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Calling ATC For Clearances

Source:, Featuring John Krug

Subscriber Question:

"In your pilot workshop entitled Clearances Made Easy, Doug Stewart advocated calling TRACON on the cell phone to get a "Hold For Release" clearance,... then calling them again when at runway end and ready to go. I guess that is fine when you are departing a satellite airport served by a TRACON. What about a small, uncontrolled airport in Central Florida? Is this how FSS gets clearance, by calling these numbers? Does ATC mind all these phone calls? What about a phone call to a control tower 30 miles away? Would they get your clearance?" - Peter R.


"Let's talk a bit about how clearances are initiated. Every airport has a controlling facility be it either a TRACON or ARTCC (enroute center). That facility is responsible for control of IFR traffic in and out of that airport. So, first we need to determine who owns the airport. The AF/D and approach plates will list the controlling facility and frequencies.

Pre-planning is very important. The FARs require us to familiarize ourselves with all pertinent information about the flight. That includes planning your IFR departure. Many satellite airports have a dedicated clearance delivery frequency that is remoted to the controlling facility, It's known as an RCO, Remote Communications Outlet. In that case, it's easy. Simply contact the facility while on the ground and request the clearance and the release. If the weather is IFR, at least there shouldn't be any traffic in the pattern.

Other ways...there's the National Clearance delivery through AFSS - 888-766-8267. This number should be programmed in every instrument pilot's cell phone.

I would not contact a Tower 30 nm away. It would only add confusion. That tower is not going to have any knowledge of your flight plan, and may not even be the same approach control.

In some locations that may be a good idea. For example at BDL, aircraft on the ground at some close in satellites are able to contact Tower or Approach while on the ground and negotiate release. This is one of few times I would advocate VFR departure – it can be very difficult to get a break in the primary airport traffic and VFR may be more expeditious.

Other methods include using a GCO – Ground Communications Outlet. This is relatively new technology. It uses a radio receiver to connect through a modem to the Approach or Center that issues the clearance. You would activate that by clicking the microphone a specified number of times. The AFD and AIM have specific instructions on that.

Local knowledge is also very useful. You can ask the controller on the way in to an airport the best method of obtaining your outbound clearance. Ask around or call ahead to an FBO or Flight School and ask what the locals do.

Departing VFR is an option but has pros and cons. The biggest disadvantage is if you cannot get your clearance right away and are running out of room to maneuver. I would not recommend it unless it is severe clear and you have already contacted the ATC facility for a VFR release authorization. There may be other factors that you are not aware of such as flow restrictions, TFRs, etc."

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