which means they’ll give you heading to navigate you to the ILS approach or to avoid any collision. It looks like this:

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ATC: KLM1009, turn right heading 230

PILOT: Right heading 230, KLM1009

The vectoring may occur also in a go-around condition or in any critical situation. However, let’s say you’re now on the ILS approach, and Approach facility handed you off to the Tower facility.

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ATC: KLM1009 contact Tower on [Frequency]

PILOT: Contact Tower on [Frequency], KLM1009, goodbye


You need to make the initial contact which is fairly easy with the Tower facility.

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PILOT: Heathrow Tower good morning, KLM1009 on ILS approach runway 27L

ATC: KLM1009, good morning, wind is 320 19kts, runway 27L cleared to land

PILOT: Cleared to land runway 27L, KLM1009

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Don’t forget, if Approach isn’t online, Tower doesn’t take care of it, as it can’t do so (Approach facility requires higher ATC rating). You always contact Tower on the runway approach even if the Approach facility is not online.

In some cases, ATC may tell you that you are not cleared to land and will tell you something like “continue the approach” or that you’re number 2 or three. This means that you’re second or third to land on the runway. You readback that as usual. At the time you just continue the approach and wait until the ATC tells you that you’re cleared to land or not.

If you are, you can land on the runway when the ATC will tell you, and continue on a ground frequency, if one is online. If it’s not, you request taxi on Tower frequency. How to do that is explained in our previous episode of the VATSIM Guide.

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PILOT: Vacated runway 27L, KLM1009

ATC: KLM1009, contact Ground on [Frequency]

PILOT: Contact Ground on [Frequency], goodbye

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But what if you need to go around? The tower will tell you to go around like this:

ATC: KLM1009, go around, aircraft on the runway.

PILOT: Going around, KLM1009.

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In that case, you continue to fly on the Tower frequency. ATC will tell you to contact Approach. The whole approach process repeats.

In the next episode, we will take you through how to contact and communicate with Eurocontrol and local Centers on VATSIM.

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