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ATC differences between US and Europe


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Posted (edited)

I have read few posts and watched a couple of tutorials on the ATC differences between US and  Europe but this is still not clear to me regarding two topics:

1) STAR clearance

Based on my limited (few weeks) experience on Vatsim I noticed that once you are cleared for a STAR in Europe you still have to wait for ATC to take the initiative to get you to descend (not necessarily exactly in line with the published procedure) to different altitude toward the Approach. However, in the US, once your are cleared for a STAR then it is the pilot responsibility to manage the descent according the published restrictions, including initiating the descent. ATC would not give you (unless needed from ATC point of view) further instructions. Is this correct? (by the way, the US practice seems to me more in line with the concept of clearance)

2) Flight plan with or without SID and STAR

I typically download the FP from SimBrief and then file it using vpilot/xpilot.  Although the SimBrief FP does indeed include SID/STAR, they disappear from the filed FP (as per the "Route" window in vpilot/xpilot). This is fine since in Europe those are assigned by ATC. I understand that in the US the filed flight plan has to include SID/STAR. Is this correct? How do you do this? you just add manually the SID and the STAR in the "Route" window in vpilot/xpilot?

I am also interested to know how those aspects are handled in other parts of the world (Australia, Asia, Africa, South America, etc)

Edited by Samer HAJ HOUSSAIN
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in the US, once your are cleared for a STAR then it is the pilot responsibility to manage the descent according the published restrictions, including initiating the descent. ATC would not give you (unless needed from ATC point of view) further instructions. Is this correct?

Depends on the exact STAR.  If it's one that's called a "profile descent" (i.e. one that has a series of altitude restrictions along the way), you'll typically be cleared to "Descend via the _____ Arrival" and once you hear that, you're basically cleared down to the lowest published altitude constraint along your particular path -- so long as you hit the ones in between as well.

If you see one that isn't a profile descent -- you might see "VERTICAL NAVIGATION PLANNING INFORMATON: Expect 12,000" or something like that, but no FIRM altitude restrictions -- you'll typically get one of three things:

1. "Descent Pilot's Discretion to cross _____ at and maintain _____" -- usually in line with that "Expect" on the chart, but, not always.  You can start the descent right away or later, your choice.  If you start it later, it's customary to let ATC know once you've started down.  "Memphis Center, SWA123 leaving FL330 for 12,000 at _____" is how I usually say it.  (The word "for" is not 100% standard and kinda frowned upon, but usually that phrasing doesn't cause too much confusion.)

2. Simply "Descend pilot's discretion and maintain _____" -- same as above, except there isn't a specific point to be level by.  So you can start the descent wherever makes sense to be at ground level by the airport.  Doesn't have to be precise as you'll get additional vertical instructions and vectors once you get closer in.  See above for reporting that you're starting down from cruise.

3. You may actually get "Descend and maintain _____" meaning to initiate the descent IMMEDIATELY WHEN TOLD.  You might get "stepped-down" in a series of Descend-and-Maintain instructions, to keep positive separation from crossing traffic and/or to comply with altitude restrictions between ATC sectors per their general agreements for traffic flow passing between facilities.  If you're given a descent well before your preferred or calculated TOD, obviously you have to comply but you want to stay as high as you can as long as you can for fuel economy.  I find that a 1,000fpm descent is usually sufficient to meet the controller's expectations while keeping the plane as fuel-efficient as possible.

Quote

I understand that in the US the filed flight plan has to include SID/STAR. Is this correct? How do you do this? you just add manually the SID and the STAR in the "Route" window in vpilot/xpilot?

I don't prefile form SimBrief so I don't know whether that's true that it automatically drops the SID and STAR, but, that seems odd to me.  But yeah, normally in the US you file the SID and STAR as part of the route.  The reason for this is that US SIDs and STARs are normally applicable to any departure and arrival runway, whereas in Europe and other places, the SIDs and STARs are specific to a certain runway or airport operating direction.  (There are a few US airports where SIDs and STARs are airport-direction-specific but usually the controller will sort this out if you've managed to file the opposite for whatever reason.)  US SIDs and STARs also have merge points and transition forks -- it's just a completely different philosophy on how to coordinate routing in the terminal area.

But anyway, yeah, your route that you file in the US should include the SID and STAR if applicable.  If SimBrief is automatically dropping them, I would maybe consider planning the flight via SimBrief but just filing it directly from your Pilot Client.

Hope that helps!

Cheers,

-R.

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One additional note on flying STARs, typically they are part of your route clearance, and unlike in Europe, you should always fly the lateral portion of the STAR in your clearance. Do not wait for a controller to clear you to fly the STAR, you are already cleared to follow the lateral route portion of the STAR as part of your route clearance. What Rob posted above applies only to the vertical (altitude) portion of the STAR.

New York ARTCC

Instructor // ZNY/ZWY Facility Coordinator

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Posted (edited)

Many thanks @Alex Ying and @Robert Shearman Jr for the very precise and helpful information. I have a couple of questions/remarks:

1) Based on my limited experience, all my flown STARs in Europe were "profile descent" kind of STARS.  ATC typically manages the descent as series of "descend to flight level xxx"'

2) Would you please provide a couple of examples of STARs that are NOT "profile descent"

Edited by Samer HAJ HOUSSAIN
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