While this article is primarily focused on popping up on a controllers radar screen to request an IFR clearance, VFR pilots also can find themselves suddenly needing to be in the ATC system. Reasons can include an in-flight emergency, an inadvertent encounter with poor weather, to request VFR flight following or to enter certain airspace. As with anything involving aviation-and especially when considering ATC-theres a right and a wrong way to do it.
Basically, any ATC communication attempt that isnt concise, professional and responsive likely will go to the bottom of the stack when the controller is busy (and if you need something from ATC right now, theyre always going to be busy). In other words, knowing ahead of time what information the controller needs to get you into the system and providing it can work wonders. This isnt rocket surgery, and you shouldnt be surprised at what a controller needs to get you into the system:
– Who are you? Whats your call sign/registration number?
– What are you? Whats your aircraft type? (ATC is looking for a specific sequence of letters/numbers the computer will accept, like BE35, C172 or B737. If you dont know your aircrafts, look it up in Appendix A of FAA Order JO 7110.65V, Air Traffic Control.)
– Where are you? You need to know your distance and direction from a prominent fix, airport or geographic feature.
– Where are you going? Specify a destination or your intentions, plus your preferred routing if its important to your request.
– How high are you? State your present altitude, and whether youre level, climbing or descending and, if so, to what altitude.