Just heard this on LiveATC:

  • ATC has cleared the pilot for an ILS approach
  • ATC then said something to the pilot, to which the pilot replied, "Roger, will cancel with you on the ground, call sign."

What did ATC say to the pilot? What are they cancelling? I didn't catch what ATC said because the audio quality was pretty bad.

The only possible "cancellation" I can think of is the flight plan, but I don't see why they would want to cancel the flight plan if the aircraft has already landed at the destination airport. Any thoughts will be appreciated.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Could you add a link to the audio on LiveATC? It'd be easier for someone to tell what ATC actually said than to guess what it might have been, and that way you might get a definitive answer. $\endgroup$ – Dan Hulme Dec 18 '18 at 10:25

If the airport is non-towered, then ATC may not be able to have radio contact with the aircraft after landing. However, the flight plan still needs to be cancelled or closed after landing. Usually this is done by the pilot calling ATC on the phone, but in this case it seems ATC offered to do it without the call.

Without closing the flight plan within approximately 30 minutes after the scheduled arrival time, the Flight Services will start looking for you. They will try to contact you by phone call and if that goes unanswered, eventually a search and rescue will be started.

On ATC controlled airports the flight plan will automatically be closed after the aircraft landed.

  • $\begingroup$ Some airports have an RCO for Clearance Delivery that can also be used to cancel on the ground. I notice this mainly at part-time towered airports, for use only when tower is closed. $\endgroup$ – StephenS Dec 18 '18 at 14:36
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    $\begingroup$ You seem to be confusing "cancelling IFR" with "closing flightplan". The two are completely unrelated. $\endgroup$ – expeditedescent Jan 3 '19 at 10:42
  • $\begingroup$ @J.Hougaard I confused the two in linking to the question indeed. I've updated the answer. Thank you for the heads up! $\endgroup$ – DeltaLima Jan 16 '19 at 23:08
  • $\begingroup$ @expeditedescent, they aren't completely unrelated... Because if you don't cancel airborne, and land an a non towered airport, you will have to close your flight plan, right? $\endgroup$ – Michael Hall Feb 2 at 3:00
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    $\begingroup$ @expeditedescent, that is not true. If you cancel IFR you have also closed your IFR flight plan. It does NOT revert to a VFR flight plan (as you suggest) that you later need to take action with FSS or ATC to close. You are simply VFR, and done with anything having to do with a flight plan at that point. So, cancelling IFR and closing your (IFR) flight plan are related. $\endgroup$ – Michael Hall Feb 2 at 16:16

To expand some on DeltaLima's answer:

Pilots on an Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) flight plan are afforded more separation between them and other planes/terrain/obstructions than pilots operating under Visual Flight Rules (VFR). This extends to landing at an uncontrolled airport as well; if an aircraft retains its IFR clearance all the way to the ground, ATC will "protect" the airspace around that airport and will not let any other IFR aircraft arrive at or depart from that airport for a certain amount of time. The airport is considered "one-in one-out" (or I suppose more correctly "one-out one-in") for IFR flights. If the pilot doesn't get in touch to cancel the flight plan search-and-rescue procedures will be initiated.

In this case the controller had a Remote Communications Outlet at the satellite airport. This is an antenna and radio transceiver connected to the radar facility via telephone lines or similar, allowing the pilot to contact the controller directly when on the ground. If an RCO is not available the controller will provide a telephone number that reaches a recorded line at the control position and the pilot can cancel that way.

Most likely the controller said "Report cancellation [of IFR] in the air this frequency or on the ground with me at this other frequency." Or perhaps the pilot had already been switched from the main frequency to the RCO, and was told "Report cancellation on the ground with me." The pilot responded that they would cancel on the ground, instead of in the air before arriving. (If the pilot cancels in the air the airport is not "blocked" for other IFR traffic, which is helpful when there are multiple arrivals in sequence.)

As an aside, it is said that at controlled airports the IFR flight plan is closed "automatically." I had a little trouble understanding what this means when I was first learning about it. It isn't an automated function by the computer that flags the flight plan closed instead of open; rather means that, by default, no one will come looking for you or ask you to report cancelling. Instead the tower controller observes you landing safely, and if you don't will initiate rescue operations.


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