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Just out of curiosity. If you get assigned a squawk code and you don’t like it out of superstition or other negative associations you have with it, can you request a new one?

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    $\begingroup$ Tom, I want to publicly apologize for failing to support you. I was weak and wrong, as was everyone else who belittled you for your beliefs. $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Oct 10 '20 at 13:37
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    $\begingroup$ I was indeed given 4666 once. After my lengthy clearance readback, the controller said, "Umm, I can give you a new code if you like". But I told him, "Nope, actually, that one suits me just fine, thanks." $\endgroup$ Oct 14 '20 at 2:09
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No, there is no procedure for assigning a new squawk code because a pilot is superstitious. The whole system behind assigning squawk codes is fairly complex, and requesting new codes for non-operational reasons would put extra load on the system for no reason. In many cases, the controller doesn't even have the option to manually change the code, and doing so could result in significantly increased workload (actually getting the code, updating the flight data record, communicationg with the pilot, coordinating with downstream sectors etc.).

Squawk codes are a limited resources, we only have 4096 of them, and the system is already near its limit in busy airspaces. If we started to change codes just because we feel like it, we may very well run out of codes. And how should we choose which codes to avoid? Some probably wouldn't like codes such as 4666, others 1313. What about a pilot not liking 2403 because it happens to be the date a relative of his died? 4 is an unlucky number in Chinese culture, should we avoid all squawk codes with 4 in them?

We use numbers in aviation for all sorts of things, all the time, and it simple does not make sense to avoid some of them for non-operational reasons.

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    $\begingroup$ There are at least three reserved codes, right? So only 4093 available? $\endgroup$ Oct 7 '20 at 14:45
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    $\begingroup$ @RossPresser emergency codes are one thing, I suppose all-zeros would also be avoided. $\endgroup$
    – Ruslan
    Oct 7 '20 at 15:45
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    $\begingroup$ @RossPresser There are several diferent codes that are reserved for specific purposes, some globally, some regionally. Either way, the total number of potentially available codes is 4096 $\endgroup$ Oct 7 '20 at 16:11
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, if you could request codes that would take a whole bunch out in China because they don't like 4. $\endgroup$ Oct 8 '20 at 3:35
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    $\begingroup$ Just in case someone wonders why 4 digits don't make up for 10,000 possible squawk codes: it is actually an octal number so the allowed digits are just 0-7 ($7777_8 = 4095_{10}$ being the max. code). $\endgroup$
    – PerlDuck
    Oct 9 '20 at 6:54
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You can request a new one, but it’s up to ATC to decide whether to change it. Some will and some won’t, but mostly it depends on how busy they are.

I’ve seen discussions (in a private forum) about the specific case of pilots unhappy with 666, and a few controllers reported having gone out of their way to find a new squawk code that also had 666 in it. Others reported that they just change it themselves as soon as they see it. But the majority didn’t care either way.

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  • $\begingroup$ Agreed, don’t think I want to add some extra workload to the ATC when they are already busy just because some number. $\endgroup$
    – Tom Lo
    Oct 7 '20 at 12:36
  • $\begingroup$ That won't work for most controllers who assign codes from some range and typically the first number, but often enough also the second number, is fixed depending on the airspace assigning or other variables concerning the flight. $\endgroup$
    – Vladimir F
    Oct 8 '20 at 8:47
  • $\begingroup$ @VladimirF My understanding is that is for what the computer automatically assigns, but they can try manually assigning one and the computer will allow it if the code isn’t already in use. $\endgroup$
    – StephenS
    Oct 8 '20 at 15:18
  • $\begingroup$ @StephenS But then the system must also respect ranges allocated for local traffic in various regions in the vicinity and ranges that are to be given in the neighbouring FIRs. But everything is getting centralized now, EUROCONTROL has a common system for many countries now (not all of them) so perhaps it can be done. $\endgroup$
    – Vladimir F
    Oct 8 '20 at 15:28
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Well you can always ask...

ATC is unlikely to give you a requested code or change your code though. There are a few ways to get a code, either from an IFR flight plan submission, or from a local block(s) the associated controller uses for various things. How they are assigned is discussed here and the most recent beacon allocation plan can be found here. I cant say I have ever heard of it happening nor was i taught any such procedure in my flight training.

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    $\begingroup$ Sometimes it’s more scary to talk in a super busy radio frequency than 666 to me $\endgroup$
    – Tom Lo
    Oct 7 '20 at 12:37
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A couple of times I have heard requests for change and they have been granted. Several years ago I asked a couple of approach controllers about it. The supervisor said that he simply avoids numbers with "666" because he is aware of pilot concerns.

In the days of codes being entered by dial switches, it happened, but was not common that there might be a sticky bit on the switch. One plane I flew had that with the 0400 bit. Fortunately, it rarely happened that a code was assigned with that bit. If one was assigned, spinning the knob a few times might get it to work.

Normally the controller only has blocks, which at best, are the last two digits of the code. So their ability to change codes is limited.

So I can't tell you the rules, cite the controller handbook, or provide a copy of a procedure, but I will say that it has been done, I have heard requests for different codes and I have heard the controller accommodate the request.

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  • $\begingroup$ What’s the problem with 666 though? We usually assign 666x codes in my area but why shouldn’t pilot want those codes? $\endgroup$
    – pcfreakxx
    Nov 1 '20 at 15:52
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    $\begingroup$ @pcfreakxx en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Number_of_the_beast $\endgroup$
    – AakashM
    Feb 3 at 16:13
  • $\begingroup$ @AakashM I won‘t accept this as reason for a different squawk... $\endgroup$
    – pcfreakxx
    Feb 3 at 16:15
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Yes, you can. "Center, N123DY request a new squawk." There should be no problem with being issued a new one. The "06" subset is one of Denver Center's enroute squawks, so 0666 gets assigned pretty much every day. I've reissued squawks for that code on several occasions. It's not a big deal.

Fulfilling your request for a code consists of my pushing a button, entering your aircraft ID (which we have a 3-digit shortcut for), and reading the new beacon out to you.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is for the Enroute environment. It is not that simple in the Terminal environment, and even less so if you're on a NAS code (flight following or IFR flight plan) instead of a local code. $\endgroup$
    – randomhead
    Aug 5 at 11:38
  • $\begingroup$ Well, in the Center environment, we did it all the time. I've never read Chapter 3, though, or any of that stuff that says "Terminal" . :) As far as a NAS code goes, it takes , as I said, a button push, a CID, and enter. $\endgroup$
    – atc_ceedee
    Aug 6 at 5:48
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not disputing your account of what you have to do, just letting people know that it's not as simple as all that for some of us. $\endgroup$
    – randomhead
    Aug 6 at 6:09
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, no problem. Come on out to Longmont, lunch is on me. $\endgroup$
    – atc_ceedee
    Aug 6 at 6:14

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