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Let's say you just took off from the TACOMA airport and were flying ATOME TWO DEP. ARRIE transition. The Seattle tower instructs you "direct to ZUMBI" and to contact Departure, and you contact Departure and report "Departure, N1234, passing 2000, direct ZUMBI." If departure just replies "N1234, Departure, Radar contact," are you cleared to the next altitude of KIMSH (at or above 10000ft) or should you maintain 9000 until Departure gives you higher?

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  • $\begingroup$ What was your original clearance from Clearance Delivery or PDC? Climb Via? Climb and maintain XXX? Climb via except maintain XXX? Specify that, please. $\endgroup$ – Ralph J Mar 8 '18 at 4:08
  • $\begingroup$ @Ralph J The clearance was Climb Via $\endgroup$ – lemonincider Mar 8 '18 at 4:52
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As an example, say you receive an IFR clearance from clearance delivery prior to departure such as: "N1234 cleared to Los Angeles Airport, ATOME TWO DEPARTURE, ARRIE Transition, Q-One Forty-five, climb via SID, Squawk 2252, etc." Then, after passing 2000 ft. if the tower controller instructs you to "proceed direct ZUMBI" then he/she (controller) should issue you an altitude assignment because you are being taken off of the lateral path of the SID. In the alternative the controller could assign an altitude by using the phraseology (or similar) "N1234 proceed direct to ZUMBI, climb via the ATOME TWO departure." The "climb via" verbiage in this sequence is the equivalent of assigning an altitude.

After switching frequencies to the radar controller he/she should instruct you (for example) "after ZUMBI climb via SID" (assuming that ATC wants you to meet the KIMSH restriction and climb to the published Top Altitude of 15000 ft).

Here is some information from the ATC Controller's Handbook 7110.65W, para. 2-6-4, g. 2 and the associated Note: (Air Traffic Controller's handbook, 7110.65W)

(Although the reference paragraph and note, as it is published in the controller's handbook, is an example when a deviation around weather is necessary, the principle underlying my explanation is the same (there is just not an example similar to the circumstances you describe in your question).

  1. When approving a weather deviation for an aircraft that had previously been issued a crossing altitude, including Climb Via or Descend Via clearances, issue an altitude to maintain along with the clearance to deviate. If you intend on clearing the aircraft to resume the procedure, advise the pilot.

NOTE−

After a Climb Via or Descend Via clearance has been issued, a vector/deviation off of a SID/STAR cancels the altitude restrictions on the procedure. The aircraft’s Flight Management System (FMS) may be unable to process crossing altitude restrictions once the aircraft leaves the SID/STAR lateral path. Without an assigned altitude, the aircraft’s FMS may revert to leveling off at the altitude set by the pilot, which may be the SID/STAR’s published top or bottom altitude.

Also, from the FAA's Pilot/Controllers Procedures & Systems Integration Workgroup FAQs regarding "Climb Via" procedures, here is an applicable Question and Answer (FAQs Climb Via):

  1. Q. I’m on a climb via clearance and the controller vectors me off the procedure. Do I continue to “Climb Via?”

    A. NO. You are laterally and vertically off of the procedure. The controller will issue an altitude to maintain and provide a further “expect” clearance.
    Note: Request an altitude to maintain if the controller does not provide one

The main point is that a clearance to fly a SID that contains a Top Altitude and verbiage that includes "Climb Via" assumes that you will fly the lateral route as published, thereby committing you to meet the altitude restrictions. If you are taken off of the published lateral routing ("cleared direct" to a fix somewhere down-range on the SID) the controller needs to issue you an altitude assignment since you (while proceeding direct to ZUMBI) are no longer on the published SID lateral route. In the alternative the controller could assign an altitude by using the phraseology (or similar) "N1234 proceed direct to ZUMBI, climb via the ATOME TWO departure." The "climb via" verbiage in this sequence is the equivalent of assigning an altitude.

From the NBAA Access Committee briefing regarding "Climb Via" procedures: (NBAA Climb Via Briefing) showing ATC Phraseology when being cleared direct to a fix on the SID.

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Pictorial display from the NBAA briefing (see link above) of pilot/controller responsibilities and phraseology when being cleared direct to a (down-range) fix on the SID after departure:

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If the controller did not issue me an altitude instruction ("maintain," "climb via," etc.) upon taking me off of the SID I would have asked for one.

Here is a link to the ATC Controller's Handbook (7110.65W) so you can review the reference noted above. Also, here is a link to a FAQ's publication regarding Climb Via Climb Via FAQs

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  • $\begingroup$ This answer is incorrect as applied to the OP. If vectored OFF the procedure then yes you need a new altitude clearance. But in the OP’s case, you still have waypoints on the procedure ahead of you that you are cleared to. The climb via clearance still gives you what you need. It’s only when you have no SID/STAR points ahead of you on your clearance (as in, a vector) that your cleared altitude is now in limbo & needs to be explicitly assigned by the controller. Reread your examples - they are both vectors, not shortcuts. $\endgroup$ – Ralph J Mar 8 '18 at 12:25
  • $\begingroup$ @Ralph J - I have added more to my answer that may clarify my point. Specifically, if the controller takes you off of the published SID routing by clearing you direct to a down-range waypoint/fix, the controller can issue an altitude clearance by saying (for example) "...cleared direct ZUMBI, climb via the ATOME TWO departure." The verbiage "climb via" in this case is an altitude assignment. But, instructions for the aircraft to go off of the SID (even to a SID fix down-range) needs to include altitude instructions. $\endgroup$ – 757toga Mar 8 '18 at 15:29
  • $\begingroup$ I don't have much experience flying IR in the States, but at least in my country S Korea, the controllers normally give "direct" to the pilots flying SID or STAR without any instructions on altitude, and the pilots, at least as far as I know, take it to mean "continue fly SID or STAR after the fix directed to." So yes, Ralph J's answer corresponds to my IR experience, but the instruction confuses me whenever I get it, because I myself believe the altitude instruction needs to be included. $\endgroup$ – lemonincider Mar 8 '18 at 15:49
  • $\begingroup$ @lemonincider-There is a difference between ICAO and U.S. "Climb/Descend Via" procedures. See this reference: internationalflightresources.com/…. I guess some nuances in the verbiage used in the AIM and U.S. ATC handbook, and other references requires further explanation because there are frequently similar questions on various aviation forum platforms. For me, if I am given instructions to depart the SID, even cleared to a down-range fix (on the SID), I want to be clear on what altitude(s) I'm expected to adhere to. Just my opinion. $\endgroup$ – 757toga Mar 8 '18 at 16:21
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    $\begingroup$ @lemonincider - I've added some information to my answer showing procedures briefed in 2014 to the NBAA regarding "climb via" and the requirement to receive "climb via" phraseology as the altitude assignment when taken off of the SID and being cleared direct to a down-range waypoint/fix. This briefing is posted on the FAASafety.gov website. I've included the link in my answer. $\endgroup$ – 757toga Mar 8 '18 at 19:46
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Given the clarification in the comment, that the initial clearance was to Climb Via the SID...

You’re still cleared climb via, even with the turn direct, so not above 9 until past ZUMBI, but as soon as you are past that fix, climb up to 15, making sure you’re at or above 10 at KIMSH.

To address some things in the comments for the other answer:

When you're cleared OFF of a SID or STAR that you'd been climbing/descending via, you're in a no-man's-land of ambiguity: can I immediately climb/descend unrestricted to the top/bottom altitude as published, or does the controller need me to stop at something prior to that altitude -- perhaps to maintain separation with other traffic?

In the case of the OP's question, you still have the (only) hold-down point in front of you: ZUMBI at 9. There was nothing before that would keep you from climbing straight up to 9, so why stop any sooner than that after the direct? And, after ZUMBI you'll still be on the SID routing, which gives you a climb to 15, so nothing changed there either.

As for what the controllers ought to be doing, maybe they need to give you an altitude clearance with every shortcut no matter how inconsequential, but if they don't there is no ambiguity in what the pilot still needs to be doing here.

Getting vectored off the procedure (or, potentially, a shortcut that bypasses ZUMBI) is an entirely different story: you absolutely need to query the controller if he doesn't state an altitude clearance in that case. If he needs you to go no higher than 9 until past the line of arrivals that cross the departure path near ZUMBI, he should make that clear. Or if nobody is on that arrival path & you're good to climb unrestricted right now, he should tell you that as well. But in the OP's question as stated, this isn't ambiguous. The shortcut mentioned doesn't bypass, nor introduce, any altitude restrictions.

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  • $\begingroup$ Do you have a reference for this? $\endgroup$ – Lnafziger Mar 8 '18 at 18:30

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