Defining the Terms “Strategic” and “Tactical ” in the Air Traffic Control Context

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Defining the Terms “Strategic” and “Tactical ” in the Air Traffic Control Context

34TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE, Jerusalem, Israel, 27-31 March 1995

WP No. 86

Defining the Terms “Strategic” and “Tactical” in the Air Traffic Control Context


The terms “strategic” and “tactical” are often used when describing various aviation doctrines, procedures and applications. The definitions of the terms are frequently subject specific. Because of the possibility of misinterpretation, it was thought desirable to investigate the use of both terms. Consideration would also be given to defining the terms.

Much of our investigation involved writing to various organisations and individuals requesting their definitions of “strategic” and “tactical” in the ATC sense.

The terms “strategic” and “tactical” are not defined in the existing ICAO documents although they are occasionally used. For example, the process of flow management strategies and tactical control is briefly described in Section 3 – Air Traffic Management (ATM) of Appendix B on Agenda Item 8 of the Report of FANS (II) 4 Meeting (Doc 9623). Although there is no definition of the terms in the ICAO Lexicon (Doc 9294) they are used when addressing ATS Co-ordination Meetings. In this context ICAO consider strategic to be ATC governed entirely by Letters of Agreement whilst tactical ATC will utilise the skills, good judgement and initiative of the controller.

Inquiries directed to the CNS/ATM Systems Implementation Task Force (CASITAF) showed no use of the term “tactical” and only the most general use of “strategic” to define something basic and long term.

The Directorate of EATCHIP Development had several definitions from various sources appertaining to the various Air Traffic Management Phases which have been identified. The meaning of “strategic” and “tactical ” differed depending whether (a) it referred to an aircraft that is airborne and receiving an ATC service. or (b) when planning in the Pre- flight phase in relation to Air Traffic Flow management ATFM.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) uses the terms to illustrate the advantages of FANS CNS/ATM systems over the conventional navaid/voice/ATC system. The former allows performance more closely related to real time to achieve an environment of freedom of movement using up to date information i.e. the tactical solution is applied from gate to gate. “Strategic” planning ensures that system capacity exists and that no bottlenecks impede the free- flow of air traffic.

To Conclude

It is apparent that although the most general of definitions describe “strategic” as skilful management in attaining an end, and “tactical” as that pertaining to the mode of procedure for gaining advantage or success, the definitions get somewhat blurred in the ATC sense. this is most likely due to geographical, and philosophical differences combined with a lack of international guidance. In fact, by definition, there is very little difference between strategy and tactics. Tactics can be part of a strategy, as can a strategy be part of the overall tactical plan.

It is appropriate that the Federation show caution when using or interpreting “strategic” and “tactical” in any written material. Use of these words should either be in the widest terms, or subject specific with their definitions attached.

It is inappropriate for the Federation to add to the difficulty of interpretation by providing additional definitions of the words “strategic” and “tactical” by adopted policy. Federation definitions will not change the meanings of other organisation’s terminology simply to come into line with ours.

Last Update: September 28, 2020  

February 12, 2020   580   Jean-Francois Lepage    1995    

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