Flight paths around Pearson

Flight paths around Pearson

NAV CANADA and Transport Canada work together to ensure air traffic is monitored above Toronto Pearson.

Standard routes

Pilots use standard routes when arriving, or departing from an airport. These procedures are published in the Canada Air Pilot for flight crew and air traffic control use.

There are two types of standard routes:

  • Standard Instrument Departures (SIDs) – routes used to transition from take-off to en-route
  • Standard Terminal Arrival Routes (STARs) – routes used to transition from en-route to final approach

SIDs and STARs maintain order in the sky. Air traffic controllers know exactly what every flight crew is going to do and when. More importantly, these procedures let flight crews know what others are going to do. The elimination of confusion makes the skies much safer.

Standard Instrument Departures (SIDs)

Every airport’s set of SIDs is unique, and flight crews follow these procedures when departing from the airport unless instructed otherwise. SIDs are mapped out by locations in the sky called waypoints. Think of them as markers in the sky that help the flight crew know they are on the correct route.

The SIDs at Toronto Pearson begin after the aircraft has executed a departure following the noise abatement procedures. The flight crew turns toward the first waypoint of their SID and, from there, toward their destination.

Standard Terminal Arrival Routes (STARs)

STARs are a set of arrival procedures that are also mapped out by waypoints in the sky to help flight crews align with the final approach procedure.

The STAR a flight crew follows depends on where they are coming from and which runway the air traffic controllers have instructed them to line up for. In order to ensure safe separation between aircraft and optimize capacity, Air Traffic Controllers sequence aircraft in a pattern that flies them past the airport and turns them around to join final approach when it’s their turn to land – the resulting shape resembles a trombone.

We talk about the different parts of the trombone shape in the following way:

  • The Downwind is when aircraft fly past the airport in the opposite direction of, but parallel to, the landing runway
  • The Base Leg is when the aircraft is turning at a right angle from the downwind to line up with the airport and the landing runway
  • Final Approach is when the aircraft is in line with the runway and getting ready to touch down

Air traffic controllers can vary the length of the downwind depending on how busy it is – when there are more aircraft trying to land, the downwind can be longer.

The existence of a published STAR doesn’t mean it’s the only route an aircraft will follow. Air traffic controllers may direct flight crews to operate off the STAR for reasons related to the safety and/or efficiency. For example, during periods of low traffic, air traffic controllers may direct aircraft to take a more direct approach to reduce the time it takes to get on the ground. And, flights coming from directions that are aligned with the runway, simply continue straight-in to final approach.

Once the flight crew is established on final approach, they are ready to intercept with the Instrument Landing System (ILS). The ILS is essentially a pair of radio beams that provide lateral and vertical guidance to help the pilot along a straight-line extension to the landing runway. The ILS helps pilots land in even the worst weather conditions. The ILS is one of several landing systems that are in use at Toronto Pearson. Others include RNAV (GPS) and Localizer Distance Measuring Equipment (Localizer DME).

Go arounds (missed approaches)

Occasionally, an aircraft may not be able to land on its first approach and will go around and make another attempt. This could occur due to a variety of reasons that make it safer to abandon the landing. Toronto Pearson has a set of published procedures that enable the aircraft to do so.

Flight path considerations

Other planes

Toronto Pearson must share the sky with planes arriving and departing from the area's other airports, including Billy Bishop, as well as overflights that are passing through the airspace.

Population density

Given the population density of the GTA, it's impossible for planes to come into and go out of Pearson without flying over neighbourhoods.


We work with NAV CANADA to do what we can to minimize the noise impact without compromising the safety of air traffic. The Noise Management Program is a critical part of our operation. While we don’t control the flight paths, we work closely with NAV CANADA, the airlines, and our neighbours to minimize noise through our noise abatement procedures, noise monitoring and consistent communication with community leaders.

Frequently asked questions

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