Pilot's tip of the week

Flight Following from Non-Towered Airports?


Subscriber question:

 "At a non-towered airport, can I call the overlying Approach or Center to arrange flight following before departing?" — Ed P.


“Generally, no.

At a towered airport, the tower controller is in direct contact with the approach or center controller, so any change of plans can be instantly communicated. 

That’s not the case at a non-towered airport. ATC is reluctant to give a transponder code to a VFR aircraft unless they are in direct contact. Suppose something like a rough mag or an open door delays or cancels your departure. ATC will be looking for you and may need to initiate search and rescue.

Your focus when departing a non-towered airport should be on the Common Traffic Advisory Frequency and local traffic. Once you are safely clear of the pattern, then you can contact ATC for Flight Following.

Some special procedures may apply in certain areas, such as the Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA) around Washington DC. Special training is also required to operate in these areas. Be careful!

Flight Following is always workload and radar coverage dependent. So, at times, you may not be able to get the service no matter where you’re departing from. Usually, you will though, and it’s a service worth having. But at a non-towered airport, you may need to wait until airborne to get it.

Has VFR flight following ever "saved the day" for you?

Get the Pilot’s Tip of the Week

Sign up here to receive tips like this every week along with videos, quizzes and more.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.