Departure Control


Most often, the position of Departure Control is combined with Approach Control at ZME. In those cases you would log on as MEM_APP and control both departing and arriving aircraft. But due to the complexity of both positions, perhaps it is better to divide the two positions into two separate lessons. This lesson will primarily focus on the Class B airspace surrounding KMEM but can be applied to any of our TRACONs which have departure control such as KBNA.

As Departure control, you will be responsible for aircraft departing the airspace surrounding KMEM. Notice the wording here, airspace surrounding KMEM. For the first time in your lessons, you are now responsible for the area surrounding more than one airport. Let’s take a look at your new responsibilities.


Both Approach and Departure Control is responsible for controlling IFR in the vicinity of the primary airport. Also, both are responsible for VFR aircraft in Class B and C airspace. The area surrounding KMEM is Class B airspace as you learned earlier. Class C airspace has been discussed in previous lessons.
At KMEM, Departure Control is responsible for air traffic after take off (wheels up) to 16,000 msl or to the border of their control area which ever occurs first. VRC sector files for ZME conveniently depict this border for you as a red dashed circle around the KMEM area. Other airports will have differing shapes tailored to the indivisual airspace.

Also you will notice that the Class B airspace areas are shown here. Recall your Class B airspace lesson and you will readily see that in some areas VFR aircraft, according to location and altitude, may or may not come under Departure or Approach control.

We have already mentioned the importance of coordination between controllers. A portion of that coordination is a set of standard procedures which are established within the ARTCC. We will address these procedures below, describe variations that may occur and address the subject of coordination.

Vectoring a Departing Aircraft

All IFR aircraft departing the KMEM area MUST depart through one of the cardinal directions. Remember, the corners of that circle are arrival routes. Why not VFR? Remember, VFR are only controlled in Class B airspace here. Now we shall discuss a couple of examples of departures.

As Departure control, your job is simple. All you need to do is direct aircraft to the departure gate, also called a Departure Transition Area (DTA). Simply put, keep the aircraft within your assigned airspace (horizontal and vertical) and vector them toward the correct departure gate

In our first example we have an aircraft, AAL1, departing runway 18C (a normal departure runway right?) and has filed the MEM7.PXV departure. When AAL1 becomes airborne, our outstanding Tower Controller hands AAL1 off to us. When AAL1 contacts us, this is the first time he is being tracked on radar. Remember, Towers are mainly visual operators in real life. Therefore we would tell him "radar contact". Our next task is to turn him on course and keep him climbing to his filed cruise altitude.

Since he is taking off to the south, we will want him to turn to the left. What heading will we use? Because most of the airspace north of the airport belongs to approach on South Ops and his filed route requires him to cross an arrival route, we simply need to turn him to 270 and get him out into a bigger portion of our departure airspace, where he can continue climbing over the approach airspace. Since the bottom of Approach's airspace on the arrival route is 8,000, it is safe to also climb AAL1 to 7,000.

AAL1, Good Afternoon, Memphis Departure, radar contact climbing through 1,300, turn left heading 090 climb and maintain 7,000.

Once AAL1 has cleared the arrival route and is entering our SFC-160 airspace, it is now safe to turn him toward a departure gate (the one closest to his filed route) and climb him again, but only to the top of our airspace which is 16,000.

AAL1, turn left heading 010 climb and maintain 16,000.

Pay attention to each aircraft's climb rate to ensure that before the get to approaches arrival airspace, that they are above it and still within your airspace. Most turbojets will climb plenty fast enough that this should not be a problem. But it is still very important that you are aware of what your vertical and horizontal airspace limits are to avoid conflicts.

Handing off to Center

Now We want to keep him flying towards his destination therefore we must perform a handoff to Center. More often than not, the aircraft will reach altitude before reaching the lateral border of your airspace. And since we want to keep him climbing, we will hand him off before he reaches 16,000 so he has time to switch over to Center and Center can give him clearance to continue his climb. With that being said, we should hand him off with the radar tag at 10,000 and voice at approximately 12,000 unless there is a reason not to do so (separation, etc.)

AAL1, contact Memphis Center on 133.650.

Note that it is not Departure's responsibility to clear an aircraft onto their filed route. Center will do this when it is safe to do so. Your only responsibility is to
ensure that they are flying toward the correct departure gate and climbing safely out of your airspace. Sometimes you may hear departure controllers vector aircraft "direct to" some waypoint. Unless you coordinate this with Center, you are not allowed to clear an aircraft beyond the limits of your own airspace.

As discussed in previous lessons, Area Navigation (RNAV) procedures are used to improve traffic flow and reduce the amount of communications between ATCs and pilots, thereby lightening the workload of the ATC. RNAV DPs are preprogrammed routes in the flight management computer (FMC) of the aircraft and establish the route of the aircraft from wheels up to the DP transition onto the rest of the route. Unfortunately, no RNAV departure procedures exist within the ZME ARTCC

VFR Procedures

Recall from the Class B introduction that VFR aircraft inside Class B airspace are under direct control of ATC. Also, VFR pilots are not required to file flight plans. If no flight plan is filed, at some point the intentions of the VFR pilot should have been determined. This occurs either prior to take off in Class B (clearance) or while in transit through Class B.

Departure Control becomes responsible for those VFR aircraft which are within the departure controller's airspace. After the pilot's intentions are known, ATC then vectors him much the same way as in the case of an IFR aircraft. The difference here is that the VFR pilot MUST maintain VFR conditions, mainly visibility. Therefore when issuing vectors, be aware that the Pilot may notify you that they are "unable" due to visibility (clouds). It then becomes Departure's responsibility to find a new vector for that aircraft. Departure would also issue traffic and safety advisories to that VFR aircraft.

Once the VFR aircraft is leaving Class B airspace, notify him as follows:

Cessna42N you are departing Class B radar services terminated, frequency change approved, squawk 1200.

Aircraft Separation

As a TRACON controller, it is also important that you maintain a proper amount of both vertical and horizontal separation from arrivals and other departures. You can accomplish this with thoughtful vectoring, altitudes and even airspeed adjustments. You should maintain horizontal separation of 5 miles or more for aircraft traveling in the same direction and 1,000 feet of vertical separation for aircraft traveling in opposite directions. This will not be as easy when the APP & DEP positions are split because you will not have control over all of the aircraft in the airspace.

Other Airports

Just a short word here about other airports in the ZME ARTCC area. Some of the outlying airports may have Departure and Arrival services. For those airports that provide such services you may find their frequencies listed on the positions table located in the ZME website. Also, the areas covered by the services may be viewed by displaying the appropriate ARTCC boundaries in VRC.

Note that if Departure and Arrival are supplied by the same controller then that controller should log on as XXX_APP where XXX is the last three letters of the ICAO of the airport.

Only Nashville and Memphis will typically have a position for a separate departure controller, however the same controlling principles apply to departure control for any Approach Airspace. Below is a suggested airspace management technique for Little Rock Adams Field (KLIT)


As you can see, Departure control can be a complicated job. However, following these simple guidelines will greatly assist you. Use the philosophy that less is more. The fewer words you have to use to do your job, the more efficient you will be. Also remember you are responsible for maintaining order and clearances between aircraft.
Often the case is you will be working Approach alone which combines Deptarture and Approach making the job more intense. Study both lessons well and watch online controllers working. This will greatly aid you in becoming a more proficient controller.

Return to Training Home

Created by: mfuoco. Last Modification: Saturday 29 of August, 2009 12:21:27 MDT by zhutcherson.
The original document is available at