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Let's say that during a VFR flight the pilot requests flight following from ATC, giving information about the aircraft type, type of equipment, destination and cruise altitude. ATC responds by giving a squawk and saying "maintain VFR".

In that scenario:

  1. Does the pilot have to request an altitude change from ATC during flight following, even though the flight is under VFR?
  2. Or, does he need to just advise ATC and start descending/climbing to another VFR altitude?
  3. Or, is it not necessary to say anything to ATC about VFR altitude changes during flight following?

Finally, where can I find information about the regulations for flight following? I could not find anything in the FAR/AIM.

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  • $\begingroup$ Depends on whether you are in controlled airspace $\endgroup$ Aug 13 '16 at 19:11
  • $\begingroup$ To add to the answers, requesting an altitude change is not necessary; advising an altitude change is also not necessary, but usually appreciated (at least by me). $\endgroup$
    – randomhead
    Jun 30 at 15:09
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No, you wouldn't need to advise of changes if all that they instruct is "maintain VFR."

91.123(b): "... no person may operate an aircraft contrary to an ATC instruction in an area in which air traffic control is exercised."

It would depend on the instruction received. Let's say, after departing from class 'C' airspace, they told the pilot, "maintain VFR and resume own navigation," they are giving him freedom to choose his own headings and altitudes.

On the other hand, if the controller said, "maintain 5,500 and turn heading 030," then the pilot would need to cancel flight following or make a request to change instructions.

Bottom line: don't not do something they do tell you to do.

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A VFR pilot typically advises ATC of altitude changes when outside B, C, and D airspace. Unless within B, C, or D, ATC only issues advisories and cannot "clear" or otherwises direct VFR traffic. One can argue they assume responsibility for your seperation the moment a direction is given. Very few controllers will accept that liability.

When in class B, C, and D a controller may assign heading and altitude changes or restrictions, but outside of these evironments a VFR pilot is pretty much left to his own devices within the confines of the regs.

Good article here.

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  • $\begingroup$ They'll give directions in class E airspace above/below/around class B/C/D airspace any time that it makes managing IFR traffic in/out of those areas easier. In particular, they'll often restrict altitude (often block, e.g. at or below X, rather than exact) but leave lateral nav to you. They'll also usually "suggest" beginning descent to your destination, and the handoff to tower or CTAF usually comes shortly after. $\endgroup$
    – StephenS
    Dec 7 '18 at 16:06
  • $\begingroup$ Article link no longer works $\endgroup$
    – CJBS
    Feb 17 '20 at 4:06
  • $\begingroup$ Outside of Class B airspace ATC has no responsibility for ensuring your separation from other VFR targets, and outside of Class C airspace has no responsibility for ensuring your separation from IFR targets. All that are required are traffic advisories and safety alerts. Of course allowing you to run straight into another plane is quite frowned upon. $\endgroup$
    – randomhead
    Mar 1 at 23:10

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