September 2011 Issue

What’s Your Vector, Victor?

When ATC tells us where to go, they’re following a set of rules and procedures designed to keep us informed and out of the weeds.

November 12345, turn right, heading 140, vector around traffic." So begins yet another excursion off our planned course, courtesy of ATC: a vector. In their primary role—helping prevent us from swapping paint with each other—controllers use vectors to maintain spacing or establish sequencing for a runway. Other reasons for a vector include helping keep us out of weather or airspace, or because we request it. In fact, ATC always is supposed to tell us why we’re being vectored, something we’ll get to in a moment. The reality in today’s go-direct-everywhere ATC system usually means a heading to fly is not something we want or appreciate, since it’s usually an off-course delay, lengthening our trip and wasting time and fuel. But there are times—in terminal airspace especially, or when circumnavigating special-use airspace while en route—when vectors are good things and can help us cut various corners.

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