The Order of an ATC Clearance

Today, let’s say you’re flying along in flight and you have requested vectors to land at Podunk International Airport. Doesn’t matter whether you are flying instrument flight rules (IFR), or visual flight rules (VFR). You asked ATC to steer you towards the airport and that’s what the controller is doing.

The controller says:

“Whizbang Seven Two Three Tango Mike, this will be vectors to final. Turn right heading three four zero, descend and maintain three thousand, Podunk altimeter two nine nine eight.”

My question to you is this. Should you read back the items in the clearance in the order they were given to you, or is it okay to read back the clearance in any order as long as you read it back accurately?*

Yes, you should read the clearance back in the order it was given. Here’s the quote from the Aeronautical Information Manual:

4-4-7. Pilot Responsibility upon Clearance Issuance

b. ATC Clearance/Instruction Readback.
2. Read back altitudes, altitude restrictions, and vectors in the same sequence as they are given in the clearance or instruction.

This makes sense. An air traffic controller can do a better job of verifying the accuracy of your readback if you read back the clearance in the order it was given. There’s a little bit of psychology behind this about pattern matching, but we don’t need to get into that here. Just know the controller will do a better job of accuracy checking your read back if he hears it from you in the same order you heard it from him.

I’m Okay, You’re Okay

Will you get fried by the FAA if you don’t read back a clearance in the exact order it was issued? Of course not. The most important thing is to understand and follow the directions given to you. The guidance in the AIM—read it back in the same order it was given—adds in a layer of safety, and should be followed to the best of your ability.

*Thank you Robin M. for the question.

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The Situational Awareness Game


Speaking of radio calls from ATC, I just issued the alpha test version of a situational awareness flight and radio simulation. This is a serious game in which you have mere seconds to determine the position of other aircraft in an airport traffic pattern by listening to their radio calls. You can grab your free copy of the test version by going to the Insider’s Area of this website.

How do you get there? Two ways. Sign up for Insider’s Access by using the sign-up form that pops up at the bottom of this page. Or, use this link to get started.

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