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PIA Boeing 747 - Approach into London Heathrow

An ATC (Air Traffic Control) account of a PIA 747s approach into
London Heathrow. - [With ATC Sounds]

Written by Alan Moss, Air Traffic Controller, London Heathrow
Sound recorded and added by Jamie J. Alnasir

As the aircraft enters UK airspace, it is handed to Area Control which is based at the London Area and Terminal Control Centre (LATCC) at West Drayton, London. (3miles North of Heathrow). Here, all UK airspace as for North as Scotland is controlled.  As the aircraft crosses into UK airspace it starts its descent.  Coming down to Flight Level (FL) 215 (21500ft) it is handed to Terminal Control.

Terminal control provides ATC for the London Terminal Manoueuvring Area (LTMA) which is a block of airspace covering most of the South East of England up to FL215 and is some of the worlds busiest airspace.

It approaches from the East into TC North east's airspace, and is given directions to the designated holding stack to the North East of Heathrow - Lambourne (LAM).  When it is clear of all conflictions, (Gatwick, Luton and Stansted outbounds) descending to FL80 to FL120 (holding levels) it is transferred to heathrow Approach, which is where I work.

Heathrow Approach is split into 4 positions

Intermediate (INT) director South on Freq 134.97.
Intermediate (INT director North and North Support on Freq 119.72
Final Director on Freq 120.4. (
Listen to Sound )

INT north looks after the Bovingdon (BNN) and Lambourne (LAM) holds.
The Ockham (OCK) and Biggin (BIG) stacks are controlled by the INT south director.

The director then decides on an order to get his aircraft in to Heathrow.  Whilst in the hold (if not already) the aircraft is descended to FL80 and then brought off the stack on a radar heading. The aircraft is also "Speed Controlled" by us and normally flies downwind at 210/220 knots. The aircraft is then normally descended to FL70 only as the outbound aircraft on SID's (Standard Instrument Departures) are climbing to 6000 feet.

When downwind and away from the outbound traffic, the final descent can begin.  At Heathrow, Continuous Descent Approaches (CDAs) are carried out.  This means that the aircraft starts its final descent when it has a certian track distance to run.  Basically, a CDA means that less fuel is used by the aircraft who hopefully won't have to level off before the ILS.  It is also better for the local communties as there is less noise and pollution on the ground.  As a rule, we allow 1000 foot of descent for every 3 track miles to go.  Therefore, the final descent form FL70 is started at approximately 25 miles form touchdown.  We remind pilots of there track distance at least 3 times, so that they may smoothly descend accordingly.

When it has approx 20 miles to run, it is given the instruction to "Report Callsign Only to Director on 120.4"  The aircraft then calls the final director who will pack the aircraft in as close as is possible for the landing runway.  The minimum distance between aircraft types depends on its Wake Vortex Category.  For the LTMA, we have 5 grades.
HEAVY - B747'2/767's/MD11's/A 340 etc
Upper MEDIUM - B757/IL62/VC10 etc
Lower MEDIUM - B737/A320 etc
SMALL - BA 146/Gulfstream 4 etc
LIGHT - Citation/BAe 125 etc
These categories are based on MTOW (Maximum take-off weight).

Obviously, a Citation following a B747 needs maximum spacing (7 miles) whilst a B737 followed by an A320 needs the mimum of 3 miles spacing due to wake vortex (
Listen to Sound).  We can use 2.5 mile spacing on final if there is NO Vortex consideration. (i.e BAe 125 followed by a B747).

Base Leg turn and Final Approach

The FINAL director now gives the aircraft a base leg turn, at right angles to the final approach (Listen to Sound ).  He also instructs the aircraft to reduce speed to 180 knots and continue its descent to 4000 feet
Listen to Sound). When he judges so, he will then turn the aircraft onto an intercepting heading for the ILS localiser.  Ideally, this will be at about 15 miles from touchdown, but can be as far out as 22miles.  This must be within 30 degrees of the final approach track (i.e.  For runway 09L, a heading of 120 degrees from the North, or 060 degrees from the South.

The aircraft is told "Report Localiser Established on Runway 09 Left"
Listen to Sound).  When the aircrafts reports established it is then "Cleared to descend on the ILS" (Listen to Sound).  At the same time, up to 3 aircraft can be establishing, with maybe 4 or more flying the ILS.

The controller must then tell the aircraft to "Reduce speed to 160 knots until 4 DME" (
Listen to Sound). DME is the Distance Measuring Equipment and is coupled with the ILS to give distance from touchdown and replaces Outer/Inner markers.  This speed restriction ensures that the aircraft will not catch up the aircraft in front, or impede the aircraft just 3 miles behind!  Any erosion of seperation is a safety issue and the aircraft will have to break off the approach if within the vortex rules.

Now there is nothing for us to do.  The aircraft is then instructed to "Contact Heathrow Tower on 118.7" (
Listen to Sound ).

Heathrow Tower then receive the aircraft, and they have been watching the sequencing on a computerised radar picture in the Visual Control Room (VCR).  Normally, they are informed of there position and told to continue approach "you are number 3, continue approach 09Left" (
Listen to Sound).  In the UK, landing clearance can ONLY be given to one aircraft at a time.  When Cleared to land and given the wind, the aircraft rolls down the landing runway.  When under control and slowing down, the controller instructs the aircraft to "Vacate Right and contact Ground Control on 126.42"

The aircraft then calls ground and is given instructions to navigate the labyrinth of taxiways which is Heathrow airport.  It is then given a stand number, and is marchalled in by a team of engineers.  The aircraft then is cleaned, emptied, turned around and returns to Pakistan often only 2 hours later!!"

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