OK, so you have a flight plan filed (over internet, phone, company or however), go to the aircraft and get in the cockpit. So you call the controller and request IFR or VFR as appropriate.

  • What is the recommended wording of the request and how it is actually pronounced? Is “IFR” spelled, like “requesting eye-eff-are”, using phonetic alphabet like “requesting India Foxtrot Romeo” or expanded like “requesting instrument flight rules”?
  • Should you add the destination or other description of the plan? The ATC already has it, but it might serve as a check.
  • Do you call only when you are almost ready for start up or push back, or earlier in the preflight? And if earlier, do you also add some indication when you will be ready?

I'm asking about both VFR and IFR flight plans.

  • $\begingroup$ Which country are you asking about? VFR or IFR flight plans, or both? $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Commented Jun 19, 2019 at 2:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Pondlife, both VFR and IFR, and preferably ICAO recommended phraseology (if one exists). $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Commented Jun 19, 2019 at 20:11
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Thanks for the clarification. On a related note, I once got a radio call from an airliner relaying from ATC and the pilot said that "ATC advises that the circuit at your destination is India Mike Charlie". As a student pilot I didn't catch it properly and it took me a moment to work it out; my first mental reaction was to wonder why I should care about an aircraft registered as ZS-IMC doing circuits at my destination :-) $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Commented Jun 20, 2019 at 1:53

2 Answers 2


The UK CAA Radiotelephony Manual (CAP 413, Edition 22, May 2016) has an example of how to activate a flight plan in chapter 3, section 3.36 (page 92 in the PDF).

Aircraft G-CD, departed Seton at 38 request activate flight plan
ATC G-CD, departure time 38 will activate flight plan

There is no indication whether this is for VFR or IFR flight plans, so it should apply to both if a filed flight plan wasn't activated at departure.

I also pulled out my (fairly recent) radiotelephony textbook, which covers EASA up to and including PPL including in English (and thus should be pretty close to the official ICAO phraseology), to double-check what it says. (I don't often fly with an actual flight plan active.)

Aircraft ATC callsign, aircraft callsign
ATC aircraft callsign, ATC callsign, go ahead*
Aircraft aircraft callsign, activating VFR flight plan, departed airport, hour hour minute minute, to destination airport
ATC aircraft callsign, activating VFR flight plan, hour hour minute minute
Aircraft aircraft callsign

For example, Smallprop 123 flying VFR in airspace controlled by Somewhere Control, with a previously filed but not yet activated flight plan:

Aircraft Somewhere Control, Smallprop 123
ATC Smallprop 123, Somewhere Control, go ahead*
Aircraft Smallprop 123, activating VFR flight plan, departed Hometown, one two tree five, to destination Springfield
ATC Smallprop 123, activating VFR flight plan, one two tree five
Aircraft Smallprop 123

*) the "go ahead" may be omitted

The exception to this is if you are departing from a controlled airport, in which case a flight plan filed prior to departure is activated automatically. Activating a flight plan manually is only required when departing from uncontrolled airports.

To close a flight plan, the phraseology after establishing contact with ATC is:

Aircraft Smallprop 123 position Wintermeadow closing VFR flight plan from Hometown to Springfield
ATC Smallprop 123, flight plan closed at time one tree tree zero
Aircraft Flight plan closed at time one tree tree zero, Smallprop 123

  • IFR / VFR are common abbreviations and therefore are pronounced eye-eff-are and vee-eff-are
  • The destination is usually added to cross-check that the correct flight plan is referenced
  • Small aircraft that do not have ground power usually call after starting the engine if possible, as you only want to turn the avionics / radios on once you have established a proper source of energy without draining the battery. If you have ground power connected or a big enough battery you might as well do so before startup (airliners get their clearance before startup, as they usually start their engines on pushback and can not simply turn their engines on and off. Also they usually have ground power or the APU running to establish a proper energy source.
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "N123AB, Center, contact flight service to open your flight plan." $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 20, 2019 at 1:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Pondlife, well, they do see it, because they open it for you when you take off and close it when you land. But they don't do anything with it beyond that. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Commented Jul 13, 2019 at 20:39

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