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10 Answers

IFR Departure

Asked by: 2940 views Airspace, FAA Regulations

Controlled airspace typically begins 700 AGL or 1200 AGL.  Assume ATC instructs you " turn to heading 360 upon entering controlled airspace". Given this clearance,  assume my departure airport is (Class G)  and controlled airspace begins 1200 AGL. After departure and once I reach 1200 AGL I do turn to heading 360. Does entering controlled airspace at 1200AGL in this case imply that ATC can see me on radar and also allows for proper obstacle/terrain clearance?  Is it possible to be below radar coverage yet I can still turn to 360 at 1200 AGL and have proper obstacle/terrain clearance?

10 Answers

  1. Todd Synan on Nov 25, 2013

    Being in controlled airspace does not imply radar coverage. Think about position reporting requirements, some of which are only required when not in radar contact. So yes, it is possible to be below (not in) radar coverage but still be in controlled airspace. You’re responsible for obstacle/terrain clearance until you’re on a published route or procedure with a specified minimum instrument altitude or being radar vectored. Since the controller gave you a vector after reaching controlled airspace, it’s up to you to avoid obstructions and terrain until you reach the point where the vector you received applies (reaching controlled airspace). Might also want to check for an ODP at your departure airport. Also, being in controlled airspace alone does not guarantee clearance with obstacles or terrain either. Lots of controlled airspace goes all the way to the ground (Class B, C, D, some E) and there are plenty of obstructions in those areas.

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  2. John D Collins on Nov 25, 2013

    You are responsible for maintaining terrain and obstacle clearance until the aircraft is receiving radar vectors. A turn to heading on entering controlled airspace is not a vector and doesn’t guarantee separation from obstacles nor does it mean you are in radar contact. If terrain or obstacles are an issue, the controller may ask you to confirm that the clearance will provide for terrain or obstruction avoidance. Also, just because the controller states “radar contact” is also not a vector. To be a vector you must first be in radar contact and second assigned a heading to fly.

    If there is a printed DP or a graphic ODP, you should follow it prior to any turns. If there is any question on what to do, clear it up with the controller prior to your departure. In the AIM, you should read thru section 5−2−8. Instrument Departure Procedures (DP) − Obstacle Departure Procedures (ODP) and Standard instrument Departures (SID).

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  3. Sam Dawson on Nov 25, 2013

    Radar coverage and controlled airspace are two different animals and there are many areas where you will be in controlled airspace and out of radar coverage. There are some places in the US where you may even be out of radio coverage while operating in controlled airspace (there use to be an area on V-280 between KELP and KROW where this was the case at MEA’s).
    So as John wrote, until you hear “Radar contact” you are responsible for your own terrain and obstacle clearance.

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  4. Todd Synan on Nov 25, 2013

    Whoops, just realized that I was wrong about the heading assignment being a vector, since you’re not yet in radar contact. Sorry for the confusion there.

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  5. John D Collins on Nov 25, 2013


    Radar contact does not mean you are not still responsible for your own terrain and obstacle clearance. You must also been given a vector in order for ATC to assume responsibility for your terrain and obstacle clearance.

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  6. Dan Chitty on Nov 25, 2013

    Thank you all for the great feedback.

    Regarding my initial example, why would heading 360 not be considered a vector? I consider a heading to be a vector. What exact phraseology is ATC to use to indicate without question a vector is given?

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  7. John D Collins on Nov 26, 2013

    Fly heading is not a vector on departure because you are not in radar contact at the time you are instructed to fly the heading. Continuing to fly the assigned departure heading after being notified you are in radar contact is not a vector. Once you are in radar contact, and a fly heading is issued, it is a vector.

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  8. Dan Chitty on Nov 26, 2013

    Thank you John, Sam and Todd. Very helpful information.

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  9. Josh on May 09, 2014

    I had this issue come up on an IFR departure today. The clearance as delivered was “Upon entering controlled airspace, fly heading 090.” However, the ODP for our runway required a climb to 2000 before turning on course (which was 700 feet above the floor of the Class E airspace in the area).

    We told the delivery controller that we would need to fly the ODP heading to 2000MSL before flying the heading, and he responded somewhat with a contradictory response: “Fly the ODP and turn heading 090 entering controlled airspace.” In my opinion, it should have been “Fly the ODP and turn heading 090 when complete or when entering controlled airspace.”

    I’m trying to get clarification on exactly what should have happened here, as there was terrain in the area that we certainly wouldn’t have hit had we made the turn early, but would have put us below the required 1000 ft vertical separation.

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  10. Ryan on Jul 25, 2017

    You are correct. The ODP should be flown and THEN a heading from atc can be flown. Just a controllers take.

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