Instrument Communications Sheet

 How to file your flight plan
o Normally you should file your flight plan through FSS, either by phone or on-line.
 How to get your clearance
o From ATC via the radio – clearance delivery, ground control or center on the ground or
in the air.
o From ATC via a GCO – click the mic four times for ATC, will dial ATC’s phone number. If
no transmission, you will hear a beep, indicating the line is going to go dead soon. Click
the mic to keep the line active.
o From ATC via a cell phone call to the tower.
o From FSS via a GCO – click the mic six times for FSS. FSS cannot issue you a clearance.
They must get the clearance from ATC and then relay it to you with the phrase, “ATC
o From FSS via the radio – communicating over a VOR.
o From FSS via a phone call to 1-800-wxbrief.
o You may also call ATC via radio without having filed a flight plan. This is known as a pop-
up clearance. It might sound something like this, “Grand Rapids Approach, Skyhawk
61953, unable to maintain VFR on the practice VOR approach, request IFR clearance.”
 Clearance Components
o Clearances generally follow the same order and you can use the acronym, DRAFTS, to
remember the various components.
 Destination – “Bonanza 9139Q, you are cleared to Indianapolis…”
 Route – “… as filed” or “via radar vectors” or “via direct Keeler, Victor 277, then
as filed”
 Altitude – “…climb and maintain 3000” or “climb and maintain 4000, expect
9000 in 10 minutes”
 Frequency – “…Contact Chicago center 128.5, when airborne” or “Grand Rapids
departure will be 128.4”
 Transponder – “squawk 5317”
 Special Instructions – “clearance void if not off by 1810, time now 1801”
o A complete clearance might sound like this – “Bonanza 9139Q, you are cleared to
Indianapolis, as filed, climb and maintain 4000, expect 9000 in 10 minutes, Grand Rapids
departure will be 128.4, squawk 5317.”
o The readback would sound like this – “Bonanza 9139Q, cleared to Indianapolis as filed,
4000, expect 9000 in 10, 128.4, 5317.”
 Clearance Terminology
o Void Time – this means your clearance is good from now until the void time. Do not
takeoff after the void time because your clearance will not be valid anymore. You must
be airborne before the void time, you don’t necessarily need to contact ATC by the void
time but you should do so as promptly as possible.
o Clearance On Request – ATC or FSS is looking for your clearance.

o Advise When Ready To Copy or Clearance When Ready To Copy – this requires a
response from you to let ATC or FSS know that you are ready to copy down your
o Full Route Clearance When Ready To Copy – this means you will NOT be cleared as filed
but they are going to give you a full and probably very modified clearance that you filed
or were expecting. Advise them when you have pen in hand, are not taxiing and are
ready to copy.
o Hold For Release – you have been given a clearance but you cannot use it yet. You must
be released by ATC/FSS first.
o You Are Released – now the clearance you copied earlier is active. When you are
released, you will also be given a void time which defines the window of opportunity to
get airborne.

 From a non-towered field
o You may be able to contact ATC or FSS from the ground via radio using one of the
methods mentioned above. If unable to contact ATC by radio, you may still be able to
use a cell phone or if the weather is good enough, to call ATC when airborne.
o If you can reach ATC on the ground, you might say something like this…
o “Muskegon clearance, Skyhawk 61953 on the ground at Tulip City, IFR to Hastings.” If
you are in the local area where controllers will likely know the small airports (like
Hastings) you can use their names. But if you are going to an obscure airport well
outside of the geographic area, use the identifier. “…on the ground at Tulip City, IFR to
o “Skyhawk 61953, which runway will you be departing and how soon will you be ready to
go?” ATC wants to know which runway you’re departing so they can plan and block out
airspace for your departure. They also want to know if you are ready now or it will take
you another ten minutes.
o “Skyhawk 61953 is ready to depart runway 26.”
o “Skyhawk 61953 is cleared to Hastings via direct Grand Rapids VOR as filed, climb and
maintain 3000, contact Muskegon approach 119.8 after departure, squawk 3017,
clearance void if not off by 2013, time now 2007, if not off by 2013, advise ATC no later
than that time.”
o “Skyhawk 61953, cleared to Hastings via direct Grand Rapids as filed, 3000, 119.8, 3017
void if not off by 2013.”
o “Readback correct, change to advisory frequency approved, contact approach when
clear of the traffic pattern.”
o “Skyhawk 61953”
o Then switch to CTAF and make all the normal CTAF calls. When airborne (before the
void time) and stabilized, give ATC a call.
o “Muskegon approach, Skyhawk 61953 off Tulip City, 1300 climbing 3000, direct Grand
o “Skyhawk 61953, radar contact, Grand Rapids altimeter 29.89.”

o “29.89, Skyhawk 61953.”
o If you are departing from an airport in mountainous terrain and you need to pick up
your clearance while airborne, ATC will sometimes ask you if you can maintain your
terrain and obstruction clearance through a certain altitude (usually the MVA). You
need to have considered a departure procedure but if you haven’t or aren’t sure you
can maintain clearance, stay VFR and get back on the ground to sort it out.
o You must remain VFR until you have received your clearance. When they say the magic
words, “you are cleared to…” then you can continue your climb into the clouds because
you are now on an instrument clearance.
 From an airport with a FSS on the field
o “Anderson Radio, Skyhawk 61953, on the ramp, ready to taxi, IFR to Lexington.”
o “61953 wind 250 at 10, active is 23, no reported traffic, clearance on request.”
o “61953, clearance when ready to copy.” Don’t taxi and try to copy your clearance. Stop
on the ramp or tell FSS to standby until you get to the runup area, then tell them…
o “61953 ready to copy.”
o “ATC clears 61953 to the Lexington airport as filed, climb and maintain 6000, after
departure contact Atlanta Center on 134.55, squawk 6311.”
o 61953 cleared to Lexington as filed, 6000, 134.55, 6311.”
o “Read back correct, Anderson altimeter 29.87.”
 From a towered airport with clearance delivery and radar
o Listen to ATIS before engine start and copy down the information.
o Call clearance delivery. “Ft. Wayne clearance, Skyhawk 61953.”
o “Skyhawk 61953, go ahead.”
o “Skyhawk 61953 IFR to Muskegon with Delta.”
o “Skyhawk 61953 is cleared to the Muskegon airport as filed, climb and maintain 2500,
expect 6000 in 10 minutes, departure frequency will be 127.2, squawk 4621, standby for
readback.” This means don’t read back the clearance yet.
o “Skyhawk 61953 go ahead with your readback.”
o “Skyhawk 61953 cleared to Muskegon as filed, 2500, 6000 in 10, 127.2, 4621.”
o “Skyhawk 61953, readback correct, contact ground point niner when ready to taxi.
o “Skyhawk 61953.”
o Start the engine and if able, do some of the runup and pretakeoff checks prior to calling
ground. Switch to the ground control frequency and say…
o “Ft. Wayne ground, Skyhawk 61953 on the general aviation ramp, ready to taxi with
clearance and Delta.”
o “Skyhawk 953, taxi to runway 23 via Yankee and Charlie.”
o “Taxi 23 via Yankee and Charlie, Skyhawk 953.”
o When you are ready to go, switch to the tower frequency (you don’t need permission to
do so) and say…
o “Ft. Wayne tower, Skyhawk 61953, ready for departure 23.”
o “Skyhawk 953, line up and wait.”
o “Line up and wait, Skyhawk 953.” This allows you to taxi onto the runway but do not
start your takeoff roll until you are cleared for takeoff.”

o “Skyhawk 953, fly runway heading, cleared for takeoff 23.”
o “Runway heading, cleared for takeoff 23, Skyhawk 953.”
o “Skyhawk 953, contact departure.” They won’t tell you the departure frequency
because you should have gotten that from clearance delivery.
o “Departure, Skyhawk 953.” If tower doesn’t switch you to departure within a
reasonable time, remind them by saying something like, “Skyhawk 953, runway
heading.” They’ll get the picture and turn you over to departure.
o “Ft. Wayne departure, Skyhawk 953, 1100 climbing 2500.” When you contact
departure, it is important to tell them your current altitude because they are looking to
confirm what they see on the radar scope is the same as what you see on the altimeter.
You should also tell them the altitude you are climbing to.
o “Skyhawk 953, radar contact, climb and maintain 6000.”
o “1200 climbing 6000, Skyhawk 953.”
 From a towered field without clearance delivery and/or radar
o Communications are the same except you will get both your clearance and taxi
instructions from the ground controller and you may talk to Center after tower or you
may switch to a nearby approach controller.
 Radar contact
o On your first contact with ATC after being airborne, listen carefully for the words, “radar
contact” which indicates to you that ATC sees you and you are operating in a radar
environment. You therefore don’t need to make any of the “non-radar
communications” that are required in the non-radar environment.

 Altitude changes
o “Skyhawk 953 climb and maintain 6000.”
o “4000 climbing 6000, Skyhawk 953.” And then start your climb at no less than 500 fpm.
o If ATC says, “Skyhawk 953 climb and maintain 6000, report reaching.” You would give
the same response but when you reach 6000 and level off…
o “Skyhawk 953 level 6000.” And ATC should acknowledge your call.
o ATC may occasionally issue a clearance to “cruise” during the enroute phase, especially
when the destination has no approach radar and traffic is light. This clearance indicates
that the area ahead is clear of traffic and you may select any cruising altitude between
the MEA and the last assigned altitude, descend and make an approach to the
destination. However, it is illegal to climb back up to a previous altitude.
o “Skyhawk 61953, cleared to cruise 6000.”
o “Cleared to cruise 6000, Skyhawk 61953.”
 Frequency changes
o “Skyhawk 953, contact Chicago center 134.6.”
o “Chicago center 134.6, Skyhawk 953.” Then switch to the next frequency, listen to make
sure no one else is talking and say…
o “Chicago center, Skyhawk 953, level, 5000.” Please don’t use the inane phrase, “with
you, 5000.” Just say, “level, 5000.”

o “Skyhawk 953, roger, Muskegon altimeter 29.87.” Every time you switch to a new
controller, he will give you an altimeter setting from some close-by airport. Be sure to
enter the new altimeter setting.
o “29.87, Skyhawk 953.”
o Occasionally, ATC will say something like, “Skyhawk 953, switch to my frequency 128.7.”
This means that the controller is handling at least two sectors and he just wants you to
change frequencies but you’ll still be talking to the same guy.
o “128.7 Skyhawk 953.”
o “Chicago center, Skyhawk 953, level, 5000.”
 Frequency change requests
o You must monitor the ATC frequency at all times. If you want to get off the ATC
frequency to call FSS and update weather or something like that, you must get their
permission first.
o “Center, Skyhawk 953, request frequency change for weather.”
o “Skyhawk 953, frequency change approved, report back on.” Sometimes they will say
report back on within a certain time frame, which means you have a deadline to make
sure you meet.
o “Skyhawk 953 wilco.”
o When you have completed your time off frequency, report back on by saying, “Skyhawk
953, level, 5000.”
 Being vectored
o ATC radar does a good job of seeing airplanes but it doesn’t do a good job of seeing
weather and helping you avoid it. They can see weather but they won’t be able to guide
you through a narrow gap in the storms. They may give you a head’s up like this,
“Skyhawk 953 there is an area of moderate precipitation at 12 o’clock and 15 miles
extending east of your course and moving east. Suggest a deviation to the west.”
o “Minneapolis center, Skyhawk 953 request deviation west of course around buildups.”
o “Skyhawk 953, fly heading 310.”
o “310, Skyhawk 953.”
o If you were visual and saw an area of strong buildups or precipitation you may request a
deviation from center similar to the request above.
o ATC may continue to vector you or they may get you back on a normal route by saying
something like, “Skyhawk 953, receiving Manistee, proceed direct, then as filed.”
o “Direct Manistee then as filed, Skyhawk 953.”
o If you are navigating with GPS, they may just clear you present position direct to your
destination. “Skyhawk 953, proceed direct Traverse City.”
 Holding
o We have good radar coverage over most of the country east of the Rockies so we rarely
have to hold because ATC can generally vector people to provide the spacing required.
But if the weather is bad, they may have to start stacking planes up to wait for their turn
at the approach.
o “Skyhawk 953, cleared to the GIBER intersection, hold west GIBER, V450, 3000, non-
standard, expect further clearance at 1800.”

o Skyhawk 953, cleared to hold west GIBER, V450, 3000, non-standard, further clearance
o When you arrive at the fix and are established in the hold, make this report, “Skyhawk
953, established in the hold at GIBER, 3000.” If there was a delay in making the call,
then you should probably also tell them the time you were established holding.
“Skyhawk 953, established in the hold at GIBER, 1735, 3000.”
o When you are cleared to continue, you should report leaving the hold. “Skyhawk 953,
departing the hold at GIBER.”
 Non-radar Communications
o We have good radar coverage over most of the US, but on the rare occasion when a
radar facility goes down, we may be called upon to report at various fixes.
o This communication should include who you are talking to, your identification, your
position, time when you were at the fix, altitude or flight level, ETA to name of next
reporting point, name of the succeeding reporting point.
o “Chicago Center, Skyhawk 61953, over White Cloud VOR at 1916, 5000, estimating
Gaylord VOR 2013, Pellston next.”

 Towered Field
o Listen to ATIS as far out as possible and certainly before you are switched to the
approach controller. When you are switched to the approach frequency give them a
call. “Lansing approach, Skyhawk 61953, level 5000 with India.”
o Once ATC begins to vector you, you can begin getting set up for the approach.
“Skyhawk 953, fly heading 060, vectors for the ILS 28L, descend and maintain 2500.”
o “060, 5000 descending 2500, Skyhawk 953.”
o They will continue to vector you to the final approach course and they are required to
give you a final vector that is no more than a 30° intercept angle to the final approach
course. They will give you a long clearance that you will initially think you can never
repeat but it always comes in the same order. It might sound like this, “Skyhawk 953,
you are 5 miles from BURYE, turn left heading 300, maintain 2500 until established on
the final approach course (or localizer), cleared for the ILS 28L approach.”
 This clearance always starts with a description of your location with reference to
the final approach fix. This is just information and doesn’t need to be read back.
 The final heading will always be within 30° of the final course so you can
probably guess what the final vector will be and that helps you remember it.
This does need to be read back.
 The altitude reference is probably the altitude that you are currently at but they
just want you to stay at that altitude until you are established on the localizer.
Just read it back.
 Then you are read the clearance for the approach. Read that back.
o The readback might sound like this, “300, maintain 2500 till established, cleared for the
ILS 28L, Skyhawk 953.”

o After you are established on the localizer and just when you should be concentrating on
intercepting glideslope, Approach will switch you to tower. “Skyhawk 953, contact
tower now, 119.9.”
o “119.9, Skyhawk 953.”
o “Lansing tower, Skyhawk 61953, ILS 28L.”
o Lansing tower may say, “Skyhawk 953, continue.” You would respond with , “953” as
an acknowledgement of the instruction.
o Eventually they will clear you to land. “Skyhawk 953, cleared to land.” Be sure that you
have a clearance to land before you actually land! This is important. “Cleared to land,
Skyhawk 953.”
o You do not need to cancel your IFR clearance because it is done automatically for you
when you land at a towered field.
o Tower will tell you to contact ground when clear of the runway and all further
communications are normal for towered fields.
 Non-Towered Field
o Listen to the AWOS/ASOS as far out as possible. When you are switched to the
approach control frequency give them a call. “Lansing approach, Skyhawk 61953, level
5000 with AWOS at Ionia.”
o ““Skyhawk 953, fly heading 020, when able, proceed direct OBKUW, descend and
maintain 3000.”
o “020 then direct OBKUW, 5000 descending 3000, Skyhawk 953.”
o You are being vectored to an initial approach fix so you can begin to get set up for the
o “Skyhawk 953 is 5 miles from OBKUW, maintain 3000 to OBKUW, cleared GPS 27, Ionia.”
o “Maintain 3000 to OBKUW, cleared GPS 27 Ionia, Skyhawk 953.”
o At some point after being cleared, you can ask for a frequency change or if you don’t ask
for it, ATC will eventually give it to you. You want to get a frequency change so that you
can be in touch with Ionia CTAF and let them know what your intentions are.
o “Skyhawk 953, request frequency change.”
o “Skyhawk 953, radar service terminated, frequency change approved, report your
missed approach or cancelation in the air on this frequency or on the ground with Flight
Service.” Radar service is terminated because ATC is no longer controlling you.
o You are required to cancel your IFR clearance since no one else will do it for you. If you
break out and see that you will be able to continue to the airport VFR, you may cancel in
the air by switching back to approach frequency and saying, “Lansing approach,
Skyhawk 953, cancel IFR.” If you are unable to contact ATC in the air, you will need to
remember to do so by phone when you get on the ground, either direct to tower or
through Flight Service.
o “Cancelation received, squawk VFR, frequency change approved.”
o “Skyhawk 953, good day.”
 Clearances
o “Cleared for approach”
 This means you are cleared for any instrument approach for that airport.

 Maintain you last assigned altitude until established on a route or segment of
the approach with published altitudes. You may then fly those altitudes.
 You must maintain your last assigned heading or route to the approach.
o “Cleared for ILS 26L”
 This clearance is only for this particular approach.
 Maintain you last assigned altitude until established on a route or segment of
the approach with published altitudes. You may then fly those altitudes.
 You must maintain your last assigned heading or route to the approach.
o “Cleared for the visual”
 This is an IFR procedure but flown like a normal visual approach.
 Weather must be VFR.
 Pilot must have the airport in sight or traffic ahead.
 May be issued when arriving at an airport with or without a tower.
 Does not alter IFR flight plan cancellation responsibility.
o “Cleared for contact approach”
 Must be requested by the pilot.
 Pilot must be able to maintain clear of clouds and 1 mile visibility.
 Airport must have an instrument approach.
 Pilot is responsible for obstruction clearance.
 Missed approach
o If the pilot reaches the missed approach point (MAP) and doesn’t see the runway or is
not in a position to land he must execute the missed approach procedure. Once the
airplane is climbing on course and the airplane is cleaned up, communicate your missed
approach to ATC.
o “Lansing approach, Skyhawk 953, missed approach Ionia.”
o “Skyhawk 953, roger, say intentions.” ATC wants to know what your plan is. Do you
want to be vectored for another approach because you didn’t get down to MDA by the
time you reached the MAP? Do you want to go to the missed approach hold and
practice a hold before trying another approach? Do you want to divert to your
alternate? ATC needs to know what you want to do so they can plan and protect the
airspace you will be flying into.
o “Skyhawk 953 would like vectors for another GPS approach at Ionia.” Or, “Skyhawk 953
would like to proceed to Grand Rapids for the ILS.” ATC will then begin to provide
instructions that will get you to your intended course of action.

Local Operations
 IFR vs. VFR Handling
o IFR handling – see Pop up Clearances section below. Basically, you need to mention the
phrase, “IFR” in your communication to indicate to ATC that you want an IFR clearance.
o VFR handling – use “VFR” in your request to ATC. “Grand Rapids Approach, Skyhawk
61953, off Ionia, 1500, VFR, request to hold east of Grand Rapids VOR on V510, 4000.”
 If you are doing instrument approaches but under VFR, ATC may not assign you
an altitude but will say, “maintain VFR”. At a towered field they will still issue an

altitude but at non-towered fields, ATC will not issue an altitude. You should
follow the published altitudes on the approach plate but you must also maintain
VFR cloud clearances and visibility requirements.
 “Skyhawk 953, you are 5 miles from BURYE, turn left heading 300, maintain
2500 until established on the final approach course (or localizer), cleared for the
ILS 28L approach, maintain VFR.”
 Pop Up Clearances
o Planned
 “Grand Rapids Approach, Skyhawk 61953, off Ionia, 1500, request IFR clearance
to hold east of Grand Rapids VOR on V510, 4000.”
o Unplanned
 “Grand Rapids Approach, Skyhawk 61953, unable to maintain VFR on the
practice VOR approach, request IFR clearance.”