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5 Answers

What is the difference between RAPCON and TRACON?

Asked by: 9777 views ,
Airspace, General Aviation

What is the difference between RAPCON and TRACON?

Don't both handle approach and departure (as well as number of other services)? 

Is approach and departure ever handled by an actual airport tower...or does TRACON and/or RAPCON exclusively handle this?

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5 Answers



  1. Matthew Hammer on Dec 23, 2010

    As I understand it there really is no functional difference. I believe RAPCON is a joint FAA/Air Force service, whereas TRACON is strictly FAA. As a reference I’d draw your attention to the pilot/controller glossary entry in the FAR/AIM for “Radar Approach Control Facility.”

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  2. Matthew Waugh on Dec 23, 2010

    I agree with Matthew (the other Matthew).
    There are some locations where the approach control is located within the tower, but they are separate facilities, even if some controllers go back and forth between the positions.
    Late at night you may find that approach control services are being provided by an appropriately certified tower controller with a radar repeater in the tower cab. If you contact approach control and in the reply they tell you radar contact, clear you for the visual, clear you to land and clear you to taxi to the ramp, you’ve found an approach control being provided by the tower.

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  3. Jim Foley on Dec 27, 2010

    As for the differences, I cannot comment, but yes, sometimes the app/dep are in the tower.  One concrete example were I fly every few days is near Whiteman Air Force Base, KSZL (where the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber is based).  On several occasions doing practice ILS at Whiteman, the app controller says, “XXXXX plase go to my tower frequency 132.4.”  When I switch and call, it is the same person.  This happens quite often, at least there.

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  4. Heather McNevin on Jan 30, 2011

    TRACON = FAA
    RAPCON = Military
    They can be located in a tower (called an up / down since upstairs is the tower and downstairs is the radar room) or in a separate facility that may or may not be located at that airport.

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  5. Rich on Sep 07, 2015

    Bottom Line: Different acronyms correspond to which agency (or agencies) operate them:

    ARAC — Army Radar Approach Control (Army)
    RATCF — Radar ATC Facility (Navy/FAA)
    RAPCON — Radar Approach Control (Air Force/FAA)
    TRACON — Terminal Radar Approach Control (FAA)
    ATCT — Tower/Airport Traffic Control Tower (FAA)

    See below, from DoD Flight Information Publication (FLIP), General Planning (GP)
    2-36 TERMS

    RADAR APPROACH CONTROL FACILITY – A terminal Air Traffic
    Control facility that uses radar and non-radar capabilities to
    provide Approach Control service to aircraft arriving, departing, or
    transiting airspace controlled by the facility (see Approach Control
    Service). Provides radar Air Traffic Control service to aircraft
    operating in the vicinity of one or more civil and/or military airports
    in a terminal area. The facility may provide services of a Ground
    Control Approach (GCA); i.e., Airport Surveillance Radar and
    Precision Approach Radar approaches. A radar Approach Control
    facility may be operated by Federal Aviation Administration, US Air
    Force, US Army, US Navy, US Marine Corps, or jointly by Federal
    Aviation Administration and a military service. Specific facility
    nomenclatures are used for administrative purposes only and are
    related to the physical location of the facility and the operating
    service generally as follows:

    Army Radar Approach Control/ARAC (Army)
    Radar ATC
    Facility/RATCF (Navy/Federal Aviation Administration)
    Radar Approach Control/RAPCON (Air Force/Federal
    Aviation Administration)
    Terminal Radar Approach Control/TRACON
    (Federal Aviation Administration)
    Tower/Airport Traffic Control Tower/ATCT (Federal Aviation
    Administration)
    (Only those towers delegated approach control authority).

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