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Flying under IFR conditions is common for many types of pilots. But what should you do if you lose contact with ATC? Find out in this expert guide.
Learning to fly a plane in any capacity is a huge achievement. But as you’re learning, you’ll hear about two common methods of flying — Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) and Visual Flight Rules (VFR). Flying under Instrument Flight Rules can be beneficial since you can rely on your instruments and radio communication. But what are you supposed to do if something happens and you lose contact with Air Traffic Control?
The first thing you should always do if you lose contact with ATC is to try to re-establish that line of communication. If you know how to and the conditions and terrain allow for it, you should continue flying under VFR conditions. If you can’t, then you should land at the nearest airport.
Flying under Instrument Flight Rules is a very common way for pilots to get from Point A to Point B. It's a great way to fly when weather conditions are not ideal for visual flight. In this blog post, we will discuss what to do if you lose contact with Air Traffic Control (ATC) while flying under IFR conditions.
SkyTough was created with the goal in mind to provide our readers with nothing but the best, most comprehensive aviation content on the web. To make this a reality, we combine our own knowledge with input and information from other experts and enthusiasts. This way, you get the full picture from multiple sources. So when you’re done reading this, you’ll know exactly what to do if you lose contact with ATC.
What is an IFR Flight?
While we have other articles that go into Instrument Flight Rules in greater detail, I don't want to leave you hanging here. So before we get into the meat of the article, let's take a minute to go over the main points of what Instrument Flight Rules are and what it means to fly under these conditions.
In short, Instrument Flight Rules are a set of regulations that govern how pilots must operate their aircraft when flying in conditions where they cannot see outside the cockpit. This generally means flying in clouds but can also apply to other types of poor visibility like fog, smoke, or heavy rain.
Under IFR conditions, pilots must rely on their instruments to fly the airplane. This is why it's so important for pilots to have a thorough understanding of their aircraft and its systems before they attempt to fly under these conditions. The good thing about learning how to fly while relying solely on your instruments is that it makes you a much better pilot overall.
Do You Have to Stay in Contact With Air Traffic Control During an IFR Flight?
One of the most common questions I get from new students is whether or not they must stay in communication with Air Traffic Control while flying under IFR conditions. The answer to this question is a little bit complicated.
In short, the answer is yes, all pilots flying under IFR conditions must report their position to Air Traffic Control and receive clearance from ATC before they can change their flight plan. So if you just wanted the short answer, simply make sure you always do whatever you can to stay in contact with ATC during an IFR flight and you should be good to go.
However, there are some exceptions to this rule. For example, if ATC informs you that they have made radar contact and no longer require position updates from you, you are not required to maintain contact with ATC until you have landed at your destination airport. That is, of course, unless ATC pings you again and says that they need you to get back in contact.
In addition, there are some cases where ATC may lose communication with your aircraft but you are still able to communicate with them. In these cases, you are not required to maintain contact with ATC until they have re-established communication with your aircraft. If you want to be careful, you can try to contact ATC occasionally if this does happen, just to make sure you're getting back in contact as quickly as you can.
So now that you know what IFR means and you know that you must stay in communication with ATC while flying under these conditions, let's talk about how you actually communicate with ATC.
How Do You Communicate with Air Traffic Control While Flying?
As a pilot, staying in contact with ATC is essential any time that you're flying in controlled airspace, not only while flying under IFR conditions. This is why learning how to communicate with Air Traffic Control is one of the most essential aspects of learning how to become a pilot and something that you'll learn early on. But if you haven't learned it yet, we'll go over the basics here.
There are two main ways to communicate with Air Traffic Control while flying. The first is using what's called a Common Traffic Advisory Frequency, or a CTAF. These frequencies are broadcasted over the radio and can be heard by any aircraft in the area. This type of communication is done when you're coming into or heating out of an airport.
The second way to communicate with Air Traffic Control is through what's called Flight Following. This is where ATC will provide you with vectoring, or directions, to help you avoid other aircraft in the area. They will also provide you with information about any changes in the weather or other conditions that may affect your flight. However, this type of communication is typically only done when flying under VFR conditions.
In order to communicate with ATC, you will need to learn how to effectively use the radio in your airplane and you'll also need to learn what is called Aviation Radio Lingo. This is a special form of communication that is used by pilots and air traffic controllers in order to facilitate clear and concise communication over the radio.
Some of the most common aviation radio lingo phrases include:
- Roger — This means that you've heard and understood the transmission.
- Wilco — This means that you've heard the transmission and will comply with it.
- Affirmative — This is another way of saying "yes."
- Negative — This is another way of saying "no."
Learning aviation radio lingo can be a bit daunting at first, but it's something that you'll quickly get the hang of with a little bit of practice. The best way to learn it is by listening to other pilots and air traffic controllers on the radio and mimicking their language. To get you started, check out our complete guides on learning the basics of talking like a pilot and also some advanced words and phrases.
So now that you know how to communicate with ATC, let's talk about what you should do if you lose contact with them while flying.
What Can You Do If You Lose Contact with Air Traffic Control?
If you lose contact with Air Traffic Control while flying, the first thing you should do is try to re-establish communication with them. This can be done by switching to a different radio frequency or by trying to hail them on the emergency frequency 121.500 MHz. These frequencies are only used for planes and pilots that are in distress and usually have a limited range of communication that's no more than a line of sight.
If you're still unable to establish communication with ATC, then the next thing you should do is follow the procedures that are laid out in your aircraft's Pilot Operating Handbook, or POH. These procedures will vary depending on the type of aircraft that you're flying but typically involve flying under Visual Flight Rules (VFR), but only if you can safely do so.
In many situations, if you're unable to get back in contact with ATC, the best course of action is to land at the nearest airport and try to establish communication with them from there. Once you've landed, you can try to call ATC on the ground and let them know what happened.
Should You Continue Flying Under VFR Conditions if You Lose Contact with ATC?
The answer to this question really depends on the situation that you're in and what your aircraft is capable of flying under. If you're in an area with good visibility and you're familiar with the terrain, then it's usually safe to continue flying under VFR conditions. However, if you're not comfortable with the conditions or the terrain, then it's best to land at the nearest airport and wait for ATC to re-establish communication with you.
There are a few other things that you should keep in mind if you lose contact with ATC while flying. First, always maintain a vigilant watch for other aircraft in the area. This can be done by keeping your head on a swivel and regularly checking your mirrors. Second, make sure to fly at a safe altitude that will give you plenty of room to maneuver in case you need to avoid another aircraft. And finally, always remember to stay calm and think clearly.
Losing contact with ATC can be a stressful situation, but it's important to keep a level head and follow the procedures that are laid out in your POH.
Most Common Reasons That You Lose Contact With ATC?
There are a few different reasons why you might lose contact with Air Traffic Control while flying. The most common reason is due to bad weather conditions, such as clouds or fog, that can block the line of sight between you and the ATC tower. Other common reasons include flying into an area with limited or no radio coverage, such as a mountain range, or having a problem with your aircraft's radio equipment.
While losing contact with ATC can be a bit nerve-wracking, it's important to remember that it's not uncommon and there are procedures in place to deal with it. By following the procedures that are laid out in your POH and staying calm, you can safely get back in contact with ATC and continue on with your flight.