Four Not So Secret Ways to Get an ATC Route Clearance Right Every Time

Air France landing at St. Maarten
Air France landing in St. Maarten.

You would think pro pilots, (and I’m talking about the old noggins who have been working the air traffic control system for decades,) would never miss a clearance or have a misunderstanding. Mostly, they don’t. While not perfect, old pros use four time-honored techniques for getting an ATC clearance right. None of these are secret, so they shouldn’t surprise you. Here they are:

Get Me the Clearance Clarence

1. Have a written copy of your filed flight plan in front of you before you call for your route clearance.
2. Write it down.
3. Repeat it to the controller.
4. Ask the controller to repeat anything missed, and don’t be afraid to ask a fast-talker to slow down.

On a recent flight from St. Maarten to Atlanta, I did all four—twice!

Get Ready, Cause Here it Comes!

“Delta Yadee Yadee Yadee, St. Maarten Tower,* cleared to the Atlanta airport via directDoradoblahblahblahElmucDirectblahblahYankeeblahblahblah

First, I had our filed flight plan in front of me. I expected to simply check off points on the written plan as the controller gave them to me. Unfortunately, the route given was completely different from what we filed. I wrote down as much as I could as the controller read the clearance. Here’s what I got written down:

This was all I could get written down.

The clearance was:

1.A complete route change from our originally filed flight plan.
2.Delivered by the air traffic controller at light speed, with a Dutch accent.

Now What?

To fix the problem, I skipped technique 3—repeat it to the controller—and went right to technique 4—asked for a slower repeat:

I said, “Delta Yadee Yadee Yadee, that was a complete reroute and I wasn’t ready for it. Could you repeat it a little more slowly?”

“Delta Yadee Yadee Yadee, cleared to Atlanta via direct Dorado,” pause, “Green 431 ELMUC,” pause, “Direct RENAH,” pause, “Yankee 585 Ormand Beach, then as filed.” “Maintain flight level one-five-zero until further advised.” “The departure frequency will be 125.0,” pause, “Squawk 1-3-4-6.”

This time I was able to write down the complete clearance and accurately read it back to the controller.

Magic or Not

There’s no magic to copying a clearance correctly. Have a copy of your filed flight plan in front of you. Write the clearance as you get it. Repeat it to the controller. Ask for a repeat of anything you might have missed. If the controller speaks faster than you can write, ask him to slow down. As someone once said, “Easy as cake.”

*The island of St. Maarten is split into a Dutch and a French side. The airport at St. Maarten, Princess Juliana International, is on the Dutch side of the island. The transition altitude for aircraft arriving and departing this airport is 5,000 ft. Above 5,000 ft, pilots set 29.92 in their altimeters, and use the term flight level on the radio, e.g. “Climbing to flight level six zero.” Photo courtesy of Mike Roberts


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3 thoughts on “Four Not So Secret Ways to Get an ATC Route Clearance Right Every Time”

  1. Pingback: Listening to ATC Clearances is Good for You

  2. Lynbert A. Laguda II


    i l0ved the way u read backed i laughed s0 hard, then suddenly a devil p0pped 0ut my right sh0ulder and asking me this
    What if th0se long need to be readback deliveries will happen on your ELP “english language proficiency” exam??? No flightplan just random STAR and SID atc evaluators ready to fire it up to you??? What can i do to read it back correctly if the one he/she deliver im not familiar with? Do you have any shortcuts jeff on righting abbreviations instead of the word itself? Example FL-flight level. .


  3. Pingback: St. Maarten Tower, You’re Driving Me Crazy!

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