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3 Answers

ATC Assigned Heading Confusion

Asked by: 1528 views , ,
General Aviation, Instrument Rating, Private Pilot

Today ATC assigned me direct to the IAF for an ILS. I was flying a heading of 150 to the IAF when ATC told me to turn right to heading 140. I asked for a confirmation of the heading and once again was told right 150. I told the controller I would need to turn left to make 140. The controller again said turn right to 140 so I acknowledged. I then gradually adjusted left to 140 and the approach continued as normal. 

Any suggestions on better ways to handle this? As an afterthought I guess I should have told the controller my current heading was 150. 

Thanks in advance. 


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3 Answers

  1. Dave M on Apr 16, 2016

    I would probabbly say something like, “November blah-blah-blah” is currently on heading 150. Confirm RIGHT turn to 140.” If he/she confirms that is what they want you to do, then go ahead and do a right-360.

    A couple of things to consider:

    a) You didn’t say what the last heading they gave you was. Did he give you 130 and you drifted to 150? Remember: ATC can’t see your heading, only your ground track, which could be very different depending on winds, etc.

    b) They might have forgotten the last heading they gave you. ATC are only human and sometimes make mistakes as well.

    c) They may have actually wanted you to do a 360 for spacing with other traffic. But, if they didn’t yell at you, this probably wasn’t the case.

    By letting him/her know your current heading, it lets them build a mental map and decide if their instruction actually made sense,

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  2. mmosier1 on Apr 17, 2016

    Thanks for the response and good suggestions. I was given direct to the IAF without an assigned heading.


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  3. Mark Kolber on Apr 22, 2016

    apropos this post, I recall watching a YouTube video of a flight. The instruction was for a right turn to a heading in which the “obvious” (i.e., shorter) turn was to the left. The pilot made pretty much the same inquiry as Dave suggested.

    ATC confirmed the direction of turn, adding the explanation that it was for IFR spacing, per Dave’s (c),

    The real takeaway is something that should be obvious but apparently isn’t since someone figured we needed an FAR that says, “When a pilot is uncertain of an ATC clearance, that pilot shall immediately request clarification from ATC.”

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