The roles and responsibilities of the
pilot and controller for effective participation in
the ATC system are contained in several documents.
Pilot responsibilities are in the CFR's and the air
traffic controller's are in the FAA Order
7110.65, Air Traffic Control, and supplemental FAA
directives. Additional and supplemental information
for pilots can be found in the current Aeronautical
Information Manual (AIM), Notices to Airmen, Advisory
Circulars and aeronautical charts. Since there are
many other excellent publications produced by
nongovernment organizations, as well as other
government organizations, with various updating
cycles, questions concerning the latest or most
current material can be resolved by cross-checking
with the above mentioned documents.
The pilot-in-command of an aircraft is
directly responsible for, and is the final authority
as to the safe operation of that aircraft. In an
emergency requiring immediate action, the
pilot-in-command may deviate from any rule in the
General Subpart A and Flight Rules Subpart B in
accordance with 14 CFR Section 91.3.
The air traffic controller is
responsible to give first priority to the separation
of aircraft and to the issuance of radar safety
alerts, second priority to other services that are
required, but do not involve separation of aircraft
and third priority to additional services to the
In order to maintain a safe and
efficient air traffic system, it is necessary that
each party fulfill their responsibilities to the
The responsibilities of the pilot and
the controller intentionally overlap in many areas
providing a degree of redundancy. Should one or the
other fail in any manner, this overlapping
responsibility is expected to compensate, in many
cases, for failures that may affect safety.
The following, while not intended to be
all inclusive, is a brief listing of pilot and
controller responsibilities for some commonly used
procedures or phases of flight. More detailed
explanations are contained in other portions of this
publication, the appropriate CFR's, AC's and similar
publications. The information provided is an overview
of the principles involved and is not meant as an
interpretation of the rules nor is it intended to
extend or diminish responsibilities.
Air Traffic Clearance
Acknowledges receipt and
understanding of an ATC clearance.
Reads back any hold short of runway
instructions issued by ATC.
Requests clarification or amendment,
as appropriate, any time a clearance is not fully
understood or considered unacceptable from a safety
Promptly complies with an air traffic
clearance upon receipt except as necessary to cope
with an emergency. Advises ATC as soon as possible
and obtains an amended clearance, if deviation is
A clearance to land means that appropriate
separation on the landing runway will be ensured. A
landing clearance does not relieve the pilot from
compliance with any previously issued altitude
Issues appropriate clearances for the
operation to be conducted, or being conducted, in
accordance with established criteria.
Assigns altitudes in IFR clearances
that are at or above the minimum IFR altitudes in
Ensures acknowledgement by the pilot
for issued information, clearances, or instructions.
Ensures that readbacks by the pilot
of altitude, heading, or other items are correct. If
incorrect, distorted, or incomplete, makes
corrections as appropriate.
Must request a contact approach and
makes it in lieu of a standard or special instrument
By requesting the contact approach,
indicates that the flight is operating clear of
clouds, has at least one mile flight visibility, and
reasonably expects to continue to the destination
airport in those conditions.
Assumes responsibility for
obstruction clearance while conducting a contact
Advises ATC immediately if unable to
continue the contact approach or if encounters less
than 1 mile flight visibility.
Is aware that if radar service is
being received, it may be automatically terminated
when told to contact the tower.
Pilot/Controller Glossary Term- Radar Service
Issues clearance for a contact
approach only when requested by the pilot. Does not
solicit the use of this procedure.
Before issuing the clearance,
ascertains that reported ground visibility at
destination airport is at least 1 mile.
Provides approved separation between
the aircraft cleared for a contact approach and
other IFR or special VFR aircraft. When using
vertical separation, does not assign a fixed
altitude, but clears the aircraft at or below an
altitude which is at least 1,000 feet below any IFR
traffic but not below Minimum Safe Altitudes
prescribed in 14 CFR Section 91.119.
Issues alternative instructions if,
in their judgment, weather conditions may make
completion of the approach impracticable.
Be aware that the controller issues
clearance for approach based only on known traffic.
Follows the procedure as shown on the
IAP, including all restrictive notations, such as:
Procedure not authorized at night;
Approach not authorized when local
area altimeter not available;
Procedure not authorized when
control tower not in operation;
Procedure not authorized when glide
slope not used;
Straight-in minimums not authorized
at night; etc.
Radar required; or
The circling minimums published on
the instrument approach chart provide adequate
obstruction clearance and pilots should not
descend below the circling altitude until the
aircraft is in a position to make final descent
for landing. Sound judgment and knowledge of the
pilot's and the aircraft's capabilities are the
criteria for determining the exact maneuver in
each instance since airport design and the
aircraft position, altitude and airspeed must all
AIM, Approach and Landing Minimums, Paragraph
Upon receipt of an approach clearance
while on an unpublished route or being radar
Complies with the minimum altitude
for IFR; and
Maintains the last assigned
altitude until established on a segment of a
published route or IAP, at which time published
Issues an approach clearance based on
Issues an IFR approach clearance only
after the aircraft is established on a segment of
published route or IAP, or assigns an appropriate
altitude for the aircraft to maintain until so
Executes a missed approach when one
of the following conditions exist:
Arrival at the Missed Approach
Point (MAP) or the Decision Height (DH) and visual
reference to the runway environment is
insufficient to complete the landing.
Determined that a safe landing is
Instructed to do so by ATC.
Advises ATC that a missed approach
will be made. Include the reason for the missed
approach unless the missed approach is initiated by
Complies with the missed approach
instructions for the IAP being executed unless other
missed approach instructions are specified by ATC.
If executing a missed approach prior
to reaching the MAP or DH, flies the instrument
procedure to the MAP at an altitude at or above the
Minimum Descent Altitude (MDA) or DH before
executing a turning maneuver.
Radar vectors issued by ATC when
informed that a missed approach is being executed
supersedes the previous missed approach procedure.
If making a missed approach from a
radar approach, executes the missed approach
procedure previously given or climbs to the altitude
and flies the heading specified by the controller.
Following a missed approach, requests
clearance for specific action; i.e., another
approach, hold for improved conditions, proceed to
an alternate airport, etc.
Issues an approved alternate missed
approach procedure if it is desired that the pilot
execute a procedure other than as depicted on the
instrument approach chart.
May vector a radar identified
aircraft executing a missed approach when
operationally advantageous to the pilot or the
In response to the pilot's stated
intentions, issues a clearance to an alternate
airport, to a holding fix, or for reentry into the
approach sequence, as traffic conditions permit.
Promptly complies with headings and
altitudes assigned to you by the controller.
Questions any assigned heading or
altitude believed to be incorrect.
If operating VFR and compliance with
any radar vector or altitude would cause a violation
of any CFR, advises ATC and obtains a revised
clearance or instructions.
Vectors aircraft in Class A, Class B,
Class C, Class D, and Class E airspace:
For noise abatement.
To obtain an operational advantage
for the pilot or controller.
Vectors aircraft in Class A, Class B,
Class C, Class D, Class E, and Class G airspace when
requested by the pilot.
Vectors IFR aircraft at or above
minimum vectoring altitudes.
May vector VFR aircraft, not at an
ATC assigned altitude, at any altitude. In these
cases, terrain separation is the pilot's
Initiates appropriate action if a
safety alert is received from ATC.
Be aware that this service is not
always available and that many factors affect the
ability of the controller to be aware of a situation
in which unsafe proximity to terrain, obstructions,
or another aircraft may be developing.
Issues a safety alert if aware an
aircraft under their control is at an altitude
which, in the controller's judgment, places the
aircraft in unsafe proximity to terrain,
obstructions or another aircraft. Types of safety
(a) Terrain or
Immediately issued to an aircraft
under their control if aware the aircraft is at an
altitude believed to place the aircraft in unsafe
proximity to terrain or obstructions.
Immediately issued to an aircraft under their
control if aware of an aircraft not under their
control at an altitude believed to place the
aircraft in unsafe proximity to each other. With
the alert, they offer the pilot an alternative, if
Discontinue further alerts if
informed by the pilot action is being taken to
correct the situation or that the other aircraft is
See and Avoid
When meteorological conditions
permit, regardless of type of flight plan or whether
or not under control of a radar facility, the pilot is
responsible to see and avoid other traffic, terrain,
Provides radar traffic information to
radar identified aircraft operating outside positive
control airspace on a workload permitting basis.
Issues safety alerts to aircraft
under their control if aware the aircraft is at an
altitude believed to place the aircraft in unsafe
proximity to terrain, obstructions, or other
Advises ATC any time cruising
airspeed varies plus or minus 5 percent or 10 knots,
whichever is greater, from that given in the flight
Complies with speed adjustments from
The minimum or maximum safe
airspeed for any particular operation is greater
or less than the requested airspeed. In such
cases, advises ATC.
It is the pilot's responsibility and prerogative
to refuse speed adjustments considered excessive
or contrary to the aircraft's operating
Operating at or above 10,000 feet
MSL on an ATC assigned SPEED ADJUSTMENT of more
than 250 knots IAS and subsequent clearance is
received for descent below 10,000 feet MSL. In
such cases, pilots are expected to comply with 14
CFR Section 91.117(a).
When complying with speed adjustment
assignments, maintains an indicated airspeed within
plus or minus 10 knots or 0.02 Mach number of the
Assigns speed adjustments to aircraft
when necessary but not as a substitute for good
Adheres to the restrictions published
in the FAA Order
7110.65, Air Traffic Control, as to when speed
adjustment procedures may be applied.
Avoids speed adjustments requiring
alternate decreases and increases.
Assigns speed adjustments to a
specified IAS (KNOTS)/Mach number or to increase or
decrease speed using increments of 10 knots or
Advises pilots to resume normal speed
when speed adjustments are no longer required.
Gives due consideration to aircraft
capabilities to reduce speed while descending.
Does not assign speed adjustments to
aircraft at or above FL 390 without pilot consent.
5-5-10. Traffic Advisories
Acknowledges receipt of traffic
Informs controller if traffic in
Advises ATC if a vector to avoid
traffic is desired.
Does not expect to receive radar
traffic advisories on all traffic. Some aircraft may
not appear on the radar display. Be aware that the
controller may be occupied with higher priority
duties and unable to issue traffic information for a
variety of reasons.
Advises controller if service is not
Issues radar traffic to the maximum
extent consistent with higher priority duties except
in Class A airspace.
Provides vectors to assist aircraft
to avoid observed traffic when requested by the
Issues traffic information to
aircraft in the Class B, Class C, and Class D
surface areas for sequencing purposes.
5-5-11. Visual Approach
If a visual approach is not desired,
Complies with controller's
instructions for vectors toward the airport of
intended landing or to a visual position behind a
The pilot must, at all times, have
either the airport or the preceding aircraft in
sight. After being cleared for a visual approach,
proceed to the airport in a normal manner or follow
the preceding aircraft. Remain clear of clouds while
conducting a visual approach.
If the pilot accepts a visual
approach clearance to visually follow a preceding
aircraft, you are required to establish a safe
landing interval behind the aircraft you were
instructed to follow. You are responsible for wake
Advise ATC immediately if the pilot
is unable to continue following the preceding
aircraft, cannot remain clear of clouds, or lose
sight of the airport.
Be aware that radar service is
automatically terminated, without being advised by
ATC, when the pilot is instructed to change to
Be aware that there may be other
traffic in the traffic pattern and the landing
sequence may differ from the traffic sequence
assigned by approach control or ARTCC.
Do not clear an aircraft for a visual
approach unless reported weather at the airport is
ceiling at or above 1,000 feet and visibility is 3
miles or greater. When weather is not available for
the destination airport, inform the pilot and do not
initiate a visual approach to that airport unless
there is reasonable assurance that descent and
flight to the airport can be made visually.
Issue visual approach clearance when
the pilot reports sighting either the airport or a
preceding aircraft which is to be followed.
Provide separation except when visual
separation is being applied by the pilot.
Continue flight following and traffic
information until the aircraft has landed or has
been instructed to change to advisory frequency.
Inform the pilot when the preceding
aircraft is a heavy.
When weather is available for the
destination airport, do not initiate a vector for a
visual approach unless the reported ceiling at the
airport is 500 feet or more above the MVA and
visibility is 3 miles or more. If vectoring weather
minima are not available but weather at the airport
is ceiling at or above 1,000 feet and visibility of
3 miles or greater, visual approaches may still be
Informs the pilot conducting the
visual approach of the aircraft class when pertinent
traffic is known to be a heavy aircraft.
5-5-12. Visual Separation
Acceptance of instructions to follow
another aircraft or to provide visual separation
from it is an acknowledgment that the pilot will
maneuver the aircraft as necessary to avoid the
other aircraft or to maintain in-trail separation.
Pilots are responsible to maintain visual separation
until flight paths (altitudes and/or courses)
If instructed by ATC to follow
another aircraft or to provide visual separation
from it, promptly notify the controller if you lose
sight of that aircraft, are unable to maintain
continued visual contact with it, or cannot accept
the responsibility for your own separation for any
The pilot also accepts responsibility
for wake turbulence separation under these
Applies visual separation
Within the terminal area when a
controller has both aircraft in sight or by
instructing a pilot who sees the other aircraft to
maintain visual separation from it.
Pilots are responsible to maintain
visual separation until flight paths (altitudes
and/or courses) diverge.
Within en route airspace when
aircraft are on opposite courses and one pilot
reports having seen the other aircraft and that the
aircraft have passed each other.
This clearance must be requested by
the pilot on an IFR flight plan, and if approved,
allows the pilot the choice (subject to any ATC
restrictions) to select an altitude or flight level
in lieu of an assigned altitude.
VFR-on-top is not permitted in certain airspace
areas, such as Class A airspace, certain restricted
areas, etc. Consequently, IFR flights operating VFR-on-top
will avoid such airspace.
AIM, IFR Clearance VFR-on-top, Paragraph
AIM, IFR Separation Standards, Paragraph
AIM, Position Reporting, Paragraph
AIM, Additional Reports, Paragraph
By requesting a VFR-on-top clearance,
the pilot assumes the sole responsibility to be
vigilant so as to see and avoid other aircraft and
Fly at the appropriate VFR altitude
as prescribed in 14 CFR Section 91.159.
Comply with the VFR visibility and
distance from clouds criteria in 14 CFR Section
91.155, Basic VFR weather minimums.
Comply with instrument flight rules
that are applicable to this flight; i.e., minimum
IFR altitudes, position reporting, radio
communications, course to be flown, adherence to
ATC clearance, etc.
Should advise ATC prior to any
altitude change to ensure the exchange of accurate
May clear an aircraft to maintain VFR-on-top
if the pilot of an aircraft on an IFR flight plan
requests the clearance.
Informs the pilot of an aircraft
cleared to climb to VFR-on-top the reported height
of the tops or that no top report is available;
issues an alternate clearance if necessary; and once
the aircraft reports reaching VFR-on-top, reclears
the aircraft to maintain VFR-on- top.
Before issuing clearance, ascertain
that the aircraft is not in or will not enter Class
5-5-14. Instrument Departures
Prior to departure considers the type
of terrain and other obstructions on or in the
vicinity of the departure airport.
Determines if obstruction avoidance
can be maintained visually or that the departure
procedure should be followed.
Determines whether a departure
procedure and/or DP is available for obstruction
At airports where IAP's have not been
published, hence no published departure procedure,
determines what action will be necessary and takes
such action that will assure a safe departure.
At locations with airport traffic
control service, when necessary, specifies direction
of takeoff, turn, or initial heading to be flown
At locations without airport traffic
control service but within Class E surface area when
necessary to specify direction of takeoff, turn, or
initial heading to be flown, obtains pilot's
concurrence that the procedure will allow the pilot
to comply with local traffic patterns, terrain, and
Includes established departure
procedures as part of the ATC clearance when pilot
compliance is necessary to ensure separation.
5-5-15. Minimum Fuel Advisory
Advise ATC of your minimum fuel
status when your fuel supply has reached a state
where, upon reaching destination, you cannot accept
any undue delay.
Be aware this is not an emergency
situation, but merely an advisory that indicates an
emergency situation is possible should any undue
On initial contact the term "minimum
fuel" should be used after stating call sign.
Salt Lake Approach, United 621, "minimum fuel."
Be aware a minimum fuel advisory does
not imply a need for traffic priority.
If the remaining usable fuel supply
suggests the need for traffic priority to ensure a
safe landing, you should declare an emergency due to
low fuel and report fuel remaining in minutes.
Pilot/Controller Glossary Item- Fuel Remaining.
When an aircraft declares a state of
minimum fuel, relay this information to the facility
to whom control jurisdiction is transferred.
Be alert for any occurrence which
might delay the aircraft.