Q: What does it mean when a plane gets “vectors”?


A: When a plane gets vectors it means that the Air Traffic Controller (ATC) is giving the aeroplane navigation guidance.

There are a couple of things that need to be fulfilled before ATC can provide this form of navigation guidance, for example:

  1. ATC will need to have radar coverage
  2. The aeroplane will need to be within ATC’s control area
  3. The aeroplane will need to be identifiable by ATC
  4. Two way communication between aeroplane and ATC

Let’s look a little more into (radar) vectors.

Example of ATC giving an Aeroplane a vector:

ATC to Aeroplane with callsign “Speedbird 638”  : “Speedbrid 638, turn left heading 170 degrees, radar vectors for traffic seperation”

Reply from Speedbird 638: “Turn left heading 170 degrees, Speedbird 638”

Explaining why vectors are given:

In the given example ATC has decided that Speedbird 638 cannot continue on the path it had, because it would otherwise get too close to another aeroplane that they have inside their radar coverage. ATC has given Speedbird 638 a navigation instruction (turn left heading 170 degrees) to solve the situation.

At major airports it is common practice for ATC to give aeroplanes radar vectors to landing. In these cases the vector may also contain instructions to fly at a certain speed and altitude. The use of vectors here, is to ensure that the gap (space) between aeroplanes is as efficient as possible. Efficient means that as many aeroplanes as safely possible can use the runway for either takeoff or landing.

In our post about the Pegasus 2193 crash, we think that the “vectors” looks weird, you can read about this here

Happy landings

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