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Author Topic: Approach call-up/Flight Following  (Read 17986 times)
dentaylor
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« on: May 01, 2011, 12:32:11 AM »

I have a some questions for the controllers out there. I'm usually flying in the Houston area. I'm a fairly new pilot and I want to make sure that I'm working efficiently with ATC.

My initial call to Appr usually goes like this:
Houston Approach N12345 10 North of Lake Jackson 2,500 VFR to Galveston, request advisories.

1. Is this too much info for the initial call up? Usually they'll give me a xponder code, tell me 'radar contact, etc' then ask the same info that I already gave.

2. The last time I was on VFR Flight Following I apparently left the controller's area without him realizing it. After 15 minutes or so I announced 'N12345 is leaving 2,500 for 4,500'. He responded with 'I don't know who you are'. I told him my xponder code then he said 'oh, you need to contact Center. You've left my area a while ago'. My question is, had I never said anything I [eventually] would've ended up in another controller's area with a xponder code that he wouldn't recognize. What would've happened?

3. If I'm VFR can I call Appr on the ground and get a xponder code before takeoff? There are some Alert Areas (Student Jet Training) and MOA's around me. I usually get FF through those anyway.


Thanks in advanced!
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StuSEL
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« Reply #1 on: May 01, 2011, 01:08:20 AM »

1.) No, that is an appropriate amount of information. You want to give them WHO you are, WHERE you are, and WHAT you want. This gives them everything they need.

2.) The thing you have to know about VFR Flight Following/Traffic Advisories (the two terms are interchangeable) is that it is only a secondary function for the controllers. This means that if the controller gets too busy, you become a secondary priority. This is Note 2 of the definition of TRAFFIC ADVISORIES from the FAA Pilot/Controller glossary:
Quote
Traffic advisory service will be provided to the extent possible depending on higher priority duties of the controller or other limitations; e.g., radar limitations, volume of traffic, frequency congestion, or controller workload. Radar/nonradar traffic advisories do not relieve the pilot of his/her responsibility to see and avoid other aircraft. Pilots are cautioned that there are many times when the controller is not able to give traffic advisories concerning all traffic in the aircraft's proximity; in other words, when a pilot requests or is receiving traffic advisories, he/she should not assume that all traffic will be issued.
The emphasis above is my own. Basically, even if you're under Flight Following, you need to keep a watch out for other traffic, just like you would if you were not under Flight Following. That service is only a tool to aid in seeing and avoiding other traffic.

What would have happened is that the next controller's sector would have probably observed that the first controller still had a "track" on your airplane, and would have called up the first controller to let him know to drop track and terminate your radar service, or to hand you off to the next sector. If not, then the next controller may or may not have recognized your squawk code as a code assigned to VFR aircraft and could have chosen to ignore it or to call up an adjacent sector to see what's up. Other means of contacting you would have ensued if the next controller did not recognize the squawk code, but you would not be in trouble for that as the pilot.

The important thing here is that you recognize that you still have to remain responsible for everything from traffic collision avoidance to avoiding Class B, C, and D airspace without permission; the radar controller providing you with Flight Following does not carry the responsibility of ensuring that you are given a frequency change. One of the worst case scenarios is that you enter another sectors's Class C airspace or something because you weren't appropriately handed off or terminated by the last controller. Yes, it is bad controlling technique to not hand you off, to not notify you of your encroachment on Class D, C, or B airspace, and even to not notify you of terrain and obstructions along your route of flight. But ultimately as a pilot you cannot make any assumptions about a controller's use of good controlling technique when he or she is providing you with a secondary service.

3.) Generally no, but you can and should advise ground that you will be seeking Flight Following after takeoff. If the local procedures allow for it, than the ground controller will assign a squawk code to you. If there are no procedures for that, then you're on your own.

Finally, what I recommend most is touring the ATC facilities off of which these questions are based. There's no better way to get a definitive answer (especially for your last question) than by setting up a tour with one of the facility supervisors and interacting with him/her and the controllers at the facility on your tour.
The phone number for the Houston TRACON is 281-230-8400. The phone number to Houston Center is 281-230-5600. You can find the number for your local tower at this page: http://www.stuckmic.com/texas-air-traffic-control-facilities.html. If the number to the tower isn't there, then go here: http://www.stuckmic.com/texas-federal-contract-towers.html and search for it.
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CFI ASEL
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Jason
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« Reply #2 on: May 01, 2011, 09:17:12 AM »

My initial call to Appr usually goes like this:
Houston Approach N12345 10 North of Lake Jackson 2,500 VFR to Galveston, request advisories.  1. Is this too much info for the initial call up? Usually they'll give me a xponder code, tell me 'radar contact, etc' then ask the same info that I already gave.

It depends on how busy the frequency is, but I normally teach my students to make the initial call with the callsign only, "Houston Approach, N12345, request."  If the controller is busy and you give them all of your information I have found in the past that they just ask you to say it over again a few seconds later which becomes inefficient.  If it's not very busy then I see no issue with giving them all of the info up front, "Houston Approach, N12345 is a Cessna 172 10 North of Lake Jackson, 2,500 VFR request flight following, destination Galveston."

Recently anytime I call N90 with just a callsign, I get a transponder code and then get asked to state my request.  Not every facility or controller does this though and often they will respond with, "N12345, Houston Approach."

2. The last time I was on VFR Flight Following I apparently left the controller's area without him realizing it. After 15 minutes or so I announced 'N12345 is leaving 2,500 for 4,500'. He responded with 'I don't know who you are'. I told him my xponder code then he said 'oh, you need to contact Center. You've left my area a while ago'. My question is, had I never said anything I [eventually] would've ended up in another controller's area with a xponder code that he wouldn't recognize. What would've happened?

Nothing.  The controller should have handed you off or terminated radar coverage prior to you leaving his or her airspace.  If you have a local understanding of where the airspace boundary for each facility is then you can ask the controller if they have a handoff to the next facility prior to reaching that point.

3. If I'm VFR can I call Appr on the ground and get a xponder code before takeoff? There are some Alert Areas (Student Jet Training) and MOA's around me. I usually get FF through those anyway.

Just call ground for a squawk code for VFR advisories.  Depending on the location and surrounding airspace they may or may not issue one.  For example, at BAF the ground controller is happy to issue a squawk for VFR advisories upon request.  At other fields they prefer you just talk to approach once airborne.
« Last Edit: May 01, 2011, 09:19:12 AM by Jason » Logged
byoungblood
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« Reply #3 on: May 10, 2011, 09:43:26 PM »

As a center controller, I prefer to hear "Callsign, request" or "callsign, request flight following" or something similar.

Our receivers are a bit more spread out, and we may not be able to hear you very well, or I may be busy on another frequency, as our low altitude sectors are often combined. If you give ALL your info on the initial call up, you're probably going to end up repeating everything because I missed something.

I and another controller were working low altitude and had someone in a C150 trying to call us up with EVERYTHING when they were about 1000' agl, about 50 miles from the nearest RCAG. We heard his callsign and that was about it because he was just too low. If you're being told to say again multiple times, try climbing to a higher altitude to see if things improve.
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StuSEL
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« Reply #4 on: May 11, 2011, 05:20:48 PM »

If you're being told to say again multiple times, try climbing to a higher altitude to see if things improve.
That's a good tip. Thanks. I've had that issue a couple of times.
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haankster
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« Reply #5 on: May 17, 2011, 10:01:53 PM »

I'm with Jason on this one, except that I advise my students to use this phraseology...

Regional Departure, N12345, flight following request...

for the initial call.

I'm in Dallas and the controllers are usually busy, but they have never denied my requests.

Haankster
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n0qxw
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« Reply #6 on: June 30, 2011, 10:19:23 PM »

It depends on how busy the frequency is, but I normally teach my students to make the initial call with the callsign only, "Houston Approach, N12345, request."  

This is also the procedure recommended by someone who retired from (and recently returned on contract to) my local Class C tower, related to me on a recent visit.  His reasoning was that at times he might be fielding a clearance, re-recording ATIS, and doing one or two other things at the same time.  By making the call without the info-dump, it gives him a moment to prepare for your request.

Additionally, (as if the username wasn't enough of a clue), I'm a ham radio operator, involved a lot in emergency communications work, both as a 'controller' and as a 'field unit'.  I have found that, especially during high-load times, the above protocol works very well for non-ATC communications as well, to the point where I encourage the local amateurs to adopt the same practice.

I'd be interested in hearing from controllers who don't like the above practice, and why they don't.  If you have a better reccomendation, I'm all ears.
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f47
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« Reply #7 on: July 05, 2011, 02:22:32 PM »

This is Josh...if the frequency is busy the man needs to be retired
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dentaylor
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« Reply #8 on: September 23, 2011, 04:53:26 PM »

Follow up -
I've followed the advice in this thread and have been using "Houston Approach N12345 VFR Request" and that's working out real good. I usually get one of these responses:

"N12345 Houston Approach say request"
"N12345 Houston Approach squawk xxxx and say request"
"N12345 Houston Approach ident and say request"

Houston App and the Hobby folks handle GA real well. I've heard some really bad calls and it never seems to bother them. Thumbs up.
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jumpilotmdm
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« Reply #9 on: September 23, 2011, 08:24:43 PM »

I fly for a parachute club in the Harrisburg area. More often than not the VFR guys initial call is with too much information, requiring repetition on both sides. I have also been to seminars listening to controllers speak on the same issue. Keep it to who, where & what on the initial and let them ask the questions.

It's amazing to me the number of pilots out there with poor manners & phraseology. I hear so much "roger" when it should be affirmative or negative. I hear inattention which irritates me so much, imagine how it is for the guy running the airspace. I think most controllers, especially those guys [and one girl] in H-burg are saints!
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