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Flight Following, Not Flight Controlling

By Ken Oates, for Bits and Pieces

More and more VFR pilots are requesting flight following with local air traffic control, but what is it? One of the more important aspects to remember is, you’re still VFR and must still operate under “see and be seen” VFR rules. Flight following isn’t a clearance through any controlled or restricted airspace.

Although you’re talking to a controller, he isn’t controlling your flight. You must still remain clear of airspace that you would otherwise not enter. You must know your route and your altitudes. In unrestricted airspace you’re free to deviate your route and make any altitude changes without requesting it from ATC.

So what is the point of flight following? Primarily ATC acts as another set of eyes, and workload permitting, it passes traffic with any targets it’s able to identify. Should any emergency situation occur with your aircraft, ATC will be able to assist you with finding a local airport to land at, and assist you as best as it can.

One of the main benefits: Should an accident occur, ATC would be able to notify search and rescue immediately and provide as detailed a report of your last known location as possible.

In order to receive flight following, you must establish two-way communication and have a transponder as you will be assigned a unique code. You must remain on the assigned ATC frequency and advise ATC when leaving the frequency for any other calls you might have to make.

For example, if you were flying eastbound from Hamilton to Oshawa along the shoreline of Lake Ontario and receiving ATC flight following from the Nav Canada Area Control Centre (ACC) in Toronto, you would advise ACC you’re leaving the frequency to contact City Centre Tower to transit its control zone. Once you have passed through City Centre, you would then return to the Toronto ACC frequency you were previously on.

If you had to call a flight information centre or other mandatory frequencies, the same would occur. It’s also best to monitor standard frequencies as 126.7 Mhz on your secondary radio, as VFR aircraft around you might not be talking to the centre.

Remember, ATC flight following is a great enhancement to your flight, but you’re responsible for your route, airspace knowledge, altitudes, mandatory frequencies, and separation with other VFR aircraft.

Happy flying!

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