How to use pre-departure clearances and digital ATIS in ForeFlight

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Among its many updates late last year, ForeFlight added the ability to get pre-departure clearances (PDC) and digital ATIS (D-ATIS) via the app. We’ve used it on some recent flights and really like how much time and hassle it saves; at a busy Class B airport anything that saves calling clearance is a good thing. As easy as it is, though, there are a few important steps to follow. Here’s a look at the process.

How it works

1. Sign up for PDC. Enrolling in for PDC does not require any additional fees, but it does require a ForeFlight Performance Plus or Business Performance subscription. Once you’ve subscribed to one of those plans, go to plan.foreflight.com and log in to your account. Go to the Aircraft tab and click the Enable button under Clearance Delivery. This will enable PDC for that aircraft so no matter who is filing the flight plan or flying the flight, Air Traffic Control (ATC) will assume you’re using it. That means if multiple pilots fly the same airplane, everyone needs to be on board with this.

2. File with ForeFlight. Next, simply file a flight plan in ForeFlight (using the Flights tab) on your next IFR flight. You’ll notice a PDC badge next to both the departure airport and the aircraft fields. If both show up, there’s nothing extra to do. In fact, on one flight we accidentally filed a flight plan through a service other than ForeFlight and we still got our PDC delivered to our cell phone. This is not something to be done regularly, but it’s a nice backstop in case someone forgets.

3. Review D-ATIS. Before starting your engine(s), you can review the official ATIS (not just the airport weather). This will be sent via text and email (like your clearance) but it’s also available in the app on the Airports tab or the Maps tab when you tap on an airport. This includes the active runway, taxiway closures and more.

4. Get your clearance by text or email. About half an hour before your proposed departure time, you’ll receive an email and text message to the phone number and email you entered in the flight plan form. This will include the actual clearance and ATIS. Your PDC will also be delivered to the email on file with the ForeFlight account if the flight plan email is different from the one on the account. This is not an expected route, it’s your official clearance, complete with route, altitude and squawk code. It’s valid for two hours after your ETD.

5. Call Ground ready to taxi. Once you’ve started up and loaded the avionics, you can skip ATIS and Clearance Delivery and call Ground. A PDC is an official clearance so ATC is assuming you already have it. Note that you can’t directly load a PDC route into ForeFlight (and thus send it to your panel via FlightStream, for example).

Limitations

PDC is really handy, especially for complicated clearances or busy airports, but there are some important limitations. First, remember that PDC requires a Performance Plus or Business Performance subscription and your specific tail number must be enrolled.

Second, PDC is only for IFR flight plans so it won’t work for VFR flight plans. PDC is also limited to one time per airport, per 18-hour period. So if the same airplane made multiple trips to the same airport in the same day, don’t expect it to work after the first time.

Finally, PDC is only available at about 75 (mainly airline) airports. The full list is available here, but don’t expect to get PDC at a smaller Class D airport. At least not yet – we expect PDCs to grow in popularity over time. Stay tuned…

11 COMMENTS

  1. When one clearance delivery facility that offers PDC (e.g., KSLC) also serves smaller, non-towered airports in the area (e.g., U42), will PDC be available at that smaller airport?

  2. The “once in eighteen hours” limitation seems odd and somewhat arbitrary. Honestly, it’s amazing to me that ALL clearances aren’t delivered automatically via Email regardless of the departure airport. The original PDC concept maybe made sense twenty years ago when only airlines had cockpit data capability (ACARS), but in 2019 I’m guessing 99.9% of active IFR pilots have data capability on smartphones. And D-ATIS should be at EVERY airport that does an ATIS and should be part of the ADS-B broadcast data.

    • I’m confident the limitation is on ATC’s end. Your iPad and ADS-B receiver are vastly more sophisticated than most airline and ATC systems.

  3. I can’t get the D-ATIS. Is a subscription required for it? I don’t usually file IFR but the D-ATIS would be nice anyway.

    • Jay the easiest way is to go to the Airports page and choose an airport. Then tap the Weather tab in the middle of the screen and you should see D-ATIS right under the METAR line. Note that D-ATIS is only available at large airports so you won’t see it for mosts airports.

  4. Honestly, it’s amazing to me that ALL clearances aren’t delivered automatically via Email regardless of the departure airport.

    I agree with this statement above. What is the limitation with ATC??? In todays high tech world I think this should be easy to do. It’s also safer and more efficient.

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