Beginners’ guide to ANS

Air navigation services (ANS) are at the heart of safe, reliable and efficient aviation. Every aircraft that takes off and lands relies on some form of ANS. This guide will help you understand the basic roles and responsibilities of an air navigation services provider (ANSP) such as dans.

Air Traffic Control

Air Traffic Control (ATC) is a service provided by ground-based controllers who direct aircraft on the ground and through controlled airspace. Air traffic controllers help pilots keep aircraft safely separated from other aircraft (or obstacles) while in flight or on the ground, thus ensuring safe, orderly and efficient traffic flow. Around the world, the primary purpose of ATC is to prevent collisions, organise and expedite the flow of traffic, and provide information and other support for pilots.

To prevent collisions ATC enforces traffic separation rules which ensure each aircraft maintains a minimum amount of empty space around it at all times. These rules ensure that controllers maintain vertical, lateral or time separation according to strictly defined criteria. There are various types or specialties of ATC used around the world. At dans we employ two types: Tower Control and Approach Control.

Tower Control

At Dubai International (DXB) and Al Maktoum International (DWC) airports, the primary method of controlling the immediate airport environment is visual observation from the airport control tower. DXB and DWC tower controllers are responsible for the separation and efficient movement of aircraft and vehicles operating on the taxiways and runways of the airports, as well as aircraft that are airborne near the airport.

Surveillance (radar) displays are used at both towers to assist with traffic control. Our tower controllers use a radar system called AT3 for approaching and departing aircraft. AT3 displays provide a map of the area, position of various aircraft, and data tags that include aircraft identification, speed and altitude. Our tower controllers also use surface movement radar to control traffic on the ground, or manoeuvring areas (taxiways and runway).

The areas of responsibility for TWR (tower) controllers fall into three general operational disciplines:
  • Air control (AIR)
  • Ground movement control (GMC)
  • Ground movement planner / clearance delivery (GMP)

At our DXB tower we have two AIR positions (one for each runway), two GMC positions (equally dividing the airfield geographically), one GMP position as well as one Tower Watch Manager / Supervisor position. At our DWC tower, all three tasks (AIR, GMC and GMP) are done by one air traffic control officer (ATCO).

Approach Control

Tower control is responsible for aircraft at or near an airport, but what about aircraft flying within Dubai’s airspace? Some will be just passing through (on their way to/from other countries), but most will want to land at one of the UAE’s many airports. Approach Control is responsible for guiding and coordinating all these aircraft.

Since we have many busy airports close together, it makes sense for Dubai Approach to provide a consolidated service to DXB, DWC, Sharjah International and Al Minhad Air Base. Dubai’s control area (CTA) extends across 50 nautical miles (93 kilometres) centred at Dubai International (DXB). As soon as aircraft enter this area, they become the responsibility of our approach control that is located at DWC. Our controllers also ensure that departures from all airfields within Dubai’s CTA are guided to a suitable altitude and then handed off to the next appropriate control facility (either Sheikh Zayed Enroute Control Centre or Abu Dhabi Approach Control).

Similar to our Tower Control, there is an Approach Watch Manager / Supervisor in the control room at all times to ensure that our airspace is being managed in a safe and efficient manner. Our approach team’s areas of responsibility are divided into seven control positions:
  • Departures north
  • Departures south
  • Arrivals
  • Final approach director
  • Minhad
  • Al Maktoum radar
  • CTA planner


Air traffic control is an integral part of ANS, but a lot more happens behind the scenes. To aid understanding, it is helpful to organise ANS into three distinct but interconnected services:
  • Air traffic management (ATM)
  • Air traffic engineering (ATE)
  • Aeronautical information management (AIM)

ATM largely consists of air traffic control (ATC) as described above, with the addition of administration and support functions.

ATE is involved with the maintenance of all specialised equipment (navigation, communication, surveillance, safety, emergency etc.) that is needed for reliable and efficient airport operation. AIM provides a variety of aeronautical information to ATC and also directly to dans’ customers. This includes flight briefing support, filing and validation of flight plans, flight documentation, as well as notices and publications.