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How To Get an IFR Clearance at a Non-Towered Airport

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Picking up an IFR clearance at a towered airport is pretty easy. You call up clearance delivery or ground control, ask for your clearance, and you're ready to go.

Non-towered airports are a little different. So how do you pick up your clearance on the ground? There are three different ways, and our latest video explains each of them...

Picking Up Your Clearance On The Ground

When you're on the ground at a non-towered airport, you have three primary options to get your clearance: call flight service, call Center or Approach Control directly, or use a clearance delivery phone number.

Here's how each option works.

Option 1: Call Flight Service

Your first option is to call a flight service briefer over the radio. When you call up flight service, they'll relay your request to the center or approach controller in charge of the airspace where you're located.

When the controller is ready to give you your IFR clearance, they'll tell the flight service briefer, and the briefer will relay the clearance back to you.

This option works at most airport, because you can typically reach flight service on the ground at nearly any airport in the US.

But there are drawbacks too. Since your clearance is relayed between three people, there's always a chance for error. Even though briefers are amazing at what they do, relaying a clearance can be time consuming, and it opens up chances for mistakes.

Option 2: Call Center/Approach Control Directly

Your second option is to call the Center or Approach controller in charge of your airspace directly from the ground.

You don't really know if you'll be able to reach center/approach from the ground until you try. To reach them, radio your request on the frequency listed on the approach charts for your departure airport:

There are drawbacks to contacting Center/Approach directly as well. You're using the same frequency that the controller uses to talk to other aircraft in their sector. Since IFR clearances can be lengthy, you're clogging up the frequency as the controller is giving you your clearance.

Option 3: Use A Clearance Delivery Phone Number

The third option for picking up an IFR clearance on the ground is through a clearance delivery phone number.

The FAA has recently starting assigning these phone numbers to select airports across the US. And while they aren't widespread yet, they are handy.

When you call the phone number (which you can find listed in the Chart Supplement), you'll speak directly to the controller in charge of your airspace, or an assisting controller. Since the communication is over the phone, it's more clear and easy to understand than your radio. And since you're not using the radio frequency to request your clearance, you're not clogging up the radios with communication.

Getting The Clearance: CRAFT

Once you're talking to the right person, getting your clearance can be a little confusing, because there's so much information.

Luckily, IFR clearances always follow the same format, and the acronym we use for it is CRAFT.

  • C: Clearance Limit
  • R: Route
  • A: Altitude
  • F: Frequency
  • T: Transponder Code

Your clearance limit is typically your destination airport. But if traffic is backed up from weather or delays, you might be cleared to an intermediate fix, and then to your destination airport once you're airborne.

The route is often times the route you filed in your flight plan. When that happens, ATC will tell you you're cleared "as filed." If there are changes to your route, they'll give you your new route over the radio.

The altitude is the initial altitude you should climb to after takeoff. You'll often times be given a second altitude to expect later in your flight as well. For instance "maintain 8,000', expect 17,000' 10 minutes after departure."

Frequency is the frequency you'll use once you're airborne. In most cases at non-towered fields, this will be a Center or Approach controller you'll contact once airborne.

Finally, transponder code. This one is pretty simple: ATC will give you a 4-digit code to squawk, like "2727".

Getting Your IFR Clearance On The Ground

You have several options for getting an IFR clearance on the ground. Once you know who to talk to, and what to expect in your clearance, picking up an IFR clearance at a non-towered airport is every bit as easy as a towered airport.

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