Game Instructions

Air Traffic Control Simulation: User Guide

View a 20-minute demonstration of this simulation in action

Please read these instructions before playing! My most frequently asked questions are:

Q. How come I don't see any airplanes?
A. Because traffic requires 2 minutes to generate.

Q. How come the pilots don't do anything when I click on them?
A. Because the aircraft is not yet yours. Arriving aircraft must first be 'handed off' to you, indicated by a flashing H. After you click on the aircraft to accept the handoff, you must then wait for the previous controller to tell the pilot to call you. Once the pilot calls you, you can then start issuing commands.

Q. How come the airplanes sometimes turn on their own, and sometimes stop climbing or descending?
A. Because all aircraft in the terminal area are following a procedure called a SID or STAR, which tells them what altitude,speed and heading to fly. It is your job to eventually break this procedure by giving headings, altitudes or speeds of your own, as necessary.




You must maintain vertical separation of at least 1000 feet between any aircraft that are within 3 miles of each other. (i.e. "A Thousand or Three"). Do not assign altitudes below the red minimum vectoring altitudes depicted on the radar screen. These altitudes are for safety, due to terrain. The standard arrival routes (STARs) instruct pilots to maintain a specific altitude (such as 11000 on the GITAR arrival as an example. See the in-game overlays).


The Standard Arrival Routes (STARs) guide pilots into a "downwind leg" (i.e. pointing away from the airport). This is great for you, the controller. You can then peel them off the STAR when it is convenient to do so, by giving a heading towards the localizer (generally 360 or 180). On departure, you can use headings to avoid other aircraft. When able, give all departing aircraft "Direct". (i.e. Direct TONER, or whatever waypoint is on their flight plan).


Speed is usually the last type of control you will perform on an aircraft. Altitude and vectors are your primary control elements. Speed is something that you might use after you have put a 737 too close behind a slower DH8 on the localizer. The Standard Arrival Routes (STARs) instruct pilots to reduce their speed to 230 knots, and by law, these pilots must further reduce to 200 knots as they reach 3000 feet. Your rules are: Do not assign speeds of greater than 250 knots (below 10000), or less than 160 (jets) / 120 (props).

An understanding of the altitude - airspeed - groundspeed relationship is helpful, but not necessary. You just need to understand that in the real world and in this simulation, with an increase in altitude, groundspeed becomes greater than the speed shown on the cockpit readout to the pilot. So if a you assign a pilot at 10,000 feet a speed of 210 knots, you will observe a groundspeed of about 250 knots. At sea level, there is no error. Simple concept, but it does require getting used to.


When you first observe an arriving aircraft, it is not yours yet. You do not own it until the previous controller hands it off to you (indicated by a flashing H). Once you accept the handoff, the aircraft is now yours. However, you must wait a moment while the previous controller tells the pilot to call you.


Before an aircraft exits your sector (either vertically or laterally), you must hand it off. Click the handoff button, and this will send a message to the next controller down the line. You will see a solid H while you wait. Once he accepts the handoff, the H will flash, and it is then time to tell the aircraft to change to the appropriate frequency. In real life, this little chore is often forgotten! You are usually reminded to initiate or accept a handoff by yelling that can be heard from across the control room! Generally, initiate handoffs either 5 miles from the boundary, or 3000 feet below your ceiling if the aircraft is going to exit vertically.

radar target



Have a look at the radar target image. You will notice that there are several important pieces of information that are constantly displayed - ident (or name), altitude and speed. The trail dots give you a sense of motion. The tag is draggable, for viewing convenience. When an arriving aircraft enters your sector, you see a blinking H next to the target, which indicates that you must accept it from the other controller, by clicking the target. When a departing aircraft leaves your sector, you must place an aircraft in the handoff mode by selecting HANDOFF in the control panel. This is indicated by a steady H symbol. When the receiving controller accepts, the H begins to flash.

Below, we see a blank radar screen. Observe the red lines, which indicate minimum altitudes for that area. These indicate areas where there is terrain. Do not allow aircraft to enter these areas below the minimum altitude.

The large grey rectangle that encapsulates nearly the entire screen indicates your airspace boundary, and the adjacent controller's airspace. Handoffs shall be executed prior to aircraft crossing this boundary. Note that your airspace only goes up to 16,000 feet, and aircraft often exit your sector "vertically". In this situation, a handoff must be initiated at approximately 13,000, to allow time for the receiving controller to get his act together and accept your handoff.

Basic radar screen

There are two main airports in your sector - Orange Island in the center is your international airport. 12 miles to the southeast you have Citrus Cove airport. The strings of dots indicate your final approach path, each one mile apart. These dots will help you to eyeball the required 3-mile spacing rule. You have a Pending Arrival and Departure list at the top left, which shows you what is coming next, and what route that aircraft is on.

Radar detail

Click on OVERLAYS to bring up details such as SIDS, STARS, fix names and sector info. Departures fly a route called a SID. There are different SIDS to be familiar with. Arrivals fly a STAR. Always scan your lists to see what is coming next.


Here's the meat 'n potatoes of this simulation. You must maintain separation of at least 3 miles or 1000 feet vertically between all aircraft. Extra spacing is often required between different weight-category aircraft, but I could fill a book describing it. If you are familiar with these standards, use them. Otherwise, we'll accept 3 MILES as our standard. Departures are a little different. The tower is allowed to provide departure separation of only 30 degrees, which means you can have planes less than 3 miles apart initially, as long as you DON'T ALTER THE HEADINGS UNTIL 3 MILES IS ACHIEVED.

Basic control panel

Have a look at the control panel. The light purple section provides basic control such as speed, heading and altitude. You also have FAST and SLOW buttons, which tell the pilots to give you their fastest or slowest speed. An EXPEDITE button encourages the pilot to climb quickly. This is handy when you are struggling to achieve vertical separation of 1000 in a hurry. Please note that PROPER SYNTAX is very important. As an example, you assign an alitude of 5000 by inputting 50. You assign a right turn to heading 160 by inputting R160. A speed of 200 would simply be input as 200.

At the top, in the blue section, you have the flight data. At left, you see that this is Bigjet Airlines flight 877. They are a Boeing 737-900, with a filed mach speed of 78. At top center you have the current assigned altitude. At top right, you have special instructions, such as a SID, a STAR, or a DIRECT routing to some place. Along the bottom is the pilot's requested altitude and route. In this case the pilot is hoping for flight level 380 (38000 feet), and is departing Orange Island airport, via the IGLOO waypoint, via airway J23 to Hong Kong.

In many situations it is necessary to assign a "heading leaving...". This is advanced stuff. Basically, you could tell an aircraft to turn left heading 360 leaving 3000 feet if you wanted to. This is handy for departures, because you are NOT ALLOWED TO TURN ANY DEPARTURE BEFORE THEY REACH A HEIGHT OF 3000. The only exception to this is at Citrus Cove, where you can turn them at 2000.

To the right side of the panel you see some slightly more advanced controls. APPROACH gives the pilot clearance to track the final approach path down to the runway. Prior to giving this, aircraft must be suitably vectored to intercept the path at a friendly angle, at least 10 miles from the airport, at an altitude of 3000 feet. If you are in a tight spot, you can drop the arrivals to 2000 and give them only a 7 mile gate. This would normally need to be coordinated with the tower, but we are pretending that the tower is perpetually in a good mood and always allows this.

All departures must be routed via the waypoint in their flight plan. So in our current example, you need to assign BIG877 direct IGLOO as soon as you are able to do so. The next controller down the line expects you to do this. Don't forget that your sector goes up to just 16000 feet, so you will not be the one who assigns him FL380. You only assign 16000 feet direct IGLOO, then get rid of him (hand him off).

Direct routing

It is often nice to be able to assign a "direct leaving...". A departure, for example, might be given DIRECT BRIBE LEAVING 6000. Again, we are getting advanced here.


Okay, I will talk you through two scenarios quickly. First, we will look at the typical departure. The first thing I see is BIG877 in the Pending Departure list. The list tells me that he is going to VHHH (Hong Kong) by way of IGLOO. He has been given the ORANGE 3 departure, which is runway heading to 7000. Refer to the SID overlay. He will fly that forever and ever, until I break it. There is no handoff from tower. The pilot calls me leaving 1000 feet. Assuming there is no traffic, I assign him 10000, left heading 360 leaving 3000. This complies with Tower's requirement of NO TURNS BELOW 3000. It also leaves me with some wiggle room for my arrivals, which come in descending for 11000 and 12000. As soon as I am confident that there are no conflicting arrivals, I assign 16000 direct IGLOO. When the aircraft reaches 13000, I put him in the handoff. The little blinking H appears. I wait for the next guy to accept. When he accepts, the H turns solid and I switch the aircraft to him.

Frequency Assignment

There are five frequencies. Two are for your airport tower controllers, and the rest are adjacent sector controllers. View the SECTOR INFO overlay to find out who-is-who. Once you've switched an aircraft to the next sector, the datatag dissapears to reduce radar clutter.


Here is the life of an arrival. When an aircraft commences it's descent, it likely is 100 miles from the airport. The center controller is still working it, and you are not yet aware of it. 2 minutes before the arrival enters your sector, you get a heads up in the Arrival List. In this example, the list might tell you that BIG123 is inbound from San Fransisco and he has been assigned the GITAR arrival. Refer to the STAR overlay. He will fly the STAR track while descending to 12000. He will eventually appear over GITAR, with a flashing H. You must click to accept the handoff, at which time the other controller switches the pilot to your frequency.

You will have to wait for approximately one minute before the pilot checks in. If you attempt to control the aircraft before he calls, you will see a "Not On Frequency" symbol. When he checks in, you can just leave him on the STAR initially. Eventually, you will want to get him down.

I usually give my arrivals 8000 immediately, which is high enough to avoid the minimum altitude areas, and also high enough to still fit a departure underneath him at 7000. Once the aircraft makes the westbound turn abeam the field, I assign 4000. You may have noticed that the aircraft's speed has slowly been decreasing, mostly due to the STAR speed requirement of 230, but also due to the airspeed - altitude relationship I spoke of in paragraph two. Once the aircraft is ten miles west of the field, I assign 3000 feet and right heading 360. The aircraft obediently slows to 200 knots at this point, as this is an air regulation (max 200 knots below 3000 within 10 miles of an airport). Two miles from the approach path, I assign an intercept heading of 060 and give the approach clearance. Once the pilot reads back the approach clearance to me, I switch him to tower and I am done.


Aircraft that depart southeast-bound from Citrus Cove (the southernmost airport) must be assigned 4000 and immediately placed into a handoff. MIKO sector quickly accepts the handoff and then you immediately switch the aircraft to MIKO's frequency. Should you have a second faster aircraft, give the second faster aircraft a lower altitude and initiate handoff.

I hope that you will purchase this simulation, and enjoy it as both a learning tool and a challenge. After playing it for a while, you may get the feeling that this program is somewhat incomplete, due to lack of a pause button, lack of a save-game feature, and only one sector. A future version of this simulation will eventually become available that will have these added features, but will likely sell for upwards of $50. Please take it for what it is, a terrific bargain, and in my opinion one of the most realistic PC sims on the market.