I assume that while en route, one aircraft could simply pick up flight following and the others do not need to talk to ATC, but what about upon reaching an airport? Do they simply announce "flight of xxx 10 mi east with W for full stop" and get successive landing clearances, or do they all break apart before getting close to the airport? Thanks!


As long as the aircraft are in formation, they are controlled as a single aircraft.

From US DoT OrderJO 7110.65T ATC General Control:


a. Control formation flights as a single aircraft. When individual control is requested, issue advisory information which will assist the pilots in attaining separation. When pilot reports indicate separation has been established, issue control instructions as required.

The decision to break the flight lies with the pilot in command, and the ATC then controls the aircraft individually.

  1. Separation responsibility between aircraft within the formation during transition to individual control rests with the pilots concerned until standard separation has been attained.

  2. Upon break-up of the formation flight, the controller initiating the break-up shall ensure that all aircraft or flights are assigned their proper equipment suffix.

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    $\begingroup$ Also note the entry in the Pilot/Controller Glossary, which says Formation Flights "operate as a single aircraft with regard to navigation and position reporting". $\endgroup$ – digitgopher Jan 21 '16 at 1:15
  • $\begingroup$ Would they address the leader by tail #/call sign, or would they address the flight somehow with a flight identifier? $\endgroup$ – Ryan Mortensen Sep 18 '19 at 18:28

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