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IFR: lost comms, clearance limit and "expect vectors" by Arrival

European lost comms procedures (IFR and VFR)

The basic ICAO one seems to be that you squawk 7600, revert to the filed route and arrive at the IAF at the filed time, and land.

There are national variations, along the lines of continuing any current vector for 7 minutes (if you were being vectored at the time) and then revert to the filed route.

However -

A couple of years ago I was at a NATS (Swanwick - the main UK ATC body) presentation, where a senior NATS official (an ATCO I believe) stated that anybody doing the ICAO Lost Comms procedure (i.e. setting 7600 and flying the filed route, etc) in UK airspace will be shot down.

I found this shocking to be said with a straight face to an audience in which most had IRs so must be at least slightly intelligent, and which went to considerable hassle to attend, so I got the man to repeat it for all to hear, which he did.

Is there really any basis for believing that if one sets 7600 and flies the filed route, in Europe or even just the UK, he is going to get intercepted (no I don't think they would shoot you down without a visual ident first) and if so, forced down?

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

How can you get intercepted in IMC? Not just that visual ident will be difficult, most fighter jets are not capable of flying in IMC.

most fighter jets are not capable of flying in IMC.

I thought that was the closely guarded secret of the Cold War, but they have moved on from that by now?

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

most fighter jets are not capable of flying in IMC.

Ah! Now I have an escape plan if needed!

Seriously though I find that incredible. I suppose though most can climb vertically through it in less than a minute so it doesn't matter much to them.

EIWT Weston

How can you get intercepted in IMC? Not just that visual ident will be difficult, most fighter jets are not capable of flying in IMC.

I think guided missiles, either from the ground or jets know or care much about IMC.

Redhill, United Kingdom

Peter, you asked a Q about European ops and then go on to discuss an answer from the UK. Get the drift ?

No; sorry. I just mentioned what I heard in the UK.

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

I cant give the answer because I simply don't know but I can tell you what happened to me in the UK on a VFR trip with a comms failure, and maybe (maybe not) this is what happens in IFR???

I had established communications with a radar equipped ATC unit (Farnborough LARS in this case). Com1 and Com2 mysteriously failed to work, with a "readability 1" at best. I squawked 7600 and ATC said something like Nxxxxx we see you squawking 7600, can you hear us, if yes press Ident". So I did. They knew my destination from my previous verbal communication (no flight plan for this flight) so they said are you continuing to xxxx, if yes press Ident, if not, don't press Ident. This style of communication happened for my hour long flight back, and near home, they said "we will call xxxx to let them know you will be landing non-radio in about 5 minutes". I phoned them up on the ground to thank them for their assistance :-)

So, in IFR I wonder if ATC will help you make a decision or give you options using the press Ident if you want to.... style of communication?. Maybe they will say "your nearest airport is xxx at 10nm on a bearing of 270, do you wish to land there, if yes, squawk ident".

I'm just as keen to know what the actual answer is if its different to my VFR experience, and if there is Euro wide lost comms procedure. I assume it must be in one of the IFR books you read.

No; sorry. I just mentioned what I heard in the UK.

What I mean is that the UK is increasingly the odd man out. If you talk about Europe, forget the UK position, nobody much cares (think IMCr, etc). I certainly would not give a toss about anything someone from NATS has to say if I wanted some info on European ops.

My question is a bit similar to this discussion, 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?


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…

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