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On a trip I had a few days ago I had contacted the ground controller at Santa Fe Municipal (KSAF), a Class D airport, to arrange for a VFR departure to the southwest and requested VFR flight following. The ground controller said he couldn't arrange flight following and that I had to arrange that with Albuquerque Center while in the air. I was taught (and encouraged) that you could get flight following while on the ground at a towered airport. The tower was not busy at the time as I was the only plane talking to them and the airport has its own radar which I know the controllers can see in the tower. In fact I had forgot to reset the transponder to 1200 and they called me out on that after I took off. Is there any particular reason why they could not set up flight following for me on the ground?

EDIT: The FAA has a program where they can contract out a control tower at an airport to a private company. I just looked at this FAA website and Santa Fe is listed as a contract tower. Could this be the reason why the tower could not arrange VFR flight following?

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  • $\begingroup$ I was taught the same thing, yet at one particular towered D, they tell me the same thing: "Unable. Contact Approach for Services" $\endgroup$ – abelenky Oct 1 at 21:11
  • $\begingroup$ @abelenky: Do you remember the name of that airport? If so look and see if it is a contract tower. $\endgroup$ – DLH Oct 1 at 21:32
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Some towers have a data terminal that allows them to create and update flight plans*; these are typically the ones busy enough to have a separate Clearance Delivery frequency, but you'll find exceptions both ways.

Other towers do not and would have to call a facility that does, which takes that controller away from actually controlling traffic; these towers tend to be the ones with less traffic and lower staffing (maybe only one person on duty), so they're usually not going to do that for VFR requests.

However, all Approach and Center facilities have the ability to create and update flight plans* at every radar position, so it's usually no problem for them to set you up once you're airborne and talking to them directly.

(* VFR Flight Plans are not accessible by US ATC; when you get Flight Following, it is actually put in the computer as an IFR flight plan with a VFR altitude.)

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  • $\begingroup$ VFR flight plans are visible...they just don't want to deal with them. $\endgroup$ – PilotDan Oct 2 at 17:17
  • $\begingroup$ So if I understand you right, the towers without a data terminal would have to cancel an IFR flight plan after a plane has landed by talking with the approach controller and can't cancel the flight plan directly? $\endgroup$ – DLH Oct 2 at 17:34
  • $\begingroup$ @DLH Yes. Ditto for giving an IFR clearance and release. $\endgroup$ – StephenS Oct 2 at 17:55
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You can request flight following from the tower but they are under no obligation to provide it and may not as is the case with flight following in general. At my local class D airport (KPNE) it’s hit or miss and seems to depend on who is on the tower.

I suspect that in some cases it’s simply more expeditious for them to deny the request and have you contact departure on the way out.

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