Pilot's tip of the week

Contacting Ground After Landing

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Subscriber question:

"This happened on a flight review: I cleared the runway at a towered airport and then waited for almost a minute before Tower told me to contact Ground. The instructor admonished me for not switching to Ground as soon as I cleared the runway, but I thought I had to wait. Who’s correct here?" — Tammy C.

Kevin:

You were correct, and you might give your instructor a gentle reminder of AIM 4-3-14. It says: ‘A pilot who has just landed should not change from the tower frequency to the ground control frequency until directed to do so by the controller.’

Chapter 3-10-9 of the ATC rules says that local controllers need to give runway exiting instructions. But the rule itself only requires controllers issue instructions on where to exit the runway and any other instructions as necessary for traffic. 

Will Tower always want to switch you to Ground? Like so many other things, it depends and there’s no good way to know.

At some towered airports, the local controller (radio call ‘Tower’) has responsibility for just the active runway while the ground controller (radio call ‘Ground’) will have responsibility for the taxiways and maybe runways that aren’t being used for takeoff and landing. The local and ground controllers coordinate with each other whenever they move an airplane on the other controller’s area of jurisdiction.

At other towered airports, Local has responsibility for runways and some taxiways.  In this situation, they will work you on a few taxiways and maybe across another runway in use before switching you to Ground. The local controller might also be working the ground position. This could be because of having only one controller in the tower, or it could be that there are two controllers but things are split up with one controller working Flight Data and Clearance Delivery while the other works Local and Ground.

So, what to do if you exit the runway and haven’t been switched to ground but also haven’t been given taxi instructions? Give the local controller a little poke. Something like ‘Metro Tower, N123 is off Runway 32 at Bravo’ or ‘Metro Tower, N123 parking at North Ramp.’ Or, just ask them directly if you should switch to Ground. Local might then switch you to Ground, or they might keep you on the tower frequency with further instructions.”

Learn more about ground communications in this excerpt from our VFR Communications Manual.

What's your first move to get a ground (or any) controller's attention if you think you were forgotten?

(NEW) VFR Mastery scenario #67 “A Swift Decision” is now available. A pre-takeoff briefing exists to remove hesitation and doubt from split-second emergency decisions after takeoff. The problem is that most real-world departures present several opportunities to go off script. Some of those improvisations could turn an off-field crash into an uneventful runway landing—or a disaster. Watch the Intro video.

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