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How to fly at airports that don’t have control towers

How to fly at airports that don’t have control towers

Airports vary in complexity, from small grass or sod strips to major terminals with paved runways and taxiways. Regardless of the type of airport, a pilot must know and abide by the rules and general operating procedures applicable to the airport being used.

Air traffic control tower (ATCT) is located at every airport ensures the safe operations of commercial and private aircraft in terms of landing and taking off. The necessity of a tower is determined by considering the number of passengers, the complexity of the terrain, and hours of operation.

As much as there are towered airports, the vast majority of airports in the world are non-towered, that is, without a control tower, or air traffic control (ATC) unit. In fact, not every towered airport operates a 24/7 ATC service; they, therefore, follow the non-towered procedures, especially during off-hours, which is always at night. How then is it possible to fly planes and aircraft without a control tower? It is not as difficult as you think!

How do non-towered airports operate?

Instead of receiving instructions from an Air traffic controller, Aircraft pilots of non-towered airports follow recommended operations and certain communications procedures for operating. The procedures, however, differ from country to country; but they may include, for instance, standard arrival and departure procedures, as well as specialized words and expressions used by radio transmissions over a common frequency. For example, in countries like the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, a Common Traffic Advisory Frequency is recommended for radio communication.

Airports without towers can lie either inside or underneath controlled airspace. In such case, a remote air traffic control unit (terminal or center control) issues clearance to some, if not all, aircraft landing and taking off from the airport.

Pilots often obtain such clearances by radio, phone, or through a company dispatcher or local Flight Service Station; however, in some cases, any departing aircraft (whether IFR or Visual Flight Rules) taking off and leveling out below the floor of controlled airspace radio for clearance before climbing further. For non-towered airports in large urban areas especially, to avoid VFR arrivals and departures controlled airspace altogether, some countries set up the altitude to a low level, for Visual Flight Rules corridors.

Alternatives to non-towered airports

The following are alternatives to towered airports.

Mandatory Traffic Advisory Frequency Airports (MTAF)

MTAF, also known as Mandatory Frequency airports (MF), operates in some ways like towered airports: while aircraft are obligated to make radio contact with the ground station as a prerequisite to operate in the airport’s Control Zone; the radio operators only issue advisories. This kind of non-towered airport is in adoption in countries like Canada and Norway.


UNICOM runs on a radio to ground operations to assist and guide aircraft or airplanes landing, taking off or maneuvering on the ground of the airport. These radio operators, for instance from Fixed-base operators, have no authority to issue clearances or instructions to aircraft pilots, but they can give advisories such as acquainting them with weather conditions, runway conditions, traffic, and any other factors that can be of great danger.

Two-way radio correspondence on UNICOM or CTAF is not an administrative prerequisite. Even though it is an undoubtedly great working strategy; however, there are as yet a goodly number of pilots that enjoy flying without their radios, and they are positively qualified to do as such. Non-radio flying machines, NORDO airship, use non-transcend air terminals regularly and have a similar right.

Temporary Towers

A Mobile Airport Traffic Control Tower (MATCT) is a brief pinnacle utilized particularly in the US. It is set up in a prompt territory to build air movement thickness because of wildland fires to help wildland fire agencies to air activities in Aerial Firefighting.

For special occasions such as fly-ins, temporary towers may work for a few days every year at fields that are generally non-transcend. Temporary towers frequently work out of a current air terminal building, an RV armed with a small generator, or even essentially a seat (with a convenient transmitter and binoculars).

Airplane terminals without control towers units utilize a Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF), which is a radio recurrence pilots use to self-organize. However, it does not deal with a ground bearing. Once a pilot gets to the airport, he/she reports announcing to the neighborhood recurrence the landing pattern.


Hazards occur as a result of an inability to utilize radios to report positions and aims while working inside the airspace, which can prompt crashes between airships uninformed of each other. In 1996, an approaching United Express Flight 5925 crashed into a King airship, which neglected to report its goal to take off on a Common Traffic Advisory Frequency at the non-transcend Quincy Airport in Illinois. A few pilots neglect to utilize the right runway at non-transcend airplane terminals.

Controls and methods cannot cover each possible circumstance, however, and the FAA has shrewdly abstained from forcing unbending working controls at non-towered air terminals. What is proper at one airplane terminal may not work at the following. A few airplane terminals have uncommon working rules because of deterrents or dangers, while different standards may advance a smooth and proficient stream of activity or shield airship from overflying unsympathetic air terminal neighbors.

General guidelines for pilots in Non-Tower Airports Operations

1. Pilots are expected to familiarize themselves with the airports, especially with the runway based on the prevailing winds, traffic pattern, AWOS/ASOS frequency, among others.

2. Pilots should get the ASOS/AWOS as far from the airport as they can. Acquainting themselves with the airport aid them in having a smooth flight.

3. Pilots should be very aware that many other pilots operating at non-towered airports utilize non-standard arrival routing, altitudes, and even patterns directly opposite the airport’s standards.

4. Pilots should listen to the CTAF for other traffic to have a sense of other traffic’s locations, runways being used, and traffic locations.

5. Be succinct and use appropriate communications.

6. Pilots should be cautious of other aircraft especially when on an IFR approach or departure.

7. Pilots should not tie up the frequency with any informal discussion. The need to communicate with other aircraft is essential.