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IFR Clearance Primer

"N132KT, Cleared to the Palomar Airport via fly hdg 175, vectors V23, OCN, direct, maintain 5000, expect 7000 5 mins after departure, departure freqency 121.30, squawk 1312"

To the uninitiated, it's a long string of seemingly random instructions.  Careful examination, though, reveals a strict, unwaivering pattern that makes receiving and copying these clearances a whole lot easier.


IFR clearances are broken down into the following components:

Clearance Limit: This is the airport, fix, VOR, NDB that your IFR clearance is valid to.  "Cleared to the Palomar airport..."

Route: This is the series of vectors, fixes, VORs, NDB's, airways, departures, arrivals, or otherwise named routes that make up the route of flight.  "...via fly hdg 175, vectors V23, OCN, direct..." 

Altitude: No surprises here, this is the altitude to maintain. If the filed altitude isn't immediately available, an initial altitude is given. The 'expect...' is actually there for lost communication purposes and won't be detailed here.  Practically speaking, you will be climbed to your final altitude as soon as separation and other airspace related issues allow. "...maintain 5000, expect 7000 5 mins after departure..."

Frequency: This is the departure frequency to expect on wheels up. Receipt of a departure frequency does NOT mean you should change to that frequency immediately. It's simply to let you know who you can EXPECT to talk to on departure. Stay with your current controller unless you're told otherwise. "...departure frequency 123.10..."

Transponder: This is a discrete code that is assigned to you so that you can be uniquely identified in the controller's airspace on radar. "...squawk 1312."

'As Filed'

For brevity, if the cleared route matches what you originally filed in your flight plan, the controller can use the phrase 'as filed' instead of reading the full route.  In addition, if a Standard Instrument Departure (SID) is being used that contains information about departure frequencies and altitude information, the controller may omit the bulk of the Route, the Altitude and the  Frequency portions of the clearance, resulting in the slightly less appealing acronym, CT.

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