Have you ever been denied radar service under VFR because you were not in synch with local air traffic control procedures? Have you ever gotten an earful from an air traffic controller because you didn’t know the local departure track for VFR aircraft? If so, this article is for you.
Agreeing By Letter
In some places, especially in high-density traffic areas, two air traffic control facilities with adjacent or overlapping airspace will have a letter of agreement (LOA) in place. The LOA outlines how those agencies will work together to handle the flow of traffic. If you have a taste for dry reading material, you can look at the FAA joint order that outlines the use of LOAs for air traffic control: FAA JO 7210.3V Chapter 4-3-1.
As far as finding specific LOAs that affect your flight? Forget about it. You won’t find specific LOAs online, or anywhere else. Do you really care, for example, how Miami Departure Control interfaces with Miami Center? What you need to know is how to fly from A to B as smoothly as possible, and without ruffling anyone’s feathers.
4 Ways to Get What You Need
There are ways to find out what your responsibility is when you fly VFR in airspace with specialize procedures. Here are the possibilities:
- Look at your sectional map. Some specialized procedures, such as the VFR corridor over San Diego International Airport (SAN) will be illustrated and described right on your sectional chart.
- Check with the FBO at your departure airport. Most FBOs have a flight planning room. In that room you will often find local area procedures printed on wall charts or posters. You can also ask the FBO manager or attendant if he has a printed copy of any local procedures for the airport or surrounding airspace.
- Your single best source of local procedures is any flight service station (FSS). When you call FSS for a preflight briefing, (you do that, right?) ask the specialist if there are any local air traffic procedures that pertain to your flight. The specialist must provide you with any information regarding local procedures, but only if you request it. Here’s the excerpt from the FAA joint order that describes this:
- If you are departing from an airport with a control tower, contact Clearance Delivery, (or Ground Control in the absence of a clearance delivery frequency,) and get a VFR clearance and transponder squawk code. Clearance Delivery should provide any special departure instructions that apply to your flight. If in doubt, ask.
Section 2. Preflight Pilot Briefing
3-2-1. CONDUCT OF STANDARD BRIEFING
12.Upon Request. Provide any information requested by the pilot, including, but not limited to:
Information regarding such items as air traffic service and rules, customs/immigration procedures, ADIZ rules, SAR, Flight Watch, etc.
I Want (ATC) to Hold Your Hand
One last note. If you are flying into a section of airspace with special procedures, air traffic control expects you to know those procedures. You are not guaranteed, in fact I would say, do not expect ATC to provide instruction on how to operate your VFR flight to comply with local procedures. In rare moments when ATC is not busy, you might get a heads up, but don’t count on it.
Do your homework, get a preflight briefing, and come prepared to comply with local area procedures.
Have you run into any airspace gotchas in your flying adventures? I’d like to hear about them.