An important consideration to make during your flight planning is whether or not you are able to fly your chosen departure procedure as charted.

DP Responsibilities

Responsibility for the safe execution of DPs rests on the shoulders of both ATC and the pilot. Without the interest and attention of both parties, the IFR system cannot work in harmony, and achievement of safety is impossible.
ATC, in all forms, is responsible for issuing clearances appropriate to the operations being conducted, assigning altitudes for IFR flight above the minimum IFR altitudes for a specific area of controlled airspace, ensuring the pilot has acknowledged the clearance or instructions, and ensuring the correct read back of instructions. Specifically related to departures, ATC is responsible for specifying the direction of takeoff or initial heading when necessary, obtaining pilot concurrence that the procedure complies with local traffic patterns, terrain, and obstruction clearance, and including DP as part of the ATC clearance when pilot compliance for separation is necessary.
The pilot has a number of responsibilities when simply operating in conjunction with ATC or when using DPs under an IFR clearance:
  • Acknowledge receipt and understanding of an ATC clearance.
  • Read back any part of a clearance that contains “hold short” instructions.
  • Request clarification of clearances.
  • Request an amendment to a clearance if it is unacceptable from a safety perspective.
  • Promptly comply with ATC requests. Advise ATC immediately if unable to comply with a clearance.
  • You are required to contact ATC if you are unable to comply with all-engines-operating climb gradients and climb rates. It is also expected that you are capable of maintaining the climb gradient outlined in either a standard or non-standard DP. If you cannot maintain a standard climb gradient or the climb gradient specified in an ODP, you must wait until you can depart under VMC.

When planning for a departure, pilots should:
  • Consider the type of terrain and other obstructions in the vicinity of the airport.
  • Determine if obstacle clearance can be maintained visually, or if they need to make use of a DP.
  • Determine if an ODP or SID is available for the departure airport.
  • Determine what actions allow for a safe departure out of an airport that does not have any type of affiliated DPs.
By simply complying with DPs in their entirety as published, obstacle clearance is guaranteed. Depending on the type of departure used, responsibility for terrain clearance and traffic separation may be shared between pilots and controllers.

Departures From Tower-Controlled Airports

Departing from a tower-controlled airport is relatively simple in comparison to departing from non-towered airport. Normally you request your IFR clearance through ground control or clearance delivery. Communication frequencies for the various controllers are listed on departure, approach, and airport charts, as well as the Chart Supplement (CS). At some airports, you may have the option of receiving a pre-taxi clearance. This program allows you to call ground control or clearance delivery no more than 10 minutes prior to beginning taxi operations and receive your IFR clearance. A pre-departure clearance (PDC) program that allows pilots to receive a clearance via data link from a dispatcher or a data link communications service provider, e.g. ARINC, is available for Part 121 and 135 operators. A clearance is given to the dispatcher, who n turn, relays it to the crew, enabling the crew to bypass communication with clearance delivery, thus reducing frequency congestion. Once you have received your clearance, it is your responsibility to comply with the instructions as given, and notify ATC if you are unable to comply with the clearance. If you do not understand the clearance, or if you think that you have missed a portion of the clearance, contact ATC immediately for clarification.

Departures From Airports Without an Operating Control Tower

There are hundreds of airports across the United States that operate successfully every day without the benefit of a control tower. While a tower is certainly beneficial when departing IFR, most other departures can be made with few challenges. As usual, you must file your flight plan at least 30 minutes in advance. During your planning phase, investigate the departure airport’s method for receiving an instrument clearance. You can contact the Flight Service Station (FSS) on the ground by telephone, and they will request your clearance from ATC. Typically, when a clearance is given in this manner, the clearance includes a void time. You must depart the airport before the clearance void time; if you fail to depart, you must contact ATC by a specified notification time, which is within 30 minutes of the original void time. After the clearance void time, your reserved space within the IFR system is released for other traffic.
There are several other ways to receive a clearance at a non-towered airport. If you can contact the FSS or ATC on the radio, you can request your departure clearance. However, these frequencies are typically congested, and they may not be able to provide you with a clearance via the radio. You also can use a Remote Communications Outlet (RCO) to contact a FSS if one is located nearby. Some airports have licensed UNICOM operators that can also contact ATC on your behalf and, in turn, relay your clearance from ATC. You are also allowed to depart the airport VFR, if conditions permit, and contact the controlling authority to request your clearance in the air. If there is a direct line to the controlling ATC Facility, the phone number is published in the Chart Supplement U.S. (formerly Airport/Facility Directory (A/FD). As technology improves, new methods for delivery of clearances at non-towered airports are being created.

Ground Communication Outlet

Ground Communication Outlets (GCO), have been developed in conjunction with the FAA to provide pilots flying in and out of non-towered airports with the capability to contact ATC and AFSS via very high frequency (VHF) radio to a telephone connection. This lets pilots obtain an instrument clearance or close a VFR/IFR flight plan. You can use four key clicks on your VHF radio to contact the nearest ATC facility and six key clicks to contact the local AFSS, but it is intended to be used only as a ground operational tool. A GCO is an unstaffed, remote controlled ground-to-ground communication facility that is relatively inexpensive to install and operate. Installations of these types of outlets are scheduled at instrument airports around the country.
GCOs are manufactured by different companies including ARINC and AVTECH, each with different operating characteristics but with the ability to accomplish the same goal. This latest technology has proven to be an incredibly useful tool for communicating with the appropriate authorities when departing IFR from a non-towered airport. The GCO should help relieve the need to use the telephone to call ATC and the need to depart into marginal conditions just to achieve radio contact. GCO information is listed on airport charts and instrument approach charts with other communications frequencies. Signs may also be located on an airport to notify you of the frequency and proper usage.

See and Avoid Techniques

Meteorological conditions permitting, you are required to use “see and avoid” techniques to avoid traffic, terrain, and other obstacles. To avoid obstacles during a departure, the takeoff minimums may include a non-standard ceiling and visibility minimum. These are given to pilots so they can depart an airport without being able to meet the established climb gradient. Instead, they must see and avoid obstacles in the departure path. In these situations, ATC provides radar traffic information for radar-identified aircraft outside controlled airspace, workload permitting, and safety alerts to pilots believed to be within an unsafe proximity to obstacles or aircraft.

VFR Departures

There may be times when you need to fly an IFR flight plan due to the weather you will encounter at a later time (or if you simply wish to fly IFR to remain proficient), but the weather outside is clearly VFR. It may be that you can depart VFR, but you need to get an IFR clearance shortly after departing the airport. A VFR departure can be used as a tool that allows you to get off the ground without having to wait for a time slot in the IFR system, however, departing VFR with the intent of receiving an IFR clearance in the air can also present serious hazards worth considering.
A VFR departure dramatically changes the takeoff responsibilities for you and for ATC. Upon receiving clearance for a VFR departure, you are cleared to depart; however, you must maintain separation between yourself and other traffic. You are also responsible for maintaining terrain and obstruction clearance, as well as remaining in VFR weather conditions. You cannot fly in IMC without first receiving your IFR clearance. Likewise, a VFR departure relieves ATC of these duties and basically requires them only to provide you with safety alerts as workload permits.
Maintain VFR until you have obtained your IFR clearance and have ATC approval to proceed on course in accordance with your clearance. If you accept this clearance and are below the minimum IFR altitude for operations in the area, you accept responsibility for terrain/obstruction clearance until you reach that altitude.