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How To Use VFR Flight Following

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You're flying into Rocky Mountain Metro (KBJC) with VFR flight following from Denver Approach. And, you're getting pretty close to Metro's Class D airspace. But, you're still talking to approach. So can you enter Metro's Class D? You are talking to ATC...

Some of you are shaking your head no right now. And you're right.

You are talking to ATC, but not the right ATC. To enter Class Delta airspace, you need to communicate with the air traffic control facility in control of that airspace. In this case, it's Metro Tower. So that's who you need to call.

What Flight Following Is, And What It Isn't

Radar air traffic control facilities, like TRACON or Center, can provide VFR aircraft with Radar Traffic Information Service. That's flight following's official name.

You have to request it, and the controller provides it if they have time.

How To Request VFR Flight Following

The call to ATC is simple. You let them know who you are, where you are, and what you want: flight following.

ATC takes your aircraft information, gives you a squawk code, and builds out a data block in their system so they can monitor you on radar.

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What ATC Does

When you've picked up flight following, ATC helps you out with traffic, weather, and airspace avoidance.

ATC can help find routes that will keep you clear of heavy traffic. They can also warn you of traffic that's approaching your flight path. Navigation is still up to you, and you don't have to accept ATC's advice as long as you stay in Class E or G airspace. But following their advice can be a big asset.

Many ATC facilities can overlay weather radar on their screens, so they can help you avoid thunderstorms and precipitation. When we're flying the Cirrus, even with Sirius XM Weather on board, we're glad to have all the help we can get.

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And ATC can help you avoid airspace. Again, it's your responsibility to navigate, and ATC may not see you entering airspace in enough time to warn you. The best way to work with ATC in airspace is to be proactive. You can always ask them questions about where airspace is, and how to stay clear of it.

What about vectors? Sometimes, ATC will give you a vector to help get you to your destination. But remember, even if you're given a vector, unless you're specifically cleared into airspace (like Class B), you can't just fly into it. In some cases, Center and TRACON facilities have Letters of Agreement with tower facilities to allow traffic through, but if you're unsure whether or not you can enter, you need to ask.

Talk to ATC if you're getting too close to airspace, and if the radios are busy and you can't get a word in, turn to avoid the airspace.

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When it comes to VFR Flight Following, all of this help is just that...help. It's still your responsibility to navigate. And if you're flying to a Class D airport, it's your responsibility to make sure you contact tower before entering their airspace.

When Should You Make The Switch To Tower?

When we're within 10 miles of a Class D airport, we terminate flight following so that we have time to coordinate with tower.

But, if the frequency's congested, that 10 miles can disappear quickly. So then what?

First, don't enter tower's airspace. Turn to avoid it. Give tower at least a mile buffer.

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Second, don't drop off the radar controller's frequency. Wait for a break, and then terminate traffic advisories.

Then, contact the tower so that you can enter their airspace. Tower needs to call you back using your callsign before you enter their Class D airspace.

Flight Following: Your Second Set Of Eyes

When you're flying VFR, flight following always a great asset. But it's not a clearance into airspace.

Give yourself time to switch over to tower on arrival, and if you can't make the switch, stay out of tower's airspace.


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