Within 50nm with approach open, departure closed

Suppose I depart from an airport within 50nm of an operating approach facility, but departure is closed and I’m passing through the airspace, but not intending to make an immediate approach to the approach facility airport (assume traffic is light). If it’s not appropriate to check in with approach. What’s the correct communication in such controlled airspace, if any? Sorry if this is obvious and I missed it somewhere.


If you’re inbound for an airport with approach open, just contact approach, let them know your intentions, follow their directions, and then switch to tower/unicom on final.

Hello Adit, that’s a good question. In order to give you a comprehensive answer, could you let us know whether you had a flight plan filed to the facility manned by Approach and intended to follow it instead of receiving immediate approach vectors? Or did you want to simply fly through the Approach airspace with/without a flight plan?

If you’re passing through approach airspace and not flying inbound, check-in would be appropriate, provided you are flying IFR with a flight plan. If you are flying VFR, you’ll either request flight following to a destination or say that you’re flying VFR.

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Hi. Thanks. I had a flight plan, in the sense of desired waypoints, but not as far as a termination airport. It seems that may fail the definition of a flight plan (presumably requiring a firm destination commitment?).

So, no I did not have a flight plan filed to the facility manned by Approach.

My intention was to fly over a particular terrain in the region and then return to the facility with with the opened Approach.

I thought I read in the rules that check-in is not appropriate for Approach if intention is not for an immediate approach?

edit: and in fact rather than check-in one should just ask for an approach, which seems to be what follows from an attempt to check-in with approach?

Thanks for the clarification. In that case, you’d request Flight Following - VFR if you have a flight plan you wish to follow without a destination filed. You may still receive vectors/altitude assignments as dictated by traffic.
Once you’re finally inbound to the destination manned by Approach, add the destination to your flight plan and request an approach/flight following to destination. Hope that answers the question.

Please see VFR En-Route Procedures - Flying Guide for further info and in particular, step 5.


Thank you for your reply!

About step 5, when flying IFR with no Departure operating, but Approach open at the neighbouring airport. Is it not true, a check-in supposes I am about to make an approach (which is not my intention)? But isn’t it also given I should still make contact as I am within 50nm?

But if it is IFR, which command to accomplish contact without implying an approach? Or is VFR the only way to get out of my departure airport and not cause confusion? Again, I might be missing the obvious. Thanks.

A “check-in” command in this scenario would imply that you would follow your flightplan filed when flying IFR, and not an approach request :).


Yeah, what he said. You’d treat approach as departure in this scenario, and thus check in

So after checking-in in this scenario I was asked for my intentions.

At that point the commands all relate to approach, in addition to the request for vectoring (if I’m not mistaken?). So I couldn’t find a way to follow my flight plan, as far as I could see. I seemed to be boxed-in to making an approach, which was not my intention.

I thought check-in wasn’t appropriate for Approach (as opposed to Departure) because of the following:

"Check In

The Check In is primarily used with Center and Departure. Approval authorizes the pilot to follow their own lateral and vertical guidance filed in their FPL.

The pilot should not Check In with approach. Instead, they should simply request an approach."

Yes, I did check in as I just replied to him above. And it led to options contrary to my intentions. So I was just wondering where I stood.

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Yeah you shouldn’t have been asked for your intentions.
Check-in does what you wanted, a way to follow your flight plan.

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Ok, thanks. I chose the “low risk” encounter option when asked for intentions. I just chose from what was available on the com menu and asked for an ILS approach, abandoning my flight plan. I could have exited, but I didn’t know how that would have worked.

So are you saying an Approach controller without a corresponding active Departure control would know they have to switch to a different interpretation of “check-in,” or is it perhaps built into the system to flag the difference to the Approach controller when Departure is closed?

I’m no doubt overanalysing it all. Sorry about that!

edit: I don’t at all mean to be confrontational about this, I’m just wondering if it’s a possible blind spot when simulating a RW scenario, where you can’t always have both Approach and Departure open at the same time, making the odds higher of an unintended interaction, than a more straightforward scenario.

There are a few “blind spots” in the ATC system, a consequence of the limited choices. Its a compromise really because we can’t have real live voice conversations.

We can’t always rely on controllers to understand your intentions. But if you’re doing things correctly in relation to your flight plan then the controller should not be able to force you into an unintended sudden change.

Perhaps in your scenario a repeat of the “check in” message would prompt the approach controller to look again and realise you are en route.Or say “unable” …?

Its worth trying . If a controller doesnt get it and reports you then going through the appeal process means the controller learns from the mistake.


You make a good point. Playing out the scenario certainly seems like a valid possible option I wasn’t able to consider in the moment, and perhaps the more positive action for everyone concerned. Thanks for that!

The controller is expected to look at your flight plan and understand your intentions based on that.

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Thank you. That’s helpful. I might try to repeat the scenario a time or two to see how it works out given the chance for a bit of natural blind spot, though a desired operation.

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