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This may be a dumb question, but can ATC reject or amend your flight plan to prevent a GA training aircraft from flying into a busy airport (i.e. Atlanta)?

As an example, flying VFR near Nashville, they rarely will allow us (GA training aircraft) to practice an approach in or do a touch and go at KBNA. But if we had it filed on an IFR flight plan, is ATC REQUIRED to allow us the approach or do they have the option to reject or amend us to another airport at their own discretion?

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Paragraph 2-1-2 of the FAA's Air Traffic Control Order (JO 7110.65z) states the following (pertinent excerpt):

2−1−2. DUTY PRIORITY

a. Give first priority to separating aircraft and issuing safety alerts as required in this order. Good judgment must be used in prioritizing all other provisions of this order based on the requirements of the situation at hand.

A NOTE attached to paragraph 2-1-2 states (in pertinent part):

... Each set of circumstances must be evaluated on its own merit, and when more than one action is required, controllers must exercise their best judgment based on the facts and circumstances known to them. ...

Also, paragraph 2-1-4 of JO 7110.65z states (in pertinent part):

2−1−4. OPERATIONAL PRIORITY

It is recognized that traffic flow may affect the controller’s ability to provide priority handling. However, without compromising safety, good judgment must be used in each situation to facilitate the most expeditious movement of priority aircraft. Provide air traffic control service to aircraft on a “first come, first served” basis as circumstances permit, except the following:

(emphasis is mine)

As noted in the paragraph above there are exceptions to the "first come, first served" operational priority. For example, AIR EVAC/MEDEVAC flights, emergencies, etc. would have priority over IFR or VFR aircraft that are not experiencing circumstances requiring higher priority handling.

So, if you are, as in your question, operating IFR, ATC should allow your approach on a "first come, first served" basis unless "Duty" or "Operational" priority require otherwise. Also, unless there are some unusual or special circumstances, ATC does not have the procedural authority to arbitrarily deny you an approach and force you to land at an airport other than the one you have been cleared to in your IFR clearance.

However, you should note that some very busy airports may disallow touch and go operations, low approaches and practice instrument approaches. (for example, see the "Additional Remarks" section regarding Hartsfield - Jackson Atlanta International Airport KATL - source: AirNav.com).

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  • $\begingroup$ It's worth noting there's two questions here subtly conflated in "if we had it filed on an IFR flight plan" Question (a), If I file it in my flight plan do they have to give it to me? The bar would be pretty high to decline, more likely you'll be discouraged when given a STAR or arrival route that could be hundreds of miles out of your way. And then separate question (b) once cleared on a route that terminates at an airport, can they later reject/amend the clearance? The bar to do so is even higher, more likely an emergency condition, not a "can't fit you in today, sorry." $\endgroup$
    – Max R
    Feb 26, 2023 at 3:57
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    $\begingroup$ @MaxR, the bar for (a) isn't very high. All ATC sectors have hourly movement limits and if those are exceeded, they'll stop accepting flight plans that would cross those sectors in the already fully booked times. Which means they won't reject you completely, but they may give you departure time a couple of hours later than you wanted. They do it to airlines too, but airlines have dispatchers who would negotiate changes to the flight plans to try to make them fit, including negotiating with other airlines, so they'll probably jump you that way even if ATC assigns your slot on first come basis. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Feb 28, 2023 at 22:43

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