Usually, when the aircraft enters a new flight information region for example, ATC will ask the pilot to enter a new frequency. I'm curious about when they do. Is there a rule about it (in an IFR situation)? I assume it may be different between EASA and FAA regulations.

Thank you.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't understand what you're asking since you appear to have answered your own question. As an aircraft moves from one area of responsibility to the next the controller hands off communications to the next controller. This seems obvious to me. What 'rule' do you expect to find? $\endgroup$ – CatchAsCatchCan Apr 20 '20 at 8:24
  • $\begingroup$ Well, I don't think that it is that simple in my opinion, someone should confirm it but maybe ATC have to anticipate this kind of event, to prevent a frequency change error from the pilot for example. I don't believe that they inform the pilot just when they "cross" the new area. $\endgroup$ – FlyingRandomGuy Apr 20 '20 at 8:35
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    $\begingroup$ @FlyingRandomGuy They do - a combination of readback and use of names prevents errors. Pilots should know their route and who they're going to be talking to, so the new frequency shouldn't be a major surprise $\endgroup$ – Dan Apr 20 '20 at 9:17

The entire sky and all airports are divided into ATC areas of responsibility. Whenever a flight moves from one area of responsibility to another, the pilot needs to change frequency to talk to the next controller. A flight can only be under the control of one single ATC unit at any one time, which usually equates to being on one single radio frequency. When under ATC control, pilots do not change frequencies unless instructed to do so.

For the en-route phase, airspace is divided into sectors, defined as three dimensional areas. Each sector will typically have its own dedicated frequency, although sectors can be combined in which case several sectors may operate on the same frequency.

On the ground, depending on the size of the airport, there can be multiple different frequencies. It is common to have one tower frequency per runway, and then one frequency for the taxiways - or possible several, if the airport is large and complex.

ATC will instruct the pilot to change to the next frequency at the latest when the flight enters the new area of responsibility, and often a minute or two before that. At that point, the flight will already have been coordinated between the controllers, so the controller of the downstream area of responsibility knows it's coming. Specific rules for transfer of communication is agreed between adjacent ATC units in letters of agreement.

An example from Copenhagen: enter image description here


Each color depicts an area of responsibility, and (this is a bit simplified but) essentially one specific frequency that pilots should be on when they are within that area. You can see that each runway (roughly) has one frequency, and the apron area where aircraft park has another. When taxiing from one area to another, the controller will instruct the pilot to change to the next frequency.

In the air, it can look something like this: enter image description here

AIP Denmark EK ENR 6.2 - 3

The dashed lines indicate borders between areas of responsibility, and the bold text indicates the frequency to use in that area. Again, the controller will instruct the pilot to change to the next frequency when crossing from one area to another.

Further reading

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    $\begingroup$ Thank you for your interesting answer. $\endgroup$ – FlyingRandomGuy Apr 20 '20 at 9:58
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    $\begingroup$ @FlyingRandomGuy Welcome to Aviation.SE =) Thank you comments are discouraged on this site. Instead, please consider up-voting the answer. $\endgroup$ – Bianfable Apr 20 '20 at 10:11

The controller will request the pilot changes frequency either when the controller is ready for them to do so:

G-ABCD, Contact Anytown Control 123.000

Or, they can request change at a particular moment, for example:

G-ABCD, at Waypoint Contact Anytown Control 123.000


G-ABCD, when passing FL100 contact Anytown Control 123.00

That's it really - there isn't some huge preamble or discussion.


In IFR flight the ATC controller will not tell the pilot to change frequencies until he has coordinated with the next sector. The next controller must check for conflicts before he can accept a new aircraft to his sector.

More and more this is done through Controller–pilot data link communications (CPDL) text messaging and no radio call is needed to tell the pilot to change frequencies.


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