Bill's NS Radio Site


Arrivals at Halifax Airport

Last updated February 2, 2017

The following is a simplistic description of aircraft traffic approaching Halifax Stanfield International Airport for a landing.   It is intended to be of value to those who both watch aircraft and listen to them on the scanner.    It is not intended to be an in-depth guide to the various types of approaches possible at this or other airports.   I am requesting that you inform me of any obvious errors or misleading statements.   marscan1 AT  

This is the fifth in a series of pages intended for scanner listeners who are interested in listening to aircraft arriving and departing Halifax.  It is tailored to those scanner listeners who also might want to go to the airport and combine listening with watching.   You might find it useful to start with Part 1:  At the Airport and follow the sequence.

1. The Airport   2. Flight Plan, Taxi and Takeoff  3. Departing the Airport Vicinity  4. Moncton Centre and Surrounding Zones (High and Low)    5. Arriving at Halifax, Landing, and Taxi to the Gate




Aircraft approaching Halifax for landing that are in the high level control airspace will begin descent at least 100 miles away.   This will be requested from the high level controller for the area they are in.  See other pages on this site for frequencies.    Descent will imply dropping down eventually into low level controlled airspace, and you will hear the handover to that controller, again appropriate for the sector being entered.    From Halifax you will be able to hear the approaching high level aircraft at least two hundred miles away and possibly much more but because there is not much said at high level other than handoffs and requests for altitude change, you likely will not hear your anticipated aircraft until it requests its descent into Halifax.



While still with the low level controller there may be some specific clearance messages regarding the approach to Halifax.  This could simply entail a clearance to one of the outer waypoints or something more specific regarding a particular type of approach, but often the latter is not done until handover to Terminal.


Keep in mind for the newby, that "terminal" in this sense does not mean the building at the airport.  It refers to the area surrounding the airport beyond the area controlled by the tower.  Aircraft arriving to land at Halifax will first be transferred from Moncton Centre to Halifax Terminal ("Arrival") on 119.2 MHz at a distance of at least 35 n.m. from the airport.   There is also an overflow frequency of 128.55 MHz rarely heard in recent years and apparently intended for peak periods.   For VFR aircraft (usually small aircraft) there is also 118.7 which sometimes is used as a maintenance backup to 119.2.     Aircraft sent to Terminal by Centre are generally already in descent with a clearance to an altitude such as 10000 ft but this varies considerably.   They are likely to also have been cleared already to a certain waypoint, but regardless of this, any such clearances are now subject to change by the terminal controller either unilaterally or in consultation with the pilot.    The pilot may have specific preferences for the approach to request from Terminal.    Changing wind and visibility and traffic conditions will also cause changes in any clearances given or elements of the flight plan previously anticipated.

 Altitude and speed clearances:    Altitude and speed clearances on arrival are many and varied and therefore not able to be fully described here.   These are to not only avoid other traffic but also to take into account the capabilities of the particular aircraft.   It is not possible to descend and approach on a whim.  

Direction clearance:  IFR aircraft are generally assigned to arrive at major airports via standard sets of procedures called STARS (Standard Arrivals).   For Halifax there are three named sets of approaches, i.e. MAHONE, LISCOMB and FUNDY, each with a variation for each of the four runways.     As they are modified over time they are given numerical suffixes, so that today the current MAHONE arrival procedure might be the MAHONE5 arrival.    Each of the three STARS is based on the aircraft beginning the procedure at a particular reporting point.    MAHONE begins at reporting point HIDIG, FUNDY begins at CETTY, and LISCOMB begins at IGTAS.    Each of these ends at the reporting point at the commencement of the final approach, i.e. the straight final path on runway heading.  Reporting points or waypoints are specified locations whose identifications can be entered into navigation equipment and a course to it will be displayed, or in fact the aircraft if so equipped will fly there automatically.

As navigation equipment has become more sophisticated, and demands for shortening approach paths have mounted, new approach procedures have been developed.  In some cases these are specific to particular airlines.     There are a variety of terms for these special approaches, and at this point I am not going to attempt to describe them.

The map below shows the four final approach fix reporting points as well for each a secondary, inner point.    Each of the four runways at Halifax has an outer reporting point for line up for straight in approach.  There are also at least one inner waypoint for each.   

Aircraft are very commonly cleared to LEROS for Runway 23, TETAR for Runway 14, ODKAS for Runway 05 and VOKIL for Runway 32.   Smaller aircraft might receive clearances direct to one of the inner points such as Split Crow for Runway 05 or PENLU for Runway 32.

The other points shown on the map below are components on pre-arranged arrival procedures.   There are several of these STARS and these are published on paper and digitally as "Approach Plates"    Most of them commence at the outer reporting points IGTAS, CETTY and HIDIG, depending on the direction from which the aircraft is arriving.   ATC can and does also use these other points to direct traffic other than for standard approaches.   For example you might hear an approaching aircraft being cleared to DUTIR or OBNOM.  




For runway 05 the inner point after ODKAS is a radiobeacon (actually its location, not necessarily its actual beacon transmission) called Split Crow.   For runway 23 the inner point is also an NDB, this one called BLUENOSE.    These two radiobeacons are named after taverns in Halifax!    The other two runways do not have a radiobeacon on their approach paths and therefore their inner reporting points PENLU and IMANO are the usual type with no physical "thing" to relate to.


Click here for an official depiction of the Fundy Six arrival (one of the STARS for CYHZ).   You will see the start point at CETTY, several intermediate points which depend on the runway to be used, and as well the final approach fix points as mentioned above. Others may be provided at a later date.  This "plate" is now a little outdated, being from 2009, but plates similar to this are carried in all IFR aircraft approaching Halifax. I do not purport to be completely accurate with this description.   


The STARS can be modified or disregarded on instruction from the controller.   For example it will be most common to hear aircraft from wherever they are being cleared directly to the final approach fix for the runway in use.   Only in bad weather does it seem that the full procedures and steps are followed.


Also in good weather, landings can be accomplished visually, i.e. manually and this is generally what happens whenever conditions allow a pilot to see the airport for an approach.     Usually when a pilot "calls the field" which is to state to the controller that he or she can see the field, the instrument arrival and approach is abandoned, if indeed it even began,  and the pilot is cleared for a visual approach.  Occasionally you will hear a pilot request to continue on an instrument approach, for training purposes. 


Instrument approaches are often based on using the ILS system.    ILS is something best read about elsewhere, but simply put it is a combined direction and glide path guide.    A narrow VHF beam called the localizer tells the pilot if he or she is on track or to the left or right of the approach path, while a UHF glide slope indicator tells the pilot to go up or down to stay on the proper slope of approach.    At Halifax there is ILS on runways 05, 14 and 23.    For each runway with ILS the VHF localizer works just as well on the reciprocal runway but the UHF glide slope indicator does not.    Using the ILS on reciprocal is termed a "localizer back course" approach and therefore you might such an approach on 32 (reciprocal to 14).  


There are other instrument approaches using various other types of navigation aids and different types of turns.   I am not describing these but you can research these on Wiki and elsewhere.     


A comment to be made regarding approaches is that at least one airline actively promotes making more direct approaches to Halifax airport (and presumably others as well).   The closer to the airport an aircraft goes in order to make its final turn to line up on the runway path saves fuel.   An aircraft that perhaps has to more or less pass by the airport to go to a spot 20 miles beyond to makes its final turn will use more fuel than one that goes only 5 or 10 miles beyond.    Westjet is very proactive this way and you will hear often requests for such things as a shortgate approach in which the final turn is quite close to the airport.   All of this depends of course on safety factors as well, but in essence much of this depends on improved navigation methods such as GPS which has to a great extent taken over from the use of other radio aids.


As of the last update to this page there were several other active reporting points, as well as a proposal from Nav Canada to completely revise the approach system to Halifax.





Once the aircraft is lined up on the runway approach path or a little sooner, (if using instruments) or once the pilot reports actually seeing the airport, the terminal controller will hand it over to tower.   This usually is a very short command, such as "Jazz 895, contact Halifax Tower on 118.4, so long."


Over on Tower the pilot reports its situation, such as "Jazz 895 on the ILS 05"   or  "Jazz 895 visual approach 05".   They do not have to say more as they are not only expected but also showing on the radar screen.   Tower will give a clearance to continue the approach and if there is no other traffic around may give a landing clearance at this time.   In busier times that will come later.


By this time, in good conditions it may be possible for a observer at the airport to see the aircraft.    Note that it is the aircraft landing lights that you see at first, and these are always used, even in clear daylight.   They are meant to allow the tower controller (and other aircraft to some extent) to actually see the aircraft and not just rely on radar.   At night in clear conditions you can see these lights for many many miles, perhaps 40 miles out.   In daytime it is much less but still discernible at least 10 miles back from the runway.   Most often there will be cloud cover.  I have had many times watching for the lights to emerge from the low clouds and this can turn out to be quite close in, perhaps just a mile or two back.


For you as an observer at the airport, the aircraft will most likely be on a visual approach (as you probably only would go out there in nice weather conditions), and you will be able to see the last few miles of its slow descent.   Its over the ground movement will also seem very slow, and at times it does seem impossible that it stays in the air, but it does.   In times of wind gusts, especially when they are somewhat at an angle to the runway, you will see even the largest aircraft rocking and yawing in fighting these winds, and in times like that one inevitably feels for the passengers who will be especially glad to touch down.


In times when there is other traffic, the final landing clearance might be given quite late, when the aircraft is perhaps only two or three miles back and already quite low in altitude.    to an observer it looks like too late, in other words, what else can this plane do but land!    Clearance cannot be given until a preceding aircraft has left the runway or perhaps an aircraft on the cross runway has passed by the intersection point.  


Once the clearance is given the aircraft lands and rolls out to the appropriate taxiway.    During the rollout, the tower controller will hand the aircraft over to the Ground Controller on 121.9 or in quiet times will say something like this:   "Jazz 895 exit in Delta, monitor ground 121.9, no need to call. Proceed to .........."    When that happens it usually means there is no Ground Controller and the Tower Controller is doing double duty, which is not a problem in quiet hours.



It is really quite common at Halifax for aircraft to not be able to land due to poor visibility.  More rarely it will be due to wind shear conditions. It is up to the discretion of the pilot and as well orders published by the airline company as to what conditions are needed.    There have been many times that I have heard pilots say that they cannot land in the present conditions, and will hold.   This essentially entails flying around in circles, really more likely a big rectangle, under the control of the terminal controller or the Moncton centre low level controller, a few miles away from the airport.  Never would they ``circle the airport``.      These holds can go on for quite some time,  and eventually there are two outcomes.   The best would be that the conditions improve enough for a landing, but the other that does happen on occasion is that the aircraft fuel reserves are used up.   This does not mean that there is now only enough to land, rather it means that there is now just enough to get to the alternate airport.    You may be surprised to know that the alternate is not usually one in the Maritimes, it is most likely Montreal or even Ottawa or Toronto.    Occasionally Moncton is used as the alternate.   Airlines stick with the familiar to avoid hassles, so do not divert to Bangor in the US or to smaller airports such as Charlottetown unless they absolutely have to.  When there are connections to be made and accommodations required for unhappy passengers, Montreal seems like a good idea.

A missed approach is when an aircraft is attempting a landing but it does not work out due to various factors such as lower than expected visibility, or to severe wind conditions.  In this case the aircraft of course does not land and Tower hands it back to the Terminal controller and another try is made on the same runway, or perhaps another, or it goes off to Hold.




While taxiing to the ramp or other area such as an FBO the aircraft is under the control of the Ground Controller.    If the aircraft has landed on 05 and exits onto Delta or Echo, it will be with the Ground Controller for only a few seconds as these are very short taxiways to the main ramp.   Similarly for exits from 32 onto Foxtrot and Golf and Hotel.     The only longer trips on the taxiways are along Alpha and the part of Delta from the end of 14 to the crossing of 05/23.   Once in the ramp or on the uncontrolled runways J and K, the aircraft is on its own. 

Keep in mind that at Halifax there is no control of the ramp, so once an aircraft is cleared by Ground Control to taxi to the ramp, that will be the last you will hear.



All aircraft arrivals are expected to some extent.   They may have been scheduled months ago, or just a short time ago due to unforeseen circumstances.    In any event ground crews will already be arranged and you will not hear any radio communications between taxiing aircraft and the marshallers standing on the ground.    The pilot steers the aircraft to the correct spot and shuts down.  The cycle is complete and disembarkation and all the other ground activities can begin.



You may hear the flight crew talking to its company ground personnel if there is an issue with a passenger or with the aircraft itself.    Air Canada, Jazz and Westjet commonly communicate this way, but some communications are done by data links instead of voice.      Itinerant aircraft such as corporate jets or visiting military aircraft must arrange things with the FBO (Fixed Base Operator) with whom they are going to do business.   This could involve fueling, parking, catering, taxis, or other issues.   Here are some frequencies you may wish to check for such traffic.   Some of these frequencies may be active following the departure of an aircraft, as well as for arrivals.



122.35 de-icing



129.25  de-icing




Kelowna Flightcraft (operating for Purolator)



Exxon Mobil



Air Canada



Fedex (aircraft are operated by Morningstar Air Express)















Air St. Pierre


129.1 Gateway FBO
123.4 Shell FBO
129.3 Essp FBO