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What Happens If You Lose Your Radios On An IFR Flight?

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Losing your radios on an IFR flight can result in complex decision making. It can also be considered an emergency situation, depending on the circumstances.

According to AIM 6-4-1, "It is virtually impossible to provide regulations and procedures applicable to all possible situations associated with two-way radio communications failure. During two-way radio communications failure, when confronted by a situation not covered in the regulation, pilots are expected to exercise good judgment in whatever action they elect to take. Should the situation so dictate they should not be reluctant to use the emergency action contained in 14 CFR Section 91.3(b)."

In this article, we're going to lay out what the FARs say to do when you're VMC and when you're IMC.

After that, we have a scenario for you. Read the scenario, and tell us how you would fly it.

Email your plan to us at scenarios@boldmethod.com or leave a comment below.

If You're In Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC)

If you're in VMC and lose your radios, the FARs lay out a pretty simple plan. FAR 91.185 (b) says:

"VFR conditions. If the failure occurs in VFR conditions, or if VFR conditions are encountered after the failure, each pilot shall continue the flight under VFR and land as soon as practicable."

If you're below 18,000, feet you'll start by squawking 7600, then descend or climbing to an altitude that is acceptable for VFR cruising. You'll be expected to land as soon as practical while maintaining visual flight rules.

If you're above 18,000 feet (Class A airspace) it gets a bit more complicated. It's the same procedure, but you'll have to navigate out of Class A airspace. Start by squawking 7600, and descend to an appropriate VFR altitude. Try your best to keep a constant rate of descent and act predictably. If your transponder is operative and you are squawking 7600 then air traffic control already knows that you have a radio failure, but it's best not to perform any rapid turns, descents or climbs. Again, you'll be expected to land as soon as practical while maintaining visual flight rules.

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If You're In Instrument Metrological Conditions (IMC)

When you're looking for guidance on how to handle a radio failure in IMC, you want to look at FAR 91.185 (c). Remember the same suggestions from above apply here: be predictable.

IFR conditions. If the failure occurs in IFR conditions, or if paragraph (b) of this section cannot be complied with, each pilot shall continue the flight according to the following:

1) Route

(i) By the route assigned in the last ATC clearance received;

(ii) If being radar vectored, by the direct route from the point of radio failure to the fix, route, or airway specified in the vector clearance;

(iii) In the absence of an assigned route, by the route that ATC has advised may be expected in a further clearance; or

(iv) In the absence of an assigned route or a route that ATC has advised may be expected in a further clearance, by the route filed in the flight plan.

2) Altitude. At the highest of the following altitudes or flight levels for the route segment being flown:

(i) The altitude or flight level assigned in the last ATC clearance received;

(ii) The minimum altitude (converted, if appropriate, to minimum flight level as prescribed in FAR 91.121(c)) for IFR operations; or

(iii) The altitude or flight level ATC has advised may be expected in a further clearance.

3) Leave clearance limit.

(i) When the clearance limit is a fix from which an approach begins, commence descent or descent and approach as close as possible to the expect-further-clearance time if one has been received, or if one has not been received, as close as possible to the estimated time of arrival as calculated from the filed or amended (with ATC) estimated time en route.

(ii) If the clearance limit is not a fix from which an approach begins, leave the clearance limit at the expect-further-clearance time if one has been received, or if none has been received, upon arrival over the clearance limit, and proceed to a fix from which an approach begins and commence descent or descent and approach as close as possible to the estimated time of arrival as calculated from the filed or amended (with ATC) estimated time en route.

Scenario: Cross-Country Flight At FL200

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Now that you're familiar with the regulations, what would you do if you lost your radios in this scenario?

The Flight: Rocky Mountain Metro (KBJC) to Eagle County (KEGE)

Your clearance for the flight is: "Cleared to Eagle County (KEGE) via the Denver 2 Departure, V8, RLG, direct KEGE. Climb and maintain 8,000, expect FL200 10 minutes after departure. Departure frequency 126.1. Squawk 0307."

You obtained a weather briefing before you left Rocky Mountain Metro Airport (approx. 30 minutes ago), the weather conditions were:

KBJC 231955Z 02012G20KT 10SM SCT035 BKN050 05/M02 A2984
KEGE 231956Z 26005KT 6SM BKN029 SCT057 03/M04 A2978
KRIL (Alternate field) 231953Z 01007KT 9SM BKN028 BKN055 01/M04 A2972

Airmet Sierra for Mountain Obscuration and Airmet Tango for Moderate Turbulence are both active, from the surface to 14,000 MSL

You're traveling in a Cirrus SR22T from Rocky Mountain Metro Airport (BJC) to Eagle County airport (EGE) at FL200, your final cleared altitude. You're on the V8 airway over the PENEY fix, in IMC.

As you are cruising along you start to hear a humming noise and then a loud pop, the sound is gone, but you can't hear anyone on the radios.

You start by troubleshooting your radios, broadcasting in the blind, squawking 7600, and even check your cell phone for any cell signal but can't get any. Your avionics appear to be operating as usual - except for your radios.

As you approach the Kremling (VOR) you're left with pending decisions to make. Do you continue on to your destination? Divert to your alternate of Rifle? Hold at the VOR? Return to KBJC? We've included charts below to help you with your planning and decision making process.

Charts For The Route

- Denver 2 Departure

- KEGE LDA Rwy 25

- KRIL ILS Rwy 26

- KBJC ILS Rwy 30R

Cleared Route

Tell Us Your Plan For Handling Lost Comm Procedures

What's your decision-making process for this scenario? Do you need more information to make your decision? Email your plan to us at scenarios@boldmethod.com or leave a comment below.

Nicolas Shelton

Nicolas is a private pilot from Southern California. He is currently studying at Purdue University, where he is working on advanced pilot ratings. You can reach him at nicolas@boldmethod.com.

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