Flight Following Rules

Last week’s post about VFR flight followings raised a few questions. This week, lets take a look at the rules surrounding participation in a flight following.

The rules of flight followings are actually quite simple to obey. So long as you keep your head out the window and keep ATC advised of what you are doing you will be set.

Once you have requested a VFR flight following, it is important to keep in mind that you are still VFR traffic. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are subject to the same rights and privileges of IFR traffic. You are not. VFR cruising altitudes, cloud clearance and visibility requirements still apply. Furthermore, controllers will provide traffic advisories on a workload permitting basis only. This means that you are still expected to see and avoid other traffic. Keep those eyes out the window!

According to the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM), “pilots should monitor the assigned frequency at all times“. Once you have requested a flight following, it is important to remain on your assigned frequency. It is perfectly acceptable to leave frequency to monitor ATIS or contact a flight service station (FSS), so long as air traffic control is advised ahead of time.

On initial contact, air traffic control will typically assign a transponder code to participating aircraft. You are expected to maintain the assigned squawk code for the duration the flight following. Air traffic control will normally advise pilots to “squawk VFR” after a flight following has been cancelled.

The AIM goes on to state that “pilots should also inform the controller when changing VFR cruising altitudes“. This does not mean that you will need a clearance to change altitudes, you simply need to advise the controller of your intentions. After all, this is a VFR flight following, not an IFR flight plan.

Although the FAR/AIM makes no mention of this, it is courteous to advise controllers of any unplanned changes in heading. Suppose you need to divert 20 degrees left for weather; it would be wise to let the controller know that “Cherokee 54321 is deviating 20 left for weather”.

The rules of VFR flight followings can be summed up in one simple sentence: keep ATC in the loop. Keep your assigned transponder code set so that the controllers can see you. Monitor the appropriate frequency to maintain communication with ATC. Always advise controllers of any changes in your flight path, and please keep your eyes open for traffic.

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About the author
Pat Flannigan is a professional pilot and aviation blogger. He has been flying for fifteen years and is currently working as an airline pilot in the United States.

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