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As a regular General Aviation pilot, how do I contact or relay a simple message to someone on the ground? For example, to update a friend, family member, or taxi company with an ETA or a meeting point. Assume that asking them to follow a tail number on something like FlightAware would not suffice.

Cell phones are not an option. FAA AC 91-21.1B prohibits cellular communication while in flight (Correction: see comment below; it's really the FCC that prohibits cell use), and cell reception above 5000ft AGL is pretty poor.

Commercial operators have access to more sophisticated services like ACARS, ARINC, or satellite communications, but these are usually too expensive or complicated for the regular GA pilot.

Can Flight Service Stations (FSS) call someone and relay a short message for me? Has anyone tried this?

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  • $\begingroup$ Really before you take-off you should know when you are going to land +/- a short period. As a pilot, putting the aircraft up takes quite a bit of time, so after landing I'll call somebody and even if it takes them 15-30 minutes to get to the airport, I'm not waiting long. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Dec 28 '18 at 16:34
  • $\begingroup$ BTW, 91.21 only applies to aircraft flying IFR or if your aircraft is operated by the holder of an air carrier certificate. It is not prohibited (by the FAA) for use by GA pilots in VFR conditions. Many GA headsets contain a Bluetooth link to cell phones, and some COM panels also have bluetooth cell-phone interfaces, my aircraft has one. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Dec 28 '18 at 16:54
  • $\begingroup$ @RonBeyer But according to Advisory Circular 91-21.1B (linked to in the question), "The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) currently prohibits the use of cell phones while airborne." See also: aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/1998/… $\endgroup$ – Terran Swett Dec 28 '18 at 17:12
  • $\begingroup$ @TannerSwett Yes, which is why I said "It is not prohibited (by the FAA)". The FCC bans this and the "FAA supports it", but the FAA does not ban it. FAA AC 91-21.1B does not prohibit cellphone in flight (as described in the question). The FCC has not taken any action in the 30+ years regarding this rule, and many pilots have used cell phones in emergencies without any word from the FCC. I'm not advocating its use in non-emergency situations. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Dec 28 '18 at 17:23
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    $\begingroup$ We carry a portable Sat phone with us that we move between our plane and helicopter. The upfront cost is not that high compared to the peace of mind it provides. $\endgroup$ – Richard Jan 9 at 1:21
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Once, in a pinch, I persuaded Phoenix Approach to call my mother-in-law and advise her to meet me at an alternate airport since I would have had to hold for two hours to get into PHX where we'd originally planned to meet. This is definitely not something that ATC does on a regular basis.

Other options include carrying an Iridium handheld satellite phone (not cheap, but certainly a possibility for light GA) or installing an amateur radio transceiver.

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One option is the Spot Beacon, which sends pre-prepared Text messages and location updates via satellite to an SMS phone number and updates are visible on a website.

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