A peek into the future: using mobile devices for IFR clearance delivery

1 min read

In today’s environment, General Aviation (GA) pilots at non-towered airports must obtain their Instrument Flight Rule (IFR) clearance and release through a variety of voice-based methods, including a telephone or radio call to a Flight Service Station (FSS) or to the controlling Air Traffic Control (ATC) facility. These methods are time-consuming and subject to read back errors and incorrect interpretations of clearances.

The FAA has already implemented a data comm pre-departure clearance (PDC) system at the larger airports served by the airlines, but this requires a sophisticated FMS and avionics with an integrated datalink connection. There are third-party options to retrieve a PDC via email or text message through companies like FltPlan.com, but this too is only available at the major airports in the U.S.

The folks at the MITRE Corporation think there is a better way for ATC to deliver IFR clearances to pilots using mobile devices, and have been researching the concept for several years now. MITRE is a not-for-profit organization that operates research and development centers sponsored by the federal government. Here’s a look at their prototype, which was specifically for iPhone/iPad:

This is just a proof of concept at this point but provides some insight into how we might interact with ATC using our iPads in the years ahead.

9 replies
  1. Manfred Schmidt
    Manfred Schmidt says:

    Terrific. Had opportunity to fly 5 extended IFR trips in a light twin this past year from my home base of Springbank, Alberta to various points in the USA. All of the flights were to unknown areas, so there were several times where I had to ask for clarity on the clearance given to make sure I copied it correctly. The ForeFlight app made filing the various legs a breeze, but getting an actual departure clearance was mostly (but not always) a simple step. (The workload would definitely increase when last minute flight plan route changes were required). This proposed method using all the portable technology we’re already using in the cockpit would make things so much easier! Love that American ingenuity; keep it coming!

    On a side note, just want to commend the entire USA aviation infrastructure! Here in Canada we have a good to great system (sparse population across our vast country does not allow for the same infrastructure investment as you folks down south). However, your USA infrastructure and system (from the huge amount of airports, to the professionalism of your flight and tower controllers, flight briefers, customs personal at ports of entry, etc.) is unparalleled! So although we have a private air control system in Canada that works well, there is no comparison to the many multiples of overall system size to the USA. So going only by my experiential knowledge of flying in both systems, I would be extremely cautious in contemplating a private system for the USA. You have built an infrastructure that no other country on Earth can match, and I am convinced it could not be built nor supported and maintained if your current public (government) system were replaced with a private one.

  2. Hart Van Meter
    Hart Van Meter says:

    I’ve used datalink pre-departure clearance dlivery and enroute ‘controller-pilot-datalink-communication (CPDLC) with a Part 121 carrier for several years before retiring and have always wished for similar capabilities for my little Cessna 182. Finally the 21st century is filtering down to us little guys. ADS-B should soon be a pathway for something like enroute CPDLC which would help eliminate confusing clearances, reduce radio congestion and improv safety. YAY!

  3. Brad Berger
    Brad Berger says:

    This is great! There are a number of airports in the Pacific NW where this will be an incredibly useful tool. Keep up the great work

  4. Dave Hurd
    Dave Hurd says:

    Flew 7 hours IFR yesterday on 2 legs from non-towered to non-towered to non towered. Controllers were great, but this application would have made the trip much easier and safer. Had two en-route re-routes where controller had to spell out the changed fixes. Having that info on a screen would make the subsequent programming of the GPS clearer, less error prone, and free up the frequencies. This sounds like a great app!

  5. R Mahoney
    R Mahoney says:

    With GCO numbers downsizing it’s pretty difficult to get a clearance at many airports now without first getting some altitude. When low IFR prevails that’s a problem. This solution sounds like what the doctor ordered. The only minor glitch I’d expect is having to disconnect something like a Stratus wifi so the iPad’s cellular data will flow. Re-enabling the Stratus on the ground will likely disconnect the controller from your aircraft’s tarmac location and kill follow-on communications.
    Remembering to re-enable the Stratus wifi will have to become a part of the checklist once you’re in the air. Until you re-enable the TIS-B and FIS-B will be off-line.

    To our northern friend’s comment about our ATC infrastructure, Thanks! I hope DC heard you.

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