Climbing Unrestricted on a SID

Note: A busy flying schedule this week plus moving to a new house has put me behind the power curve. That’s why I’m presenting this week’s IFR Flight Radio Show by the fastest means possible–for me, anyway–writing.

Climbing Unrestricted

Let’s say, in your pre-departure clearance, ATC has cleared you to fly the Teterboro One Departure, climb and maintain 1,500, expect 8,000, 5 minutes after departure, “climb via the SID”. Your assigned departure runway will be Runway 24.

“Climb via” means, follow the SID’s routing and comply with any published altitude and/or airspeed restrictions in that SID.


Looking at the Teterboro One standard instrument departure, the procedure says to cross 4.5 DME from the Teterboro Vortac at and maintain 1,500. For non-DME equipped aircraft, cross the Colt’s Next VOR 011-degree radial at and maintain 1,500.

Just after takeoff, Teterboro Tower tells you to contact New York Departure. New York Departure says, “Radar contact, climb and maintain 8,000.” That means you may ignore the 1,500 crossing restriction at 4.5 DME from Teterboro and make an uninterrupted climb to 8,000.

Let’s verify this information by looking in the Air Traffic Control Manual, Joint Order 7110.65. (The version that was current at the time I wrote this article was version J.O. 7110.65W.)

This is from Chapter 4, Section 5-7 titled “Altitude Information”.

1. Considering the principle that the last ATC clearance issued has precedence over the previous, the phraseology “maintain (altitude)” alone cancels previously issued altitude restrictions, including SID/STAR altitude restrictions unless they are restated or modified, and authorizes an unrestricted climb or descent. Speed restrictions remain in effect unless the controller explicitly cancels the speed restrictions.

ATC Technique

Some controllers will say, “Climb unrestricted, maintain 8,000.” That phrase, “climb unrestricted” is a controller’s technique for reassuring pilots that a published crossing restriction on SID no longer applies. Don’t let one controller’s technique create an expectation that all controllers will use the same technique. If your controller uses the standard phrase, “Climb and maintain,” but does not say, “Unrestricted,” you are cleared to make an unrestricted climb to the altitude specified in the clearance.

Speed Restrictions

The AIM says, however, any published speed restrictions on a SID remain in effect unless specifically cancelled by ATC. If the controller says, “Cancel speed restrictions,” or “Cancel the speed restriction at” a named fixed, you may ignore the relevant published speed restriction(s) in the SID.
Picking Up and IFR Clearance While Airborne

Picking Up and IFR Clearance While Airborne

There are a few reasons why you might want to pick up an IFR route clearance while airborne.

  1. You are proceeding on a cross-country flight and either the enroute weather or your destination’s weather is deteriorating. Continuing VFR is not possible.

  3. You are unable to make radio or cell phone contact with Flight Service; or radio contact with an ATC agency to pick up your IFR clearance while on the ground.

  5. You are unwilling to delay your departure long enough to make contact with an agency to pick up your IFR clearance.

Risky VFR

There are some potential risks involved in picking up an IFR clearance while airborne.

You must maintain VFR cloud clearances and inflight visibility prior to receiving your clearance. Scud running or maneuvering in marginal inflight visibility while coordinating for and copying your clearance is a very high workload operation. This is especially true when flying solo. If there is high terrain or tall radio antennae in the area, the risk increases of flying into something immovable while working on your clearance.

My strong recommendation is, do what you have to do to pick up your IFR clearance while on the ground. If that means getting out of your airplane and getting to a landline for a phone call, do so.

If airborne, and the weather ahead is deteriorating, retreat. Get to an area where the weather is solidly VFR so you don’t have to divide your time between weather avoidance, obstacle avoidance, and coordinating your clearance.

My friend, and highly experience pilot, Sarah Fritts, has some strong words about this in her new book, The Instrument Pilot’s Survival Guide.*

“Pretend the clouds are at 1100’ at your departure airport. Let’s say Class E airspace starts at 700 feet AGL (which is typical at most airports). You now have to fly 500 feet below that 1,100 feet cloud deck as per Class E VFR cloud clearance requirements. . . which means you are actually flying in Class G airspace at 600 feet AGL.

“Now let’s say there is a 250-foot hill in front of you because humans like to build airports in valleys and not on mountains. You are not flying 350 feet above the ground trying to pick up your clearance. Oh, and the clouds aren’t uniformly 1,100 AGL. They vary and they are dipping so now you are flying a couple hundred feet off the ground . . . and you still can’t get ATC because their radar coverage doesn’t go that low.

“Do you see how this can turn into a stupid decision very quickly?” The Instrument Pilot’s Survival Guide. Chapter 2, Ground Operations.

No Choice

Let’s assume you have no choice but to pick up an IFR clearance while airborne. The weather permits to you fly in VFR conditions without concern for terrain or obstacle clearance. Here’s how to do it.

First, assuming you had not filed your flight plan before takeoff, you’ll need to do so while airborne. The best way to file is to get in touch with the nearest flight service station to complete the process.

An air traffic controller could file an IFR flight plan for you. He would have to divide his time between working on your flight plan and keeping traffic separated. His first obligation is air traffic control. If he’s busy, you may wait a long time to complete the filing process with him. He may also tell you he will be unable to file a flight plan for you.

Have it On Paper

Before filing your flight plan with Flight Service or ATC, it pays to have the plan written down. I like to use a pre-printed flight plan form, with the data for my flight filled in. This simplifies your workload when it comes time to relay the flight plan over the radio. All you have to do is read the plan out loud.

First, Make Contact

Begin by making contact with Flight Service or ATC using your call sign only. Don’t complicate the initial radio call with requests or by adding other data. Get specific only after you and the person at the other end of the radio have said hello to each other. Tell the person you’ve contacted where you are, that you’re VFR, and then say, “I’d like to file an IFR flight plan.”

When the air traffic controller or flight service agent says, “Ready to copy your flight plan,” read the data to him in the correct order. The controller or agent will then tell you to stand by while he files the flight plan.

Get Your Clearance

If a Flight Service agent took your flight plan, he will tell you to contact ATC after your flight plan has been accepted in the ATC system. Flight service will tell you which ATC agency to contact and the appropriate frequency. For example, “[Your call sign], contact Denver Center now on 127.8 for your clearance.” If you file with a controller, the controller will give you your IFR clearance in the standard format.

When getting your clearance from a controller, he will include immediate action items in your clearance. An immediate action item may be, “Cleared present position direct [a navaid or navigational fix], maintain [an altitude].” Or, he may give you a heading to fly to intercept the first airway on your cleared route, if applicable, along with an altitude to maintain.

That’s an overview of how to file an IFR flight plan while airborne. You’ll find a much more detailed explanation of this process in a new book written by friend Sarah Fritts, The Instrument Pilot’s Survival Guide. It’s available for $8.99 as a Kindle book at*

Sarah’s book teaches you how to build flows and habit patterns that are common to all IFR flights. Sarah says in the book’s introduction,

This guide will help you alleviate your stress by teaching you the general flow of an instrument flight.

Mastering the rhythm of an instrument flight is the key to a worry-free experience.

This survival guide will walk you through an instrument flight from beginning to end.

Question and Answer

Here’s a scenario and question I asked in the last IFR Flight Radio Show.

If you have ever departed IFR from an uncontrolled airport, you were probably issued a Clearance Void Time. The controller said to you, for example, “Void if not off by 10:15, time now 10:01 and one half. Basically, this meant ATC had approved your takeoff any time before the Clearance Void Time.

The question. What is a “Release Time” and how might ATC use it for your flight?

The answer from the Aeronautical Information Manual 5−2−6. Departure Restrictions, Clearance Void Times, Hold for Release, and Release Times

3. Release Times. A “release time” is a departure restriction issued to a pilot by ATC, specifying the earliest time an aircraft may depart. ATC will use “release times” in conjunction with traffic management procedures and/or to separate a departing aircraft from other traffic.

(Aircraft identification) released for departure at (time in hours and/or minutes).

A release time is rarely used by ATC. More often, when you reach the end of the departure runway, ATC may say, “Hold for release” with no specific information about when you they expect to release you, i.e. clear you to depart.

Back to You Soon

I expect to be settled into my new home in early June. Expect a brand new IFR Flight Radio Show around then. Be well, keep in touch, and fly safe!

*I receive a small commission from when you use this link to make a purchase.


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