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How To Pick Up An IFR Clearance

Nicolas Shelton

You've done the planning and the preflighting. Now it's time to file and pick up your first instrument clearance.

Intimidated? Don't be. We've got you covered with how IFR clearances work, and even a video example.


It's easier now more than ever to file an instrument flight plan. There are many websites, apps, and ways to file, but the most common are:


In most cases, filing should be done before you start up your plane. That way, ATC has enough time to get the flight plan into their system. Also, don't forget to fill in the Alternate Airport data field if the weather requires it.

Who To Contact

Who should you call to pick up your instrument clearance? The answer is: it depends.

If your airport is a towered field, it may have a dedicated clearance frequency, but that isn't always the case. If your airport doesn't have a clearance delivery frequency, you should talk to ground countrol for your clearance.


What if you're departing a non-towered field? Try flight service. Check the Chart Supplement for your departure field to find a frequency or a phone number.

Another option if the field isn't IFR and you can maintain your own terrain/obstruction clearance is to depart VFR and pick up an IFR clearance in the air with the proper approach/center (AIM 4-4-9).

What's In Your Clearance?

The components of your clearance can be broken down into the five-letter acronym of "CRAFT" (AIM 4-4-3).

  • Clearance Limit - Where does your clearance end? You're effectively being cleared through all of the airspace along your route of flight-- often your clearance limit is your destination airport.
  • Route of flight- How are you going to get there? Listen closely for any changes to your flight plan.
  • Altitude - This usually consists of an initially assigned altitude and then an altitude you are told to expect after a certain amount of time.
  • Frequency- This is your departure frequency
  • Transponder - Your four-digit squawk code

TIP: Write out the CRAFT acronym on your scratchpad and fill in the information you expect to receive, that way when your clearance is being read to you by ATC you can check off the components that match rather than trying to copy it all down quickly!

What To Say

Now that you know who to talk to and the parts of a clearance, you need to know what to say. Most clearance requests on the ground will follow this scripting:

"Metro clearance, N216BD is ready to copy IFR clearance to KASE"

From there, clearance or ground control will come back to you with your IFR clearance, following the CRAFT acronym with your information. Your clearance may follow exactly what you filed in your EFB or with flight service, or it might have changes. Be ready for either, and copy down your clearance on your iPad or on paper as ATC reads it to you. The clearance from ATC will sound something like this: "N216BD, cleared to the Aspen airport as filed, climb and maintain 8,000', expect 16,000' 10 minutes after departure. Departure frequency 126.1. Squawk 0204."

Once ATC has given the clearance, you need to read it back to them, including each part of the clearance. Once you've done that, ATC will say "N216BD, readback correct."

Requesting a Clearance From The Air

Requesting a clearance in the air might sound like this "[approach/center] + [callsign]+ is at [location] with an IFR request"

You'll either be told to "go ahead with your request" or"standby." In some cases, you'll also get a squawk right away so the controller can make radar contact with you.

Once you're told to "go ahead with your request," let your controller know you're "[callsign] is ready to copy IFR to [clearance limit]."

They will then read your clearance to you, and you will read your clearance back with your callsign.

Nicolas Shelton

What's your trick to copying IFR clearances efficiently? Let us know in the comments below.

Nicolas Shelton

Nicolas is a flight instructor from Southern California. He is currently studying aviation at Purdue University. He's worked on projects surrounding aviation safety and marketing. You can reach him at

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