IR part 141: Flying Approaches and Practicing ATC Communications

Brand-new instrument rating course students often encounter a lot of problems after feeling rather confident flying VFR. For example, quickly transitioning to a visual approach after hearing the words ‘runway in sight’ (when you should remove your hood and really see the runway), calculating the optimal speed for a stabilized approach, or executing a stabilized approach itself. However, the most challenging part for me was communicating with ATC.

We mainly fly in the ‘Jacksonville Approach’ area. At first, the word ‘approach’ itself is a little confusing compared since these controllers are responsible for some airspace not only related to instrument approaches or departures. But that’s just a side note.

The problem is that the controller talks way too fast and does not follow the standard ICAO phraseology. The FAA world is really different. While I am almost okay with male controllers, I have significant problems with some ladies. They speak even faster, and their high-pitched voices challenge me even more. Of course, it becomes better with practice, but initially, especially under some pressure because of other new factors, it was pretty hard.

I have to learn more phraseology as well. For example, I had never heard ‘cleared for the options’ before. But everything comes with more experience.

We fly approaches in a class D airspace, which is not very busy, but it depends on the time of day. For example, once we received a holding clearance with an EFC (Expected Further Clearance) in 1 hour, which means we could have flown holding patterns for an hour in the worst case. Fortunately, we asked for a VOR approach after about 10 minutes and received clearance.

I strongly advise flying in the US at least for radio communications practice. Initially, it can be challenging even for native speakers. ATC speaks fast, and you should understand and comply quickly because you are usually not alone in the airspace. At the private level, it does not matter a lot, but for IR, it helps gain more experience and confidence.

Moreover, there are many more controlled airports here. For example, we have at least five options in less than an hour of flight, all without landing or approach fees. Additionally, there are official GPS approach charts even for small uncontrolled airports.

One piece of advice for prospective IR students, especially non-native speakers, is to practice ATC. Listen to LiveATC, watch YouTube videos, repeat phrases, try to capture the situation in the air, and even try to sketch aircraft positions from some LiveATC channel.






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