Amend and Fly a Re-route Clearance

By Michael “Mick” Kaufman

Many years ago, before the word GPS became part of our vocabulary, 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 to devote some of my IFR teaching to the “understanding and clarification of ATC clearances and flying them”.

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, 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 passed on to a new controller, clarify what you are doing. In the above situation, my check-in would be as follows:

“Cessna 2852F, checking in at 5,000, 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 N2858B, we have an amendment to your routing. Advise when ready to copy”. You noticed I said, “dreaded call,” and after acknowledging, your only wish is that it is not a complete re-route.

After copying the re-route, you need to make a decision. Do you read it back immediately or check it first before readback? It is common protocol to acknowledge ATC that you have successfully copied the re-route in a timely manner. 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 wanting to remain over land and the new re-route 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 I had a communications failure, then I would be compelled to fly the route as cleared. If the re-route was simple and I was familiar with the waypoints involved, I would read back the re-route clearance 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 before takeoff.

As in the above situation, if I should lose communications after take-off in Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC), my route had been confirmed once I take off and I must fly it. If ATC should give you a clearance containing waypoints that are different than my fight plan, I need to find them and put them in the navigator.

Sometimes, you are not sure what the controller said in the clearance due to his/her accent and you can’t find them in your database. This has happened to me numerous times, and I have asked the controller to spell the waypoints phonetically. Having a good radio and headset saves a lot of repeat communications. I have personally found the Lightspeed Zulu headset to have better audio response than any other headset I have tried.

I cannot mention re-routes without covering some helpful hints to fly the re-route with some of the Garmin boxes. I will use the 430/530 GPS boxes as they are still the gold standard and will be for years to come. The newer Garmin 650/750 navigators have similar architecture, so a similar procedure can be used on re-route clearances. You have spent a lot of time putting your flight plan in the GPS, and there are maybe a dozen waypoints.

You need to be a Jedi or at least a wizard to make a major re-route 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, fly to it and not change anything in the flight plan. I refer to that waypoint as a “wildcard”. “Yes,” the flight plan is totally unchanged, when you use the “direct to wildcard” and you can re-enter your previously entered route at any fix that was programmed in your original route.

I use this feature initially with every re-route as ATC wants us to start the re-route change immediately, not 5 minutes later when you have completely redone your entire flight planned route in the navigator. I use the direct-to-function for minor re-routes when a majority of the original flight plan stays intact or to buy me time for a major re-route.

If you are fortunate to have two of these great old Garmin GPS boxes with identical databases, you can build your new flight plan in the second GPS, check it for errors and then use the cross-fill function to transfer it to your number one navigator. If you have a single Garmin 480 navigator, you can copy your old route to an edit window while the autopilot is flying the original route or to the selected “wildcard” waypoint.

Once completed and checked for errors, you can make it the active route. I would suggest that you select heading mode on the autopilot before using cross fill or activating the new flight plan.

I have a setup procedure, which I would recommend for the two-Garmin setup if you have them. That is to set auto cross fill from the number one Garmin navigator to the number two Garmin navigator and manually cross fill from number two to number one navigator. This gives you the option of verifying the re-route in number two before moving the route to the number one navigator.

One more issue on ATC communications before ending the “Captain’s Corner” column in this issue of BPT Takeoff 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 from. I do this any time while changing altitude and not just when changing controllers. “Bonanza 63DM, leaving 6,000 for 4,000, or Cirrus 26CD, checking in 2,500, climbing to 3,000.”

End communications errors and discrepancy and a possible violation by communicating properly, don’t just “Roger” a clearance. There are instances the controller will ask you to verify a clearance: “Piper 6346R, verify land and hold short of Runway 36.” Do the readback the first time and save on communications congestion. Under certain circumstances, the controller by regulation must have a verification not just a “Roger”. Keep in mind other clearances must be verified as well “cleared for approach”, cleared to land” and others.

Stay safe and avoid violations — and we’ll see you at a future BPT program!