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Which information pilot can change in-flight? For example:

  1. Altitude. Ask to climb higher?
  2. V to Z. VFR rules to IFR (VFR to IFR)?
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  • $\begingroup$ Related: aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/72751/… $\endgroup$ May 2 at 17:03
  • $\begingroup$ Related: aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/3619/… $\endgroup$ May 2 at 17:03
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    $\begingroup$ Think about it: what would you do if it wasn't possible to change your plan and you are incapable of following the original plan? Pull your airplane over and wait for the tow truck? $\endgroup$ May 2 at 19:54
  • $\begingroup$ @JörgWMittag on my first solo (at the tender age of 16!) I got a bit nervous and kept going around. Finally my instructor said, "We can't send someone up on a ladder to get you!" I was never afraid after that. $\endgroup$ May 3 at 15:29
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Anything and everything (well, maybe not the aircraft type...). A flightplan is just that - a plan. The pilot's intentions can change during flight for any number of reasons. Just inform ATC of your new intentions, request a new clearance as appropriate, and ATC will accommodate the request if possible. Happens all the time.

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    $\begingroup$ I would add that changes are ok as long as the plane and the pilot are rated for them. You can't (or shouldn't) ask for IFR if you and your plane are rated for that. $\endgroup$
    – Jpe61
    May 2 at 16:52
  • $\begingroup$ Also, some ATCOs may be very busy and may have little time to file a flight plan for the pilot. $\endgroup$
    – Vladimir F
    May 3 at 8:13
  • $\begingroup$ @VladimirF A pilot changing their intentions enroute does not result in a new flightplan, simply a revised clearance. Sure, it can cause some extra work (downstream coordination etc.) but that is literally the controller's job $\endgroup$ May 3 at 20:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Jpe61 Legally speaking you are right of course. But there is nothing technically preventing a pilot from requesting it. ATC has no clue what you are qualified for or not. $\endgroup$ May 3 at 20:09
  • $\begingroup$ @expeditedescent I guess that depends on the nature of the changes. But sure, those changes listed are very minor. If instead of a local VFR flight I start requesting a cross country IFR flight with 10 intersections from a busy approach ATC I do not believe he will be pleased even if it is his job. $\endgroup$
    – Vladimir F
    May 3 at 20:40
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Context: FAA.

Altitude change

Very common request. The pilot simply makes the request, and the controller issues the climb or descent after checking to make sure the altitude is clear. The controller then updates the aircraft's flight plan so the next controller down the line knows about the new altitude.

If the aircraft is not within the control of the controller they're talking to (e.g. a radar handoff has occurred and the pilot has switched to the new frequency, but is not yet within the airspace the new controller has responsibility for) then the controller must effect coordination before issuing the altitude change. Or perhaps the aircraft is right at the top of the controller's airspace; in that case the controller will update the flight plan to show the requested altitude (thus enabling the track to be handed off to the controller above), perform the handoff, and tell the pilot to make their request with the new controller.

This assumes the pilot is on an IFR flight plan. VFR pilots are permitted to fly at any appropriate VFR cruising altitude unless instructed otherwise. It's best practice to give the controller a notification when beginning a climb or descent, though.

VFR-to-IFR

This is another simple change; on the technical side, the controller makes two entries: one to enable Minimum Safe Altitude Warning processing, and one to indicate on the flight plan that the aircraft is no longer VFR. Or, if the aircraft is not yet on flight following, they must enter enough information into the system to generate a flight plan and squawk code for the flight.

On the regulations side, the controller must ensure the aircraft is in a position where issuing an IFR clearance would not be illegal—they must not be too close to another IFR aircraft, or in/near special-use airspace or airspace belonging to another controller. Also, Standard Operating Procedures and Letters of Agreement may impose restrictions on the route for an IFR flight that a VFR flight would not have to comply with.

Anything else

To my knowledge, just about anything may be edited, as expeditedescent pointed out. Route or even destination can be changed. Aircraft equipment code or even type code can be corrected, if it was entered incorrectly. Some things, such as fuel on board, aircraft markings, pilot's name, and the like—things unrelated to the actual control of the flight—require a call to FSS, as ATC does not have access to them.

However, I do not believe there is a way for the pilot to directly edit any of this information after they submit it. They must call either FSS or ATC.

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  • $\begingroup$ "Some things, such as ... pilot's name, and the like—things unrelated to the actual control of the flight" I'm now imagining a scenario where the pilot and copilot of a big commercial flight both have heart attacks, and a passenger or flight attendant winds up having to take the wheel. $\endgroup$
    – nick012000
    May 3 at 3:00
  • $\begingroup$ @nick012000 i believe it's been shown that the most likely outcome for that scenario is "everyone dies" $\endgroup$
    – user253751
    May 3 at 12:29
  • $\begingroup$ @nick012000 In an emergency, the only thing that matters is resolving the emergency as safely as possible. I think we've had a question on this scenario (naturally I can't find it) though, if an unqualified passenger (having the luck of a pilot hidden among the passengers doesn't count) has to fill in for both pilots it probably won't end well. $\endgroup$
    – Mast
    May 3 at 15:35
  • $\begingroup$ Offtopic ,but I disagree on the big passenger acft double heart attack scenario prolly being catastrophic. With proper guidance an average joe/josephina can land a big jet. Youtube has videos on the subject. The makeshift pilot has to have good nerves, but the task is by no means impossible with modern jets and their automation. $\endgroup$
    – Jpe61
    May 5 at 6:57

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