General Suggestions

Pilot Training

There is a great deal of resources out there to learn from and sometimes it can be hard to know where to even start. We have a Pilot Training page that will help you get started and walk you through the vital aspects of a great knowledge foundation. CLICK HERE

Know your Aircraft

Prior to flying your new aircraft online, it is suggested that you fly offline, learn the different systems of your aircraft and "Get-A-Feel" for it. It is usually very difficult to try to learn your aircraft with the added stress of air traffic control mixed in with it. It is also very stressful for ATC to issue instructions to pilots that they are slow to respond with because they have yet to perform that procedure in their aircraft yet.

With that being said- if it happens in real time and you just cannot comply with the instructions, advise the controller “unable, (short reason)” and move on.

Ready for Taxi

When calling GND for taxi, ensure you are squawking your correct code (if assigned), squawk mode C (altitude reporting) and advise that you are actually ready for taxi. Too often pilots call for their taxi instructions and are not actually ready to go at that moment and they start taxiing 5min or so later. This causes many issues for ATC. When reporting ready for taxi, you need to let ATC know:

  • Your position on the airport (accurate position) "N123AB is south east side near the fire station"
  • Confirmation of the weather/ATIS "Information Hotel" (or if no ATIS is broadcasting- "We have the numbers" will suffice)

Taxi to the Ramp

When exiting the runway at a complicated (multiple parking locations) airport, tell the TWR or GND controller where you want to park so that they can give you accurate taxi instructions rather than wasted transmissions back and forth, where the ATC has to ask you anyways.. Perfect Radio Call to TWR or GND from Pilot: "Swiss 832 is off of 16L at H7. Parking at Terminal two."

Common Mistakes by Pilots

Reporting Your Location & Altitude (when?)

Often pilots do not report their location and altitude when they are suppose to. When they do report it, it is often done incorrectly/incomplete.This is understandable, as it can be hard to know what information the controller needs and when. Also, get rid of those habits of "Checking in" and "With you" statements. Reference the "USELESS WORDS" section on this page.

  • General Notes
    • Report your current altitude, rounded to nearest 100 feet, in MSL.
    • Report if you are descending, level or climbing - or “Climbing via (SID)” (covered later).
    • If climbing or descending, state your next assigned/desired altitude.
    • Report position to ATC if not under radar services (“radar contact”). Once under radar services, ATC knows your position and therefore no need to report your location, but your altitude is still important on initial contact for every frequency change.
    • When assigned a heading or speed restriction by a previous controller, state that restriction to the following controllers until they clear that restriction or it is no longer valid- “Salt Lake City Approach, DAL1234 is FL230 descending via LEEHY arrivals. 280kts assigned.”

  • Examples:
    • VFR arriving to Class D (inherently without radar services):
      • ”Jackson Hole TWR, N123AB is 10miles north inbound full stop with information Bravo”

    • VFR arriving to Class C calling approach without radar services:
      • ”BigSky Approch, N123AB is 15miles north of Boise airport. VFR descent through 6,400. Inbound full stop with information Bravo”

    • VFR arriving to Class C calling tower without radar services:
      • ”Boise Tower, N123AB is 10 miles north west. VFR descent through 4,100. Inbound full stop with information Bravo. We are staying clear of the outer charlie shelves.” Note-Call Class B airports the same as Class C.

    • IFR Departure contacting Departure Control with an assigned altitude of 10,000 feet:
      • ”Salt Lake City Departure, DAL123 5,300 climbing 10,000.

    • IFR Departure contacting Departure Control with an assigned altitude of Climb Via SID Except Maintain 10,000 feet:
      • ”Salt Lake City Departure, DAL123 5,300 climbing via (SID Name) except 10,000.

    • IFR Departure contacting Departure Control with an assigned altitude Climb Via SID:
      • ”Salt Lake City Departure, DAL123 5,300 climbing via (SID Name).

    • IFR General Descent:
      • ”Salt Lake City Approach, DAL123 14,700 descending 10,000.

    • IFR Descending Via Arrival:
      • ”Salt Lake City Approach, DAL123 16,800 descending via the LEEHY arrival.

    • IFR Descending Via Arrival with an Except Maintain instruction of 11,000:
      • ”Salt Lake City Approach, DAL123 16,800 descending via the LEEHY arrival Except 11,000.

    • IFR/VFR Level Cruise and Contacting the next radar controller while under radar services:
      • "Salt Lake City Center, DAL123. Level at Flight Level 350.
      • "Billings Approach, N123AB level at 10,500."

Accepting Instructions/Clearances You Don't Understand

This is probably the biggest factor for pilot deviation reports. I will keep this part very short and to the point:

IF YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND ANYTHING, calmly just let the controller know that you are not understanding that part.

The ATC may be busy and you may think that they don't want to sit there and explain it to you. That might even be the case but they would rather give you alternate (simple) instructions rather than you accepting instructions/clearances and not performing the action as they expected and causing a much bigger issue for them.

Flying Instrument Procedures Without The Charts

This happens too often on online networks because pilots usually do not have any formal training on these networks.

The pilot likely is flying an aircraft that has an advanced FMC where it automatically loads the lateral (and sometimes vertical) requirements for that SID/STAR. The issue is that it does not contain other very important information such as the departure frequency, expected cruise altitude information, lost communication procedures, etc...

It is understandable but at times, it creates a great deal of headache for the controllers and is a for-sure miscommunication between the controller and pilot.

If a controller tells you that you are cleared for the LEETZ(#) departure, that controller is going to expect you to have that corresponding chart on hand and follow ALL instructions depicted and written on that chart.

Where to find these charts? You can easily find these charts for free from the FAA website, SkyVector or Airnav. Airnav seems to be bit easier to search for and is a common resource even for real world pilots. Go to the Airnav website, click on Airport, search the airport you need charts for and read that page. There is a great deal of information to be found there and it includes the charts in question.

Additional tip- if a chart has two or more pages, be sure to review ALL information on ALL pages. The graphical depiction is not the only thing that is required to have been reviewed when cleared for that procedure.

When Can Pilots Switch Freq on their Own?

  1. After pilot readback of initial clearance to Clearance Delivery (DEL to GND)
  2. Upon reaching the assigned departure runway (GND to TWR frequency)
  3. A VFR departure leaving a Class D airspace (TWR to whatever/CTAF/UNICOM/another TWR/ATC)

It is a very common mistake for pilots on the VATSIM network to stay with GND once they have reached the assigned departure runway. Unless told otherwise, the moment the pilot stops to hold short of their departure runway, they are EXPECTED to be switched to TWR control immediately. This is to be done without any instruction from GND control to do so.

Common Misunderstandings

Initial Climb Instructions

Pilots cleared for vertical navigation using the phraseology “climb via” must inform ATC, upon initial contact, of the altitude leaving and any assigned restrictions not published on the procedure. Example: “Departure, DAL123 3,200 Climbing Via (SID Name/#)” or “Departure, DAL123 4,400 Climbing Via (SID Name/#) to 6,000”.

In the latter example, the previous instruction to the pilot was “Climb Via SID except maintain 6,000”.

After being told in the clearance delivery portion of your flight to “Maintain (altitude), expect (cruise altitude) (#)min after departure”, you should understand that the term “Expect” means generally two things in aviation.

  • What you can literally expect to happen.
  • What is expected of the pilot to do in case of lost communications.

So in the following example of a clearance initial altitude: “Maintain 5,000. Expect FL320 5 minutes after departure”... the pilot would be expected to climb to 5,000ft after departure. They can expect a higher altitude clearance within 5min but in case of lost communications, they are expected to stay at 5,000ft (or lowest minimum IFR altitude) until the 5min airborne mark is met, then they are expected to start their climb to FL320.

When given climb instructions, read back those instructions verbatim so that there are no misunderstandings between the pilot and controllers as to what is expected for the pilot to do.

Climb Via SID

This is an all too common misunderstanding, even for real world pilots.

If a controller instructs a pilot to Climb Via SID, it is expected for the pilot to meet all altitude restrictions depicted and stated in the narrative section of the SID. This includes leveling off at the “Top Altitude” (the final altitude limit) after all other restrictions have been met.

Sometimes the “Top Altitude” is very clearly depicted on the graphical portion of the SID but sometimes it can be found only in the narrative with a general statement such as “Maintain 14,000”.

Note- Hybrid SIDs that require vectoring to a point by ATC will not include any "Climb Via SID" instructions until the pilot is cleared direct to a point on that SID.

Example departure from KBUR with the VNY# departure with the AVE transition:

  • FROM DEL: "N123AB, cleared to [[other clearance stuff]] Maintain 3,000. Expect FL230 5min after departure [[etc...]]
  • FROM DEP: "N123AB, Radar contact. Fly heading 270. When able, cleared direct VNY VOR. Climb via SID except maintain 12,000."

Climb Via SID Except Maintain (altitude)

This is just like “Climb Via SID” as stated above but once you reach the “Expect maintain” issued altitude, level off and stay there until instructed otherwise or in case of lost comms (then proceed with lost communication procedures).

You are still expected to fly the lateral navigation portion of the SID and meet any speed restrictions but all altitude restrictions are canceled once you reach the “Expect Maintain” altitude.

When the SID does not contain a Top Altitude, but DOES contain minimum crossing restrictions, ATC will issue a "Climb Via SID Except Maintain (altitude of ATC choice)" instructions.

Visual Approach = Manual Flight?

No, a visual approach does NOT mean you HAVE to fly the aircraft by manual means. You as a pilot can still fly the “ILS” on “Autopilot” but you MUST have, and maintain, the field in visual contact (in sight). Do no use GPS location as “in sight”.

In fact, it is common that real world airliner standard operating procedures REQUIRE that the pilot back up their visual approach by flying at least the final approach segment of a published instrument approach to that runway. This is, however, NOT required by regulations.

There are a few other conditions:

''AIM 5?4?23. Visual Approach A visual approach is conducted on an IFR flight plan and authorizes a pilot to proceed visually and clear of clouds to the airport. The pilot must have either the airport or the preceding identified aircraft in sight. This approach must be authorized and controlled by the appropriate air traffic control facility. Reported weather at the airport must have a ceiling at or above 1,000 feet and visibility 3 miles or greater. ATC may authorize this type approach when it will be operationally beneficial. Visual approaches are an IFR procedure conducted under IFR in visual meteorological conditions. Cloud clearance requirements of 14 CFR Section 91.155 are not applicable, unless required by operation specifications''

Simply put: Visual approaches reduce the controller work load and increases the amount of aircraft that the terminal area can hold, thus reducing holds outside of approach airspace.

This means there are less restrictions on you as a pilot... You can now fly HOWEVER you want in order to land that aircraft. If you want to take a sharp turn to the right, then do it. If there is a cloud in the way and you want to maneuver around it... do it (within reason). All around, accept the visual approach when it is offered unless you have a specific need for an instrument approach clearance.

Equipment Suffix Codes

For many reasons, ATC needs to know what your RVSM, Navigation and Transponder capabilities are. Thankfully we have a system that tells ATC all of that information with a simple code. That code is a suffix code. It is designated as a "Suffix Code" because that code is placed after your aircraft type code in the flight plan.

Example: B738/L = A Boeing 737-800 aircraft that is RVSM, GNSS capable and it has a Mode C transponder. The equipment suffix code is /L.

Click on the following hyper links for more information about that topic:


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