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IFR: clearance limit and "expect vectors" by Arrival

My question is a bit similar to this discussion https://www.euroga.org/forums/flying/3348-expect-vectors-without-getting-any-vector, but the details vary a bit, so I am opening a new thread:

I am still a very beginner re IFR, so I want to make sure that I get the “logic” right and fully understand the IFR system.

Situation: My clearance by delivery at the departure airport “Cleared to Zürich via [SID] and Flight Plan Route until [waypoint], thereafter [10 different waypoints], RILAX1A Arrival, [Squak].” So basically they only took the first part of my FPL and then cut it off and added 10 totally new waypoints. I assume they did this to circumvent bad weather moving into my original flight planned route, which is nice of course. Is that how it works, that they take weather into account? Or is it just decided by a computer purely based on traffic?

Main problem: So the flight progresses as expected, until ~20 minutes before Zürich, when the following happens. Langen Radar clears me “direct RILAX”, which is the last of the 10 custom waypoints delivery gave me. The Zürich ATIS said “Arrivals expect ILS RWY 14” Then a few minutes later Langen Radar hands me over to Zürich Arrival. Zürich ARR says: “Expect vectors ILS RWY 14”. As I am approaching RILAX, I start wondering: what if he doesn’t give me vectors?!

Let’s see if I understood everything correctly until now:
1) In case of NORDO, I would squak 7600 and fly the RILAX1A Arrival, which goes via LAMAX to AMIKI. AMIKI is one transition for the ILS14 Arrival, which the ATIS said I should expect. Then I fly the ILS14 via AMIKI transition and land. The controller’s “expect vectors” is irrelevant here, because I cannot vector myself in a NORDO situation.
2) What happens if my last clearance is not RILAX but some other waypoint not part of the clearance I received from delivery, and then I go NORDO? Do I fly back to the originally received cleared route (intercept)? This would eventually lead me to RILAX and logic from 1) would apply.
3) But of course I am not NORDO. So what is my clearance limit here? Is it the last DCT from Langen Radar, namely RILAX? Or is it essentially “RILAX and then as cleared by delivery”, i.e. RILAX1A Arrival until AMIKI? Latest here, I have reached the clearance limit, because both ATIS and Zürich Arr said “expect” which is as far as I understand for my information only, but in case of radio failure my expected behavior. I am asking this because as I am approaching RILAX, the controller just stays quiet and I don’t know what he expects me to do. Am I supposed to follow what I have programmed into the G1000, which is RILAX1A and would make me turn left? I still am in NAV mode at this point, as he only said “expect vectors”. Or am I supposed to just follow my current heading? If there is a 100% clear answer here (HDG or NAV), do I just follow it and stay quiet?

Spoiler:

The actual events were quite benign in the end, but the situation just got me thinking if I fully understand those important concepts like “clearance limit” and the wording “expect”. What happened is this: “HB-XXX, approaching RILAX, just to confirm continue present heading?”, his answer was (somewhat surprised) “HB-XXX, of course, continue present heading, vectors ILS RWY 14”. At that point it was clear again what he wants me to do. No more “expect”.
Not sure whether he was surprised due to him realizing that he forgot about me or because it was so obvious what I was cleared to do…

Switzerland

In theory you file a SID and a STAR. Usually the STAR will be based on a FIX from which different routings supply all runways.
Example STAR (fictional) based on fix ABCDE:
ABCDE1A for RWY09, ABCDE1B for RWY180, ABCDE1C for RWY27 and ABCDE1D for RWY36.

If you file ABCDE1A and RWY 09 is not in use ATC will clear you eg „direct ABCDE for the ABCDE1B“.

The clearance limit will be the ABCDE fix (usually a holding will be defined on the chart at that fix).

Most larger airports have a dedicated lost comm procedure for different cases like
- before cleared approach
- after cleared approach
- departure.
You can find it either on the STAR chart or as part of the airport info charts.

Before you reach it ABCDE will be your clearance limit. It’s good practice to ask for further clearance before reaching the fix. If atc already said to expect vectors then they should pick you up shortly before the fix and give you a heading to fly.

If you are given radar vectors then those are your „clearance limit“. Lost comms during vectors either follow the procedure listed for that specific airport or according icao annex 2. Having a tower phone number of your usual airports stored in your phone works too ;).

Flying into a large airport like Zurich you will get vectors. The case „what if he doesn’t gives me vectors“ is extremely unlikely.

Last Edited by Snoopy at 08 Sep 22:22
has a Beagle...
LOWG Graz Austria

Thanks Snoopy.

So in summary, I was only cleared to RILAX, and the “expect vectors” only for my information. So if the controller wouldn’t pick me up before RILAX, I should actually enter the RILAX holding rather than a) proceeding according to RILA1A arrival or b) continue present HDG. Of course it is most practical to be pro-active and ask the controller when approaching RILAX what he expects me to do.

That also means that if I am flying enroute and the controller says “cleared DCT [waypoint]” I cannot just proceed according to cleared/flight plan route upon reaching, but I have to get my next clearance before reaching [waypoint], correct?

And you are correct re lost comms it is usually defined in the charts. So I looked it up on Jepp 10-1P4 for Zürich, and if I understand correctly, in my specific case I am supposed to follow these steps:
1) hold at RILAX (even though RILA1A would put me to the AMIKI holding). This is because the arrival procedure says “proceed via inbound route to GIPOL/AMIKI/RILAX” and I was only cleared RILAX and it anyway wouldn’t make sense to fly via RILAX to AMIKI.
2) since I haven’t received an EAT, I wait until it is FPL ETA and then descend to 7’000 in the RILAX holding
3) carry out standard instrument approach to suitable RWY, in my case ILS RWY14 (as per ATIS and per “expect” RWY 14)

And good point about calling TWR on the phone, I would probably try to do this while in the holding.

Switzerland

Using SD aip’s where are the lost comms procedures found ?

HBadger wrote:

So in summary, I was only cleared to RILAX, and the “expect vectors” only for my information. So if the controller wouldn’t pick me up before RILAX, I should actually enter the RILAX holding rather than a) proceeding according to RILA1A arrival or b) continue present HDG. Of course it is most practical to be pro-active and ask the controller when approaching RILAX what he expects me to do.

a) is correct.
Cleared RILAX expect = RILAX is the clearance limit.

HBadger wrote:

That also means that if I am flying enroute and the controller says “cleared DCT [waypoint]” I cannot just proceed according to cleared/flight plan route upon reaching, but I have to get my next clearance before reaching [waypoint], correct?

Not quite sure I understand correctly.
If you are cleared direct to a waypoint of your filed route (for example a shortcut) then you continue with the other waypoints in sequence.

If you are cleared to a waypoint not on your route you need to get a routing after this point from atc.

has a Beagle...
LOWG Graz Austria

Snoopy wrote:

If you are cleared direct to a waypoint of your filed route (for example a shortcut) then you continue with the other waypoints in sequence.

If you are cleared to a waypoint not on your route you need to get a routing after this point from atc.

Interesting. Agree with the 2nd point. The 1st is not so obvious, but probably the expected procedure or best perhaps request confirmation. Different country, similar question. LFOT std IFR departure is to climb on xxx° to zzz’ then depart directly climbing to MEA. Autorouter filed FPL toward Zurich gives AMB R10 DOMOD A3 MOTAL R11 RLP G4 HOC …

Departure clearance was “cleared DOMOD” altitude squawk. I understood that to mean climb on xxx° to zzz’ (not stated in clearance) then directly to DOMOD (skipping AMB R10 part). That’s what I flew and there was no complaint from ATC. Shortly before DOMOD, I received DCT MOTAL and just before MOTAL received DCT RLP. Both A3 and R11 are direct without any doglegs, so this was basically my FPL route clearance piece by piece. There was no “cleared to destination via flt plan route” or such, just the first fix provided before departure and then fix by fix afterwards. This seems common in France, although there are also a lot of shortcuts given (and gratefully received). A bit unnerving though because next clearance limit was always given very shortly before reaching the previous limit. If I were to go NORDO anytime enroute, as long as clearance limit was on my flight plan route, I’d continue on that route once reaching the clearance limit.

LSZK, Switzerland
If you are cleared direct to a waypoint of your filed route (for example a shortcut) then you continue with the other waypoints in sequence.

Just to clear this up the above refers to cruise environment not SID. The wording isn’t great: it should be „if during flight atc supplies a shortcut direct to a waypoint that is part of the route..“.

chflyer wrote:

Departure clearance was “cleared DOMOD”

In that case DOMOD a routing after DOMOD should be confirmed once airborne and approaching DOMOD.

Last Edited by Snoopy at 11 Sep 05:37
has a Beagle...
LOWG Graz Austria

Yeah I was also confused about the way clearances work in France, they seem to do it bit by bit rather than the big pre-takeoff clearance to destination (my case was departure from Lyon, which is an AFIS field, no TWR).
As you, I would just join my flt plan route in case of NORDO, unless it is VMC down to the ground, in which case I would land somewhere nearby.

Snoopy wrote:

So in summary, I was only cleared to RILAX, and the “expect vectors” only for my information. So if the controller wouldn’t pick me up before RILAX, I should actually enter the RILAX holding rather than a) proceeding according to RILA1A arrival or b) continue present HDG. Of course it is most practical to be pro-active and ask the controller when approaching RILAX what he expects me to do.
a) is correct.
Cleared RILAX expect = RILAX is the clearance limit.

Just to confirm: if RILAX is the clearance limit (cleared RILAX expect), my default behavior should be to hold at RILAX, and not proceed according to RILA1A arrival (which would bring me to AMIKI), and this is true even if ATC said “cleared RILAX expect RILA1A arrival” as still clearance limit = RILAX.

Switzerland

The words from ATC need to be CLEARED RILAX1A. Otherwise, your clearance limit is RILAX, and you have to hold.

has a Beagle...
LOWG Graz Austria

The assignment of off-filed-route waypoints by ATC is a “popular topic” in IFR. Then the lost comms procedure becomes undefined.

I don’t remember whether any guidelines are written down anywhere but I would revert to the filed route. After all, they have radar and will see at least the primary return so they can see it is you even though your transponder has gone offline.

As regards the clearance, Snoopy has vastly more IFR experience than myself (or most of us), but AIUI any actual clearance limit (i.e. a point where ATC expect you to become a helicopter ) has to be stated at such e.g. “hold at ALKIN” [“expected delay 30 mins”] etc. If they say something like “proceed ALKIN” or “cleared direct ALKIN” that doesn’t mean you enter the hold at ALKIN. It merely means they are giving you a shortcut to ALKIN. I think there is always an ambiguity in this stuff in that ATC has the “right” to terminate your clearance at any point, but for obvious reasons (you are not a helicopter and your fuel is finite, etc) this is not how the system works, and in the IFR system you have an expectation of the usual “whole route clearance”. But maybe airliners receive a different phraseology, compared with GA? I have flown to “big airports” e.g. Zurich and where I got a hold it was always explicitly stated.

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