Wednesday, October 29, 2008

IFR Radio Communications, A Whole New Ballgame: Part 3

Well you’ve managed to catch your clearance on the ground to your destination airport or some other clearance limit. Up until this point, you’ve most likely spoken with the ground/clearance delivery, tower, and departure controllers working the airspace at your departure airport.
Now let’s look at how to handle the approach and landing communications while on an IFR flight plan.


As you proceed closer to your destination airport, you will eventually be handed off to the facility which serves your destination airport. On your initial callup, be sure to tell them you have the current weather, and tell them which approach you’ll be expecting to conduct. Here is an example callup.

Hulman Approach, Cessna 536HF, level 5,000, with Delta, looking for the back course 23 approach.

You will either be on radar vectors or be conducting the full approach, depending on where you are or what you’ve requested. Be sure to adjust your avionics accordingly to have them set up for the approach as soon as possible.

ATC may also require you to report certain positions during your approach (especially during practice approaches). This could either be the IAF, procedure turn outbound or inbound, FAF inbound, etc.

While approaching a controlled airport, ATC will simply hand you off to tower, usually somewhere around FAF inbound. When approaching an uncontrolled field, you’ll be instructed to change to advisory frequency.

Eventually you will be given your approach clearance which allows you to conduct the procedure published on your approach plate. This will usually consist of a turn to a certain heading, and an altitude to descend and maintain until you are established on a segment of the approach. They will then clear you for the approach. Be sure to read back the heading, altitude, and the approach you are cleared for. An example clearance could sound like this.

Cessna 536HF, turn right heading 330, descend and maintain 2,200 until established on the final approach course, cleared for the NDB Runway 36 approach at Sullivan County, change to advisory frequency is approved, cancel IFR on the ground via this frequency or Flight Service.

Your readback should sound like this.

330, 2,200 until established, cleared for the NDB 36, change to advisory, and we’ll cancel on the ground, 6HF.

This gives them everything they need to know. You would then conduct the procedure on your approach plate, and call up advisory frequency and announce your location and intentions just as you would on a VFR flight.

If you are at a controlled airport, they’ll instruct you to contact tower sometime after clearing you for the approach. If you’re doing the ILS 5 at KHUF, your initial call could sound like this.
Hulman Tower, Cessna 536HF ILS 5.

Tower would then eventually clear you to land or give you missed approach instructions if you are doing practice approaches. Repeat back your instructions.


After being cleared to land or given missed approach instructions, you will continue the approach and either land, or go missed if the weather is bad enough. Practice approaches will always terminate with a missed approach unless it is your last one.

Always report going missed to tower if at a controlled airport. Tower will then tell you to contact departure. If going missed at an uncontrolled field, announce this via CTAF, and contact departure (the last controller you spoke with) as soon as possible (before entering controlled airspace again).

If you are able to land, you need to make sure your IFR flight plan gets cancelled. At controlled fields, tower will close the plan for you. At uncontrolled fields, you need to make sure it gets cancelled yourself. You may cancel IFR when you are on the ground or in VFR conditions. Cancel using the frequency ATC told you to use, or call Flight Service to cancel.


There it is. That should hopefully get you on your way to sounding like a seasoned professional. Take pride in your radio communications. As time goes on, you'll get more and more satisfaction and confidence from working with those guys on the ground. They are what make the system work like it does. As we say on the radio, So Long.


Wicked Penguin said...

Great posts on IFR communication.

I'd just like to expand on a couple things that you mentioned.

"Hulman Departure, Cessna 536HF if climbing through 1,500 for 4,000, heading 180.
The idea is to just communicate and let them know you are complying with the instructions given to you by the ground and tower controller."

While compliance with the tower's instructions is definitely part of it, we also want to hear your current altitude just to verify your Mode C altitude readout is working.

If you come off saying "...climbing through 1700 for 4000" and your datablock is showing you at 3500, then something is wrong. Either the altimeter setting was entered incorrectly, or there's something physically wrong with the transponder. We'll let you know if there's any discrepancies and work with you to resolve them.

I've actually had airplanes come off with negative numbers in the datablock. The first time I saw it was, uh, quite exciting. It usually appears as an "N90" or "N20" - "N" meaning negative.

"Hulman Approach, Cessna 536HF, level 5,000, with Delta, looking for the back course 23 approach."

The above works fine if the approach you're requesting is both the instrument approach listed on the ATIS and a full stop. That lets the controller know you don't want a visual approach (the option they'll usually go for first) and instead want an actual instrument approach.

But what if you have a longer request? What if you want multiple approaches or holding or other special things.

Before you check in, gauge the level of radio traffic. If the controller's busy, don't just shotgun him/her with your requests "Back course 23 approach" doesn't sound too bad, but what if you're "looking for two practice ILS, a GPS, a full procedure turn VOR, and touch and goes at ABC airport?" Remember, the controller's most likely got to physically find your strip, grab a pen, and write this all down so he plan with it.

To work with a busy controller, use:
"Hulman Approach, Cessna 536HF, level 5,000, with Delta and request."

By saying "request", the controller immediately knows you want something special. At that point, if he's got time he will say: "Cessna 536HF, Hulman Approach, say request."

If he doesn't have time at the moment, he may just reply with: "Cessna 536HF, Hulman Approach, stand by with your request." In other words, I know you want something special but I don't have time right now to take it down. Essentially, the controller needs to take care of other more immediate matters before he attend to you. It's not that you're less important. It's simply that timing dictates certain actions before others.

We use "stand by" a lot here, where we have Navy planes who want 9 different kinds of approaches. They'll start blurting them out on the frequency without prior consent, and while they're droning on I've got airliners blowing through final... en route aircraft that need traffic calls... departures that need immediate turns and climbs away from other sectors. It's funny how 20 or 30 seconds can really make a difference.

Brandon said...

Good points Mark, thanks.

I always try to not bog down our controllers, and I often use the "with request" phrase, when busy. Usually when requesting practice approaches, I'll tell ground that I want practice approaches starting with (whatever approach it happens to be). Then during a pause, when no one else is talking, I'll say something like "I have our other approach requests whenever you're ready". Then they get back with me and let me know when they are ready to write them down.