A Few Reminders For When You Are Tuned Into Approach

Hello everyone, just thought I would make a topic addressing a few things I’ve noticed pilots making a habit of doing while using an approach frequency, and what to do to prevent these habits from becoming something you do all of the time.

Lets Start With "Radar Contact"

When tuning into approach, you need to tell the controller right off the bat what you want. Don’t hesitate to do so and do NOT say check in when you’re approaching an airport. The check in message should only be used when departing an airport. If the controller sends you a radar contact, you need to tell them what you want. Many times, some pilots do not tell us approach controllers anything after sending the radar contact message, which means we now have to worry about the following things…

  • Your a NORDO pilot (pilot without a radio)
  • You could be deciding to flat out not respond
  • What you are intending to do when not responding

It should be in your best interest to be telling us your intentions right after you get that message to reduce the chance of being ghosted for not being able to communicate with you, or for not following instructions. So for now on please make sure you tell approach your intentions as soon as possible. You can find out more about the art of radar contact which is outlined in @Brandon_Sandstrom’s great topic linked below.

Reporting Airport In Sight

Many pilots like to report airport in sight when it really isn’t needed. The only time you should be reporting airport in sight is when you are flying a visual approach and the controller specifically asks you to do so. Otherwise, you should not be using this message.

In addition to this, when a controller asks you to report airport in sight, please don’t wait forever to do so. You should be able to see the airport on a clear day when you are 12nm give or take out from the destination airport. If an approach controller asks you to report, and you can see the airport, do not wait! Report it in sight so they can clear you for the approach and hand you off to tower.

Requesting Frequency Changes During ILS/GPS Approaches And Radar Vectors

Something that is worth to mention is that the controller will hand you off when the time is right. For ILS and GPS approaches, controllers will hand you off once you have intercepted the localizer. You should not be requesting frequency changes when you haven’t even intercepted yet, as it is pointless and the controller is just going to say stay on my frequency, and keep you on their frequency until you intercept. When it comes to radar vectors, the controller will hand you off to tower when the time is right, as the controller can’t just hand you off and expect the tower controller to fit you in with the arrivals line that is already cleared. Lots of planning on the controllers part goes into radar vectors, which is why you should allow the controller to hand you off to tower and not the other way around.


When you, the pilot says unable, expect to get the please follow instructions or you will be ghosted command. Unless there is something that is absolutely not allowing you to follow the atc command such as unoticed terrain (fault of the controller) then there is no reason to use the unable message. Saying unable will not get you to the airport faster, and you risk getting a vacation to the training server for a week as well. Even if you get vectored away from the airport, that is not an excuse to use it. Follow instructions and eventually you will get there. Trust our handy dandy approach controllers on this one :)


The above is just a few things I’d thought I would bring up to help pilots be reminded of proper atc use. If you feel something should be added, I will create another section and write about it in detail. Hopefully this helps clear up any questions you have about the following things. Thanks for reading everyone!


Awesome post, I also feel that this needs to be clarified as some people are still confused, especially new pilots entering the expert server. Spectacular work, Chris!


Very informative post! Definitely will help pilots understand more


Awesome post and agreed! Only edit is that pilots don’t need to “check in”, when you message approach, just request what you need to.

Check in is used for flight following and or frequency changes between approaches


Just to be clear, when I tune frequency to the Approach, the first message I have to send is “Check in” ?
Because I usually send my intentions directly after tuning with the approach.


I’ve got a question about checking in but for departures.

When Tower hands me over to Departure, I do the same thing. I check in with the controller. How would I state my intentions to be vector off to my flight plan if I’m taking off to the North but my flight plan is to the South?

That always confuses me.

Thanks for a great post!

There was once where I intercepted the localiser on Expert and the approach controller vectored me away. Took me 30 mins past scheduled time to land.

Just check in and follow your FPL. Controller will vector you if needed. They will see your FPL/destination.
Edit: Follow ATIS and do straight out departures if stated. And keep separation to traffic.

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I’m always concerned about interfering with ATC vectoring. So what I usually do is fly straight out till about 8000ft AGL and then vector myself to my flight plan.
I’m I correct in doing so seeing that arriving traffic is usually lower than 8000ft AGL?

Remember If you depart straight out you have to call a straight out departure. Then you are supposed to fly straight out for 10 nm (end of ILS/GPS cone)
I can’t see any problems with doing that. Personally I try to follow SIDs (Standard Instrument Departure routes) Just google e.g. departure chart KJFK


Hmm, you may want to PM the controller next time that happens as that’s not proper protocol unless the controller tells you to execute a missed approach.

That is correct. When tuning into appr, just state your intentions. When you have a flight plan and departing, however, the only message you should send to the frequency acting as departure is a check in.

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Well done Chris, looks great. Well done.

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That’s a clear explanation, thanks.

Great post Chris! Very informative and will help a lot of people.

When contacting approach after departure, you have three options

Check in

This lets the controller know you are with them, 90% of the time the pilot will climb higher than my approach path, so no need for vectors, but if they come abide by them.

Flight following

This is the same thing as check in, you will follow your own FPL but again be subject to vectors if need be.

Radar vectors

This tells the controller you want active vectors out of the airspace, expect vectors and a “resume own navigation” when passing FL180 or when on your FPL

-When passing FL180, expect a “frequency change approved”.
-You only need one of the above(check in, flight following, radar vectors)
-Only contact approach if tower tells you to or if you get on guarded

-IFATC Radar controller


Correct me if I’m wrong, does intercepting the localiser mean having the extended runway centreline and the glidescope for a particular airport on the HUD screen? (Happens when around 24nm away)?

If a pilot is saying unable because they don’t want to turn or want to skip in line, that’s one thing. When an unable is given, both pilot and controller should look to see why. On the pilot side look to see if there is a line of traffic in the distance that you are being added to. On the controller side, look to see if the speed is realistic for the altitude and plane size or if there may be terrain to consider. To quote Max, “Unable is not a dirty word”.


Just the localizer, you cannot start your descent until your within the localizer.

Once your within the localizer and have intercepted the GS, that’s when you can start your descent.

I do not know where @Tim_B went to but he told me a while back now that is was not mandatory to immediately leave the tower freq when the freq chg was approved… as after a predetermined number of miles out my CS would automatically be removed from the controllers info strips or whatever they are called… has this changed with the latest update