One of the most underutilized air traffic control services is the VFR flight following. Many pilots feel intimidated by air traffic control, while others simply don’t want the perceived hassle of a flight following. There are yet others who simply don’t understand what a powerful tool the flight following can be. Read on to see what you’ve been missing.
- Free TCAS
Air traffic control provides traffic alerts to participating VFR aircraft on a workload permitting basis. By requesting a flight following, you are asking an all seeing eye in the sky to call nearby traffic to your attention. This service is absolutely free, which sure beats the $10,000 to $24,000 cost of an onboard TCAS system!
- Free Weather Radar
Air traffic control will notify all traffic to any hazardous weather through Center Weather Advisories (CWA). It is also fair game to ask the controller if he is seeing any weather up ahead. Results will vary from one controller to the next, but any input is valuable to your aeronautical decision making process.
- Altimeter Updates
Remember the old addage, “from high to low, look out below”? For traffic seperation and terrain clearance, it is crucial to keep your altimeter set to the local setting throughout your flight. On a long cross country, that may include a full 1″ of adjustment which equates to a whopping 1,000 feet of altitude! As you check in to each new frequency, the center controller will give you the local altimter setting. No more monitoring random AWOS frequencies!
- Somebody Knows Where You Are
As much as we hate to admit it, accidents do happen. If you have to put your airplane down in a bean field, the center controllers will have a pretty good idea of where you landed. In a life or death situation, that knowledge could save a lot of time.
- You’re on the Right Frequency
If you need to declare an emergency and you are already on a flight following, there is no need to fumble with the radio in search of 121.50. You are already in contact with a controller, and can declare the emergency immediately. Now you have more time to focus on flying the airplane.
- Polish Those Radio Skills
By flying around on a VFR flight following, you are constantly in communication with an air traffic controller. That means checking in and switching frequencies. As an extra bonus, you get to listen to all the IFR traffic receiving vectors, climb, and descent clearances. In no time, you’ll be sounding like pro!
- Common Courtesy
If you are going to be poking around near a major airport, it is common courtesy to get a flight following. This way, you have a squawk code which identifies you to the approach controllers and keeps you out of the way local airline traffic.
- Controlled Airspace Made Easy
Two-way radio communication is required to enter class C and D airspace. On a VFR flight following, you are already in communication and can traverse the airspace with ease. Keep in mind that you will still need a clearance to enter class B airspace.
- Lost? No Problem
We are all trained to climb, confess, and compy in the event that we misplace our aircraft in flight. Herein lies the problem, if you truly are lost, just who do you confess to? Which frequency will actually get you in touch with a controller? On a flight following, you are on frequency with a controller, who can give you a quick vector to get you back on course.
So how do you request a VFR flight following? Its simple, just call the nearest center, approach, or departure control frequency. State your N-number, position, altitude, intentions, and let them know that you are requesting a VFR flight following. For example:
“Atlanta center, Warrior 32421 one-zero miles south of Chattanooga at four-thousand. Direct Hunstville. Request VFR flight following.”
You can find the right frequency in the airport facility directory entry for a nearby airport under the Communications section. Center frequencies are also listed in the margin on sectional charts.