How to better communicate with ATC
– and handle re-routes!

By Mick Kaufman


In this issue of BPT TAKEOFF is a topic that I thought might be of interest to our readers. How to better communicate with ATC and avoid misunderstandings or worse yet a VIOLATION.  A side note topic explains how I amend a reroute clearance with an old Garmin 430/530 and some of the newer navigators as well.

Many years ago, I took up the challenge to help a new IFR pilot who was violated for being off the airway that she was supposed to be on. This led me to a passion for teaching pilots the “understanding or misunderstanding and clarification of ATC clearances”.

In the incident that started all of this, a young lady with a new IFR ticket was flying on a victor airway as filed on her flight plan and given to her as a route in her clearance. All went well until a controller gave her a vector off of the airway for traffic, and then shortly thereafter passed her on to the next ATC sector.  As she was never given a vector to rejoin the airway after passing the traffic, she continued to fly the assigned heading. That was until the new sector controller told her she was 7 miles off the airway and needed to call the facility when she landed. With my help at that time, and before the word GPS was in our vocabulary, we were able to get the tapes and tracks from the ATC facilities and the alleged infraction was resolved.

How could one have clarified the above situation before it happened?  We still have situations like this happen on a somewhat regular basis and my answer to this scenario would be as follows:

Any time you are given to a new controller, clarify what you are doing. In the above situation when given the new controller, my check in would be as follows. “Cessna 2852F checking in at five thousand 240 heading assigned. “   If the previous controller had forgotten to tell your new controller of the heading or altitude assigned, you have alerted him/her of the discrepancy, if any.

Many times during instrument flights, you get the dreaded call “Baron 2858B we have an amendment to your routing, advise when ready to copy”. You noticed I said “dreaded call” and after acknowledging, your only hope is that it is not a complete reroute. After copying the reroute you need to make a decision, do you read it back immediately or check it first. It is common protocol to acknowledge ATC that you have successfully copied the reroute. In most cases, I acknowledge with the phrase “Stand by for read back”. This confirms with ATC that you have indeed copied the clearance and do not need a portion of it reread. It is important for a pilot to always check his/her new clearance to make sure he/she can comply safely; this is a pilot’s responsibility.  If I were flying a single engine aircraft along the coast but over land and the new reroute would take me 150 miles away from land and over water with no water survival equipment, I would refuse the clearance. If I had read the clearance back and had a communications failure, I would be compelled to fly the route as cleared. If on the other hand, the reroute was simple and I was familiar with waypoints involved, I would read it back immediately.

When receiving an IFR clearance on the ground prior to take off, I will read it back immediately as I have time to check the routing before taking off. If there is any discrepancy with the clearance, I will request a change or clarification. As in the above situation, if I should lose communications after take-off in IMC, my route had been confirmed and I must fly it.

I cannot mention reroutes without getting off the immediate subject and cover some helpful hints to fly the reroute with a Garmin 430/530 GPS box and the newer 650/750 navigators. You have spent a lot of time putting your flight plan in the GPS, and there are a dozen waypoints. You need to be a Jedi or at least a wizard to make the change in the flight plan and still fly the airplane. This is why the airlines and many corporations have two pilots on board. It is important to know that Garmin allows you to enter “one” direct to waypoint at a time in the box and fly to it and not change anything in the flight plan. “Yes” the flight plan is totally unchanged, and you can re-enter it at any fix that is programmed there. I use this feature initially with every re-route as ATC wants you to start the re-route change immediately, not five minutes later when you have redone your entire route. I use only the direct-to-function for minor re-routes when a majority of the original flight plan stays in tact or allows me time to go into the flight plan and revise it.

If you are fortunate to have two of these great old Garmin GPS boxes or the newer ones with identical databases, you can build your new flight plan in the second GPS and when done and checked for errors, you can cross fill the flight plan to GPS number one. A recommended procedure for the two-Garmin set up is to set auto cross fill from number one to number two GPS, but manual cross fill from number two to number one GPS.

One more issue on communications before ending this issues column is to confirm your altitude. While climbing or descending, it is important to mention your current altitude and the altitude you are climbing or descending to. I do this any time while changing altitude and not just when changing controllers. “Bonanza 63DM leaving six thousand for four thousand “or “Cirrus 26CD checking in two thousand five hundred climbing to three thousand”.

End communications errors and discrepancy and a possible violation by communicating; don’t just “Roger” a clearance. In many instances, the controller will ask you to verify a clearance; “Piper 6346R verify land and hold short of runway 36”. Do it the first time and save on communications congestion.

Enjoy the beautiful summer flying — and we hope to see you at one of fall BPT clinics.