Last year we reported on a concept from MITRE corporation that showed how to deliver IFR clearances via electronic flight bag app. The goal was to offer a safer, more reliable, and more efficient way to pick up a clearance at a remote airport. The idea got a lot of attention from pilots, especially from instrument pilots who may have occasionally struggled to get cell phone reception in order to call Flight Service, or who may have taken off in marginal VFR conditions to pick up a clearance in the air.
Now this concept is taking the next step, with a limited test at Manassas Regional Airport (HEF) in Virginia. The test will be for IFR flight plans only, departing HEF, and using ForeFlight (which licenses MTRE mobile expected clearance technology). Participation is completely voluntary, and ForeFlight will contact eligible pilots by email. So the test is fairly limited, but the potential is exciting.
The test begins today (May 15, 2018) and is scheduled to end by July 29. It is designed to be transparent to Air Traffic Control, so nothing changes from the standpoint of Potomac Approach. Pilots will see their expected clearance via email, but they will still need to read back the clearance on the radio. Even with this limitation, getting a clearance ahead of time should enable pilots to load the route into the panel, and be able to read back the clearance more easily (without scribbling notes frantically).
What comes next? MITRE says, “Feedback received from this test will be used by researchers to determine any changes or adjustments necessary to move on to subsequent phases of the test. Subsequent phases are designed to move towards a less verbal process for delivering IFR clearances at towered and non-towered airports.” That could mean fully electronic clearance delivery and acceptance at some point, sort of like a pre-departure clearance (PDC) for light general aviation pilots.
Pilots may not be tapping a “request clearance” button in ForeFlight just yet, but this test shows the promise of mobile apps to move beyond scratchy radios and outdated ATC procedures. We’ll follow it closely and report on new developments.
Here is a video from MITRE showing the concept in action: