FAA Completes ATC Phone Number Plan

The February 25, 2019 issue of FAAST Blast includes the following item about FAA’s plan to publish ATC telephone numbers in the Chart Supplement. You can read more details and see examples at earlier entries here at BruceAir:

Leidos FSS has posted ARTCC clearance/cancelation phone numbers on its website, here.

FAA Completes Clearance Relay Initiative

Flight Service will complete the Clearance Relay initiative on June 20 when it publishes the remaining phone numbers for pilots to obtain IFR clearances at public- and private-use airports, from either the overlying Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) Flight Data Units, or an approach control facility. As part of modernization efforts to streamline service delivery and increase efficiency, pilots now call directly to obtain or cancel an IFR clearance, reducing the risk of potential errors.

Last year, Flight Service formalized a process already in place by publishing phone numbers for 30 approach controls covering 667 public use airports, providing pilots direct contact with the controlling facility. Last fall, another 26 approach control facilities covering 226 public-use and 3,000 private-use airports had numbers published in the Chart Supplement, US and subscriber files.

Leidos Flight Service will provide pilots with the name of the facility to contact or the correct phone number to obtain or cancel an IFR clearance. Pilots may continue to request clearances via radio from air traffic control or Flight Service.

You can find the phone numbers for clearance delivery in the remarks section of the entry for each airport in the Chart Supplement, US. This initiative does not affect pilots requesting clearances from Flight Service over Remote Communications Outlets (RCO), Ground Communication Outlets (GCO), or from locations in Alaska. For more information, visit https://go.usa.gov/x5wsR.

Update on ATC Phone Numbers and IFR Clearances

FAA continues to publish ATC telephone numbers for pilots who need to get an IFR clearance or close an IFR flight plan at non-towered airports (background here at BruceAir).

Leidos FSS has posted ARTCC clearance/cancelation phone numbers on its website, here.

Note that FAA is testing a system that would allow pilots to receive ATC clearances on mobile devices. For more information, see this article at AOPA.

An FAA representative briefed (full presentation here) the April 25-26, 2018 meeting of the Aeronautical Charting Forum (complete meeting minutes here).

Highlights:

  • Chart Supplement (A/FD) entries for 656 airports have been updated with clearance delivery phone numbers.
  • 25 additional approach control facilities will participate in the program; the Chart Supplement entries for over 200 additional airports will be updated to include a clearance delivery phone number.
  • For all other uncontrolled airports without a GCO or radio outlet linking them to ATC or Flight Service, pilots will be able to obtain a clearance by calling the overlying ARTCC.

The September 2018 update to the AIM will include the following paragraph:

5-2-3. TAXI CLEARANCE
a. Pilots departing on an IFR flight plan should consult the Chart Supplement US airport/facility directory to determine the frequency or telephone number to use to contact clearance delivery. On initial contact pilots should advise the flight is IFR and state the destination airport.

ATC Telephone Numbers for IFR Clearances

The FAA has announced that it will publish telephone numbers for some ATC facilities that provide IFR clearances and cancellations of IFR flight plans via the phone in the Chart Supplement (formerly known as the A/FD). FAA planned to begin implementation of the change on October 1, 2016 and complete the process by June 30, 2017.

For an update on the plans to publish ATC phone numbers, see the latest information here.

The basic information was provided in a recommendation document (ACF-CG RD 16-020309) at the Aeronautical Charting Forum, which reads in part:

Subject: Publication of approach control phone numbers for purposes of Clearance
Delivery and/or IFR flight plan cancellation.

Background/Discussion: In accordance with the Administrator’s NAS Efficient Streamlined Services Initiative Air Traffic, Flight Service, and NATCA have agreed that air traffic facilities currently providing clearances to pilots via telephone (informally) will have their numbers published in the appropriate Chart Supplement, US. These same facilities will have the option to have a separate phone line installed for IFR flight plan cancellations, which will also be published. The attached Policy Decision Memorandum identifies the affected 32 Air Traffic facilities and reflects approval by VP System Operations, VP Air Traffic Services, and VP Technical Operations. Also attached are the Scoping Document Workgroup Agreement, Safety Risk Management Document, and Implementation Plan.

Recommendations: Publish the approach control phone numbers for Clearance Delivery and/or IFR flight plan cancellation in the Chart Supplement US, for example:

For CLNC DEL CTC BOSTON APCH (603) 594-5551

And, when available, for those facilities with the IFR cancellation line

To CANCEL IFR CTC BOSTON APCH (603) 594-5552

The official FAA memoranda that describe the details are attached to the recommendation documented linked above.

The list of TRACONs and towers (subject to revision) that will issue clearances directly to pilots via telephone includes:

  1. A90 -Boston
  2. C90 – Chicago
  3. Dl O -Dallas-Fort Worth
  4. D21 – Detroit
  5. F 11 – Central Florida
  6. 190 – Houston
  7. L30 – Las Vegas
  8. M03 – Memphis
  9. N90 -New York
  10. NCT -Northem California
  11. P80 – Portland
  12. R90 – Omaha
  13. S46 – Seattle
  14. S56 – Salt Lake
  15. T75 – Louis
  16. U90 -Tucson
  17. Y90 – Yankee
  18. ABE – Allentown, PA
  19. AUS -Austin, TX
  20. AVP – Scranton, PA
  21. ENA -Nashville, TN
  22. CLT – Charlotte,NC
  23. CRP – Corpus Christie, TX
  24. DAB -Daytona, FL
  25. IND – Indianapolis, IN
  26. MCI -Kansas City, MO
  27. MDT -Harrisburg, PA
  28. MSY -New Orleans, LA
  29. ORF -Norfolk, VA
  30. PHL – Philadelphia, PA
  31. SAT – San Antonia, TX
  32. PCT – Potomac, VA

Canceling IFR

The other day at BeechTalk, a forum for owners and operators of Beechcraft (Bonanzas, Barons, and the like) a long, surprisingly contentious, thread started with a simple question: When can I cancel IFR?

The pilot who posed the question described a common situation. An IFR aircraft is approaching an airport that does not have an operating control tower. Other airplanes are en route to the same airport or are waiting on the ground for a release to depart. When the current weather is IMC, ATC can allow only one aircraft at any time to operate under IFR (or special VFR) within the (usually) Class E airspace surrounding the airport. Until an approaching aircraft cancels IFR, either in the air or after landing, no other aircraft can fly an approach or depart under an IFR clearance.

FAA publishes telephone numbers that pilots can use to cancel IFR and obtain an IFR release at non-towered airports that don’t have an RCO or GCO. The numbers are listed in the Chart Supplement (A/FD) listings for most airports. More information about this topic is available here at BruceAir.

Bowerman Airport (KHQM) on the southwest Washington coast is an example of such an airport. It does not have a control tower, and, as indicated by the dashed magenta lines, it is enclosed by surface-based Class E airspace (as opposed to Class E airspace that begins at 700 ft. AGL). The surfaced-based Class E airspace extends west and east of the airport to protect the final approach paths for the instrument approaches that serve KHQM.

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Suppose you are approaching KHQM on an IFR clearance. You fly one of published procedures and at some point during the descent, you break into the clear below the clouds. When ATC cleared you for the approach, the controller directed you to report canceling your IFR flight plan either on an ATC frequency or by calling an ATC facility on the phone). You know (or suspect) that other aircraft are waiting to follow you or to depart KHQM, so you are eager to cancel IFR as soon as possible to free up the airspace. It’s often much easier and faster to cancel IFR directly with the controller you’ve been talking to than to use a ground communication outlet or to relay a cancelation through flight service via radio or a cell phone call.

But when can you legally cancel IFR? The basic answer is in AIM 5−1−15. Canceling IFR Flight Plan.

b. An IFR flight plan may be canceled at any time the flight is operating in VFR conditions outside Class A airspace…

The key to that statement is “operating in VFR conditions.” And that stipulation depends on both the weather and the type of airspace you’re operating in.

If the ASOS at KHQM, which is surrounded by surface-based Class E airspace, is reporting a ceiling less than 1,000 ft. and/or visibility less than 3 miles, you can’t cancel IFR until you are on the ground. That’s because 14 CFR § 91.155   Basic VFR weather minimums stipulates:

(c) Except as provided in § 91.157, no person may operate an aircraft beneath the ceiling under VFR within the lateral boundaries of controlled airspace designated to the surface for an airport when the ceiling is less than 1,000 feet.

(d) Except as provided in § 91.157 of this part, no person may take off or land an aircraft, or enter the traffic pattern of an airport, under VFR, within the lateral boundaries of the surface areas of Class B, Class C, Class D, or Class E airspace designated for an airport—

(1) Unless ground visibility at that airport is at least 3 statute miles; or

(2) If ground visibility is not reported at that airport, unless flight visibility during landing or takeoff, or while operating in the traffic pattern is at least 3 statute miles.

In other words, if the official weather report for the airport indicates that the current weather is less than the minimum for basic VFR in Class E airspace, you can’t legally operate under VFR below the ceiling. In particular, the regulation specifically notes that you can’t take off or land at an airport inside surface-based Class E airspace under VFR when the ceiling is less than 1,000 ft. Flying clear of clouds and having the airport in sight is not the same as “operating in VFR conditions.”

Some pilots argue that, regardless of the weather reported by an AWOS or ASOS, they can cancel IFR or enter the Class E airspace under VFR if their flight visibility allows them to continue under VFR. But the Baginski Letter (2012) from FAA contradicts this notion:

“The pilot’s report of flight conditions cannot supersede the AWOS in this scenario. The determination of the visibility by a pilot is not an official weather report or official ground visibility report. See 14 CFR 91.157(d).”

You have more flexibility if the weather is better. If the ASOS reports a ceiling of, say, 1,300 ft. and more than 3 miles visibility (in other words, KHQM is officially, if only marginally, VFR), you could legally cancel IFR when you reach 800 ft. AGL. (500 ft. below the cloud bases). Of course, throughout the remainder of your approach and landing, you must observe the cloud clearance and visibility requirements for Class E airspace as stipulated in § 91.155:

  • 500 feet below
  • 1,000 feet above
  • 2,000 feet horizontal

In marginal VFR conditions, a few wispy clouds often lurk around the airport. To meet the letter of the law, you must make sure that you can clear all of them by at least 2,000 ft. horizontally and 500 ft. vertically.

Here’s video of an approach to Bremerton, WA (KPWT). ATC gave me two frequencies available for canceling my IFR flight plan–one to use while airborne; the other to contact them after I landed. Given the weather at KPWT (400 BKN), the only legal option was canceling after landing.

It’s important to keep this discussion in perspective. When the weather is marginal and you’re flying an approach, canceling as soon as you break out (even if were legal given current conditions) saves only a couple of minutes  versus canceling after landing and clearing the runway. Flying another lap around a holding pattern, slowing down, accepting a delay vector, or idling at the hold-short line at the runway for a few minutes while you wait for a release is occasionally part of flying IFR.

Canceling on the ground can be more cumbersome than speaking directly to the controller who cleared you. But even if the airport doesn’t have good radio coverage on the ground and you have to call ATC on the phone, it’s usually not a big deal. We all have cell phones. Many of us can connect our phones to our headsets or audio panels via Blutetooth. You can also relay your IFR cancelation through another aircraft that is high enough to communicate directly with ATC.

FAA is publishing telephone numbers that pilots can use to cancel IFR and obtain an IFR release at non-towered airports. The numbers are listed in the Chart Supplement (A/FD) listings for most airports without control towers or RCOs or GCOs. More information about this topic is available here at BruceAir.

We all like to help ATC and our fellow pilots by clearing the airspace for the next airplane on approach or to assist the pilot waiting for a release to depart. But trying to sort out the legality of canceling in the air during a critical phase of flight just isn’t worth the risk of distraction or violating the FARs, especially when the delay is so short. If you don’t break out in obvious VMC with plenty of time to juggle canceling, monitoring the CTAF, and keeping an eye out for traffic, land the plane and cancel when you’re safely clear of the runway.

Resources:

From AOPA Air Safety Institute

Airspace for Everyone (PDF)

Airspace Flash Cards (PDF)

14 CFR § 91.155   Basic VFR weather minimums

AOPA (members only): Avoiding the Cancellation Trap

Instrument Flying Handbook: Approach to Airport Without an Operating Control Tower (p. 10-13)

Instrument Procedures Handbook: Airports without an Air Traffic Control Tower (p. 5-14)