What You are Required to Read Back to ATC

Do you know what you are required to read back when ATC issues a clearance to you? Apparently a lot of pilots–including high-time pros–don’t know what they are required to read back.

AIM

A contact of mine at Chicago Approach Control said he is pulling his hair out because many pilots do not read back his clearances as expected. He asked me if there are any regs to control what and how a pilot reads back an ATC clearance. Here’s my answer to him in the very first episode of the IFR Flight Radio Show.

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91.123 Compliance with ATC clearances and instructions.

(a) When an ATC clearance has been obtained, no pilot in command may deviate from that clearance unless an amended clearance is obtained, an emergency exists, or the deviation is in response to a traffic alert and collision avoidance system resolution advisory. However, except in Class A airspace, a pilot may cancel an IFR flight plan if the operation is being conducted in VFR weather conditions. When a pilot is uncertain of an ATC clearance, that pilot shall immediately request clarification from ATC.

(b) Except in an emergency, no person may operate an aircraft contrary to an ATC instruction in an area in which air traffic control is exercised.

(c) Each pilot in command who, in an emergency, or in response to a traffic alert and collision avoidance system resolution advisory, deviates from an ATC clearance or instruction shall notify ATC of that deviation as soon as possible.

(d) Each pilot in command who (though not deviating from a rule of this subpart) is given priority by ATC in an emergency, shall submit a detailed report of that emergency within 48 hours to the manager of that ATC facility, if requested by ATC.

(e) Unless otherwise authorized by ATC, no person operating an aircraft may operate that aircraft according to any clearance or instruction that has been issued to the pilot of another aircraft for radar air traffic control purposes.

AIM 4−4−7. Pilot Responsibility upon Clearance Issuance

b. ATC Clearance/Instruction Readback.

Pilots of airborne aircraft should read back those parts of ATC clearances and instructions containing altitude assignments, vectors, or runway assignments as a means of mutual verification. The read back of the “numbers” serves as a double check between pilots and controllers and reduces the kinds of communications errors that occur when a number is either “misheard” or is incorrect.

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Your Question of the Week:

You are inbound to an airport with a published Standard Terminal Arrival called the Candy Five. As you approach the VORTAC the defines the beginning of the arrival, the controller at Chicago Center says, “Twin Cessna 553 UM, proceed via the Candy 5. Descend and maintain 9,000.” You readback this clearance and navigate along the route for the Candy 5. You also begin a descent to 9,000. Then you notice, 20 miles ahead there is an intersection with a published crossing restriction of 8,000 feet. Would you descend to cross that intersection at 8,000?

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