When flying in foreign airspace, it’s important to be able to understand air traffic control’s (ATC) instructions as well as being able to communicate back. Let’s start with the two basic directions:
Let’s say you encounter a line of thunderstorms along your route. You may have to notify ATC which direction you will have to change your course (left or right) and by how many degrees (ex. 30 degrees, 60 degrees).
In some cases ATC may communicate a direction to you relative to a compass. Here’s a sample of the directions on a compass.
Quite often ATC will assign you a vector. A vector is a heading or direction to follow. Normally ATC will give you a vector to help you avoid adverse weather, traffic or to get you on course.
Here are a few real world examples of what you might hear over the radio.
“N4247E, JFK Center, radar contact 5 miles to the south of LaGuardia airport, turn right heading 090”
“N4247E, Miami Approach, turn left heading 270, descend and maintain 2,500 feet, contact Miami Tower on 120.7”