IFR Lost Communications Procedures for Pilots [Video]

What to Do if You Lose IFR Comms: Scenarios and Procedures for Landing Safely


IFR Lost Communications Procedures – Video Transcript


Today, we are going to start talking about IFR lost communications procedures. We’re going to find all of the regulatory side of this in 91.185 and we’re probably going to break this out into a lot of different example cases over time, but for right now I just want to work through the process, and start off the flow chart that we would have. The very first thing to ask ourselves is, well actually, very first thing is are we actually lost communications? So sometimes it’s best to just run your own checklist of:

  • Are you on the correct frequency?
  • Are you using the right radio?
  • Did you try a secondary radio if you have one installed?
  • Are you sure volume is set correctly?

All of those kinds of things. Make sure that you’re actually in a lost comm scenario before you go through the whole process of following these procedures, but assuming you were, and you find yourself squawking 7600, we need to decide what we’re going to do, how we’re going to safely navigate to an airport to land.

The very first piece that it tells us to look at is the weather conditions that we’re in. It identifies either instrument meteorological conditions or visual meteorological conditions, and it says if you are in VMC then go VFR. Just go find an airport nearby, land, and everything is done. You can call, close your flight plan, and explain what happened. I’m sure they’ll know since they probably saw you squawking 7600 anyway, but anyway this gets you on the ground safely and without any other issues. If however that is not the case and you find yourself in IMC, then you would need to follow these particular rules to ensure that you stay on the correct route and altitude and ensure timing is correct as well.

So, what is interesting about this is, sometimes this gets kind of messed up a little bit. It’s not at the very beginning when you experience this lost communication you make the choice whether you’re going this way or this way. Yes, that’s true, but it’s not indefinite. If at any time throughout your flight you experience VMC, you pop out of those clouds, then go VFR. So even if you’re following this way, as soon as you come out of that weather, you can immediately just go VFR and land as soon as practical. So, I think that is kind of important. You can keep bouncing back and forth, meaning as long as you’re in instrument meteorological conditions, you’ll continue to follow what the rule says but if at any point in time you experience VMC, stay VFR, don’t go back into the clouds, and land as soon as practical.

So now what I want to do is talk about how this is broken out. So, we’re going to divide it up into three parts. We’re going to talk about how to determine the route to follow, how to determine what altitude to fly at, and when to leave your clearance limit. So first let’s talk a little bit about route.


So, switching over to the route, the rule is kind of specific. It’s going to go in a very exact order. So, it’s not choose one of these, it’s instead going to follow a particular order. So, I typically follow this acronym “AREA”. There are others that people have come up with for sure, but “AREA” is the one that I typically use to help me remember this sequence. or this order. So, the very first one is whatever the assigned route was. So, when you received your clearance, if ATC gave you routing all the way to your clearance limit, then you’re going to follow that routing all the way there. If you don’t have any routing information, or you’re beyond that point in your flight, if you were being radar vectored, for example, and not on a specific route at that point, then if you’re being radar vectored then it says you would go direct to whatever fix or airway they were trying to get you to on those radar vectors. Number three is if ATC told you to expect something. So, if they gave you an expected instruction to expect a certain route after this point. So, after this fix, expect bla bla bla. Then you would want to do that if there’s no other assigned routing after that point. And last, if you have nothing else to go off of, it’s whatever you’ve filed in your flight plan to get you to your destination. So, none of these others are available, you would just go as you’ve filed. I think that this clarifies at least that sequencing. I’m going to make several more videos that will go through a bunch of examples of how we would go through this, but I think for now this at least breaks down how this is going to work. Now let’s switch over and we’ll talk a little bit about altitude and how to choose which altitude for each route segment.


So, switching gears, we’re going talk a little bit now about how to choose which altitude to fly at in this lost communications scenario. So the rule tells us that we should choose the highest of these three for each route segment and once again, we’ll do a bunch of example cases over time, but I wanted to just run through what each of those three are. The first is a minimum IFR altitude. So minimum IFR altitudes would be things like the MEA for that victor airway for example, or a minimum crossing altitude, minimum reception altitudes, if you’re using that navigation, or off-road obstacle clearance altitudes, whatever the case might be. Could be an MSA, whatever. These are the published IFR altitudes for each route segment. Next is an expected altitude. So, if ATC told us to expect, let’s say for example, they gave us an instruction like climb maintain 5,000 expect 10,000 in 10 minutes. Well then, our assigned is 5,000 and our expected altitude is 10,000 in 10 minutes. So, after those 10 minutes have expired, then that expected altitude becomes valid, and that’s the altitude that would be in play. Assigned obviously is whatever ATC has issued you as an altitude to fly at. So once again, for each route segment, we’ll want to compare each of these three, and when we compare each of these three, we’ll choose whichever is the highest and therefore we can then fly that altitude for the remainder of that route segment. So, our last piece is going to be choosing when to leave the clearance limit. This is generally going to happen near the end of our flight, but in either case, let’s dive into what that’s going to look like next.

When to Leave Clearance Limit

Last piece that we want to get through is when to leave the clearance limit. So to go through this piece, I think it’s really important that we break it down into a flow chart again, and so I’m just going to ask a series of questions, and that will help us navigate to which of the four answers we should follow. So the first is, is the clearance limit an initial approach fix? So IAF means “initial approach fix”. So, if the answer is yes, we’re going to go this way. If the answer is no, we’re going to go this way. In either case, we’re also then going to ask, did we receive an expect further clearance time or EFC time? So let’s say we did receive a clearance limit that was an initial approach fix, and we did get an EFC time, then we would simply get to that initial approach fix, we would hold there until our EFC time, and then we could proceed in on the approach. If the EFC time has already lapsed, then as soon as we get to the initial approach fix, we just continue immediately inbound on the approach. If we were not given an EFC time, then we would leave that clearance limit at our expected time of arrival. So, whatever that might be, that’s when we would ultimately leave that initial approach fix out on the approach.

So, on the other side, if our clearance limit was not in the initial approach fix, then we still ask ourselves did we receive an expect further clearance time. If we did, then we would wait at that clearance limit until the EFC, then we would proceed to an initial approach fix to shoot that particular approach. If we did not receive and expect further clearance time, then as soon as we get to that clearance limit we’d immediately leave and go to a place where we go to an initial approach fix, then we leave that initial approach fix at the ETA. So that’s the plan all the way through. It’s based on really two variables, if the clearance limit is an initial approach fix and if we have an expect further clearance time. Those two questions really are the two pieces that are going to direct you as to which of these four will be the solution. Hopefully, this has been helpful as we just talked about the basic structure of this regulation for dealing with a lost communication scenario in IMC. What we’re going to do is continue to make more videos that will go through some example cases, that way we can really start to explore each of these options a little bit further and use some exact examples to help articulate what we should do.

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