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Sun, Dec 10, 2006

ANN's Daily Aero-Tips (12.10.06): Order Of Departure

Aero-Tips!

A good pilot is always learning -- how many times have you heard this old standard throughout your flying career? There is no truer statement in all of flying (well, with the possible exception of "there are no old, bold pilots.")

Aero-News has called upon the expertise of Thomas P. Turner, master CFI and all-around-good-guy, to bring our readers -- and us -- daily tips to improve our skills as aviators. Some of them, you may have heard before... but for each of us, there will also be something we might never have considered before, or something that didn't "stick" the way it should have the first time we memorized it for the practical test.

Look for our daily Aero-Tips segments, coming each day to you through the Aero-News Network.

Aero-Tips 12.10.06

If you're new to flying into tower-controlled airports (and even if you're not), you might be a little confused about the order of radio calls as you prepare to depart. 

IFR or VFR, you can look the frequencies up in the Airport/Facilities Directory, or more conveniently, you can go to AOPA's online airport directory, enter the towered-airport identifier in the appropriate field, then click on "Taxi diagram" to get a pdf of the airport layout along with frequencies. Print a copy and take it with you to the cockpit.

The figure above is such a diagram, for Wichita Mid-Continent Airport, Wichita, KS. Note that the frequencies are all in the upper corner. Trouble is, the frequencies are not presented in the order of use for a departure. So here's the sequence for departing a tower-controlled airfield:

  • Listen to ATIS. The Automated Terminal Information Service gives weather information, runway in use, and Notices to Aviators (NOTAMs) that may be helpful, for example, taxiway or runway closures. The ATIS recording will be identified by a phonetic letter (ex: "Information Hotel"); jot that down as you copy down the ATIS information. Now you have the background data needed to depart, in a manner that keeps controllers to read the same information over and over to individual airplanes.
  • Contact clearance delivery. Whether you're departing VFR or IFR, "clearance" will check your proposed route and altitude against other airplanes, and determine if you'll need special instructions for flying out. So clearance can make this determination, you need to provide:
    1. Aircraft type
    2. Aircraft identifier
    3. Whether you are IFR or VFR
    4. Destination
    5. If VFR, initial heading and requested altitude.
  • Clearance will call you back with:
    1. Clearance (if needed through Class B airspace)
    2. Route (or initial heading)
    3. Altitude, if any restriction applies
    4. Frequency (for departure control, if to be used)
    5. Transponder code

Note: Some towered airports with light traffic do not have a discrete Clearance frequency. If none exists, use Ground Control.

  • Ground control. Clearance tells you how you'll fly through the airspace, but Ground gives you permission to taxi to the runway. After you have your instructions from Clearance call Ground. Tell them you have heard the ATIS information ("…with information Hotel.") and that you're ready to taxi.
  • Unless told otherwise, stay with Ground all the way to the runway, complete all before takeoff checks, and call the tower when you're ready to take off. Note: some locations want you to notify Ground when you're ready to depart, and they'll hand you off to the tower for takeoff clearance. Usually this will be stated in the ATIS recording. Go with the flow...
  • Stay on tower frequency until instructed to contact departure, or you're told a "frequency change is approved", meaning you free to change to any radio frequency.

Aero-tip of the day: ATIS, Clearance, Ground, Tower…VFR or IFR, it's the order of contacts for departing a towered airport.

FMI: Aero-Tips

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