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I'm a student pilot working on my PPL and I just did my first solo cross country earlier today. While I was on flight following I received a call from approach that sounded like "N123 traffic 4 miles north of the ____ intersection indicating 1000 maintain VFR". I just read back "Maintain VFR N123" as I was a little bit lost on what they were talking about. After some research I now kinda know what intersections are but I had literally never heard of them and in my case it wasn't plotted by name on a sectional. What exactly do I do in this situation? Do I just tell the controller I don't know where that intersection is? Is it common to receive traffic advisories relative to intersections?

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    $\begingroup$ Were you already on FF or had you just been issued a squawk code? I ask because it's weird to throw a "maintain VFR" into a traffic call. When informing a pilot of their radar ID status, ATC will reference a navaid or waypoint or airport. $\endgroup$
    – randomhead
    Commented Jun 15, 2023 at 2:59
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    $\begingroup$ I always thought that telling an aircraft receiving VFR F/F, "Maintain VFR" was like telling the aircraft to, "Comply with the FARs." Totally redundant. $\endgroup$
    – RetiredATC
    Commented Jun 15, 2023 at 18:04
  • $\begingroup$ @RetiredATC, I completely agree. But a lot of controllers do it. And a lot of controller will also respond "maintain VFR" when a pilot reports traffic in sight. I've never before heard of a preemptive "maintain VFR." $\endgroup$
    – randomhead
    Commented Jun 16, 2023 at 1:55
  • $\begingroup$ @randomhead I always interpreted "maintain VFR" as a positive confirmation that "I'm not assigning a specific altitude or heading, thus you're free to maneuver as needed to stay out of clouds and at appropriate VFR altitudes." It's the alternative to "maintain [VFR at or below] 3,000" and/or "fly heading 120." So I don't see it as redundant. As an ATC, is that not your take on it, or do you have more insight? Thanks! $\endgroup$
    – TypeIA
    Commented Jun 16, 2023 at 10:26
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    $\begingroup$ @TypeIA Late on this but I listened to this LiveATC archive and I completely incorrectly heard they were calling my location after establishing radar contact. Still they used an IFR intersection which is strange $\endgroup$
    – imp
    Commented Jun 22, 2023 at 16:08

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I would tell the controller that I don't know where that intersection is.

In my experience, I would not expect ATC to issue a traffic advisory to a VFR aircraft in relation to a stand-alone IFR intersection.

However, in the U.S., note that on Sectional Charts some IFR airways are depicted in blue and some IFR intersections are shown.

But, if I was not able to quickly identify the position/intersection where ATC indicated the traffic was located, I would advise them of this and request to receive the traffic information in relation to my position, as opposed to the traffic's relation to an IFR intersection.

Below, is an example of an IFR Intersection named "DARTS" that is located within (depending on altitude) the Burbank, CA. Class C airspace depicted on a Sectional Chart. However, again, it would be very unusual for ATC to issue a traffic advisory to a VFR aircraft in relation to an IFR intersection. If this should happen I would immediately advise them and ask for the location of the traffic in relation to my position.

(The emphasis red line and red circles on the images below are mine)

enter image description here

As a final note, the Sectional Chart below covering an area near St. Louis, has a combined IFR Intersection and VFR Waypoint named "FASHE." It's possible, for example, if ATC has instructed me to report FASHE (the VFR Waypoint), prior to receiving a clearance into the St. Louis Class B airspace, they might issue a VFR traffic advisory referencing the "intersection" named "FASHE" because it is also a VFR Waypoint. I don't know how likely it would have been in your case, but it's something to consider anyway.

enter image description here

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  • $\begingroup$ I presume that the red underline under DARTS in the first image was your addition as was the oval? IANAP and am looking for clarity. $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Commented Jun 22, 2023 at 18:55
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    $\begingroup$ @FreeMan You are correct and I added that information regarding the red circles and underline being mine to my answer. $\endgroup$
    – user22445
    Commented Jun 22, 2023 at 18:58
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Every time when something in communications is not known to you as a student pilot you should admit it and report to the ATC, especially when it is a time pressured nature. Most likely what happened in your case is that air traffic controller simple "forgot" that you are VFR flight (controllers are humans too). I always tell my students to advise controllers that you are a student pilot, for example on the solo cross-country. Although not 100% but most of the time you'll be treated with "extra care". You need to do it only in the beginning of the flight because when you switch controller handover will already have "student pilot" in the comments. As the previous poster suggested the best was to say that you do not know where the waypoint is located and ask to clarify the location of traffic.

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Av.SE - great advice for students & no-longer-students as well! $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Commented Jun 22, 2023 at 18:43

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