Flight Following and altitude changes

Flight Following and altitude changes

Postby silberztein » Thu Mar 26, 2020 1:30 am

I always use Flight Following when flying VFR; I state "slant-golf" (the base Cessna skyhawk 172 with REP) and give my original intended flight altitude for the flight, e.g. 8500 ft.

When I encounter clouds at my altitude, in order to stay VFR, I change altitude (e.g. go down to 6500 ft) and I have always notified ATC. Until now, they always have answered "thank you", or "roger", often giving me the Altimeter setting.

However, during my last flight, I had to descend from 8500 to 6500, and then to 4500, and then to 2500. As I kept notifying/bothering ATC of my altitude changes, he finally told me that I should not tell ATC about altitude change (I have been doing that for 2 years!).

What is the best policy? Doesn't Flight Following need to know my altitude, for instance to warn me about other planes crossing my path?

If not, why do we have to specify our intended flight altitude when requesting flight following?

I am concerned about telling FF an intended altitude for the trip, but then flying at another (lower) altitude: couldn't that be a problem if FF (believing I am much higher than I am) does not tell me of a possible danger?
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Re: Flight Following and altitude changes

Postby Keith Smith » Thu Mar 26, 2020 7:00 am

Just a heads up, "Flight Following" is not the name of a person, or a role, it's the name of a service that is provided by ATC. So, what you're asking is whether you should notify ATC of any altitude changes. I would not phrase it as, "should I ask Flight Following if I should..." as that will throw the person you're speaking to for a bit of a loop.

This topic has been debated for years. The best thing to do is realize that it's one of the few things which can be dependent on a number of things which are out of your purview, making it somewhat of a case of pot luck.

The only time you must report a VFR altitude change is if asked to do so, (ie, "advise prior to any altitude changes.") as part of complying with ATC instructions, OR if you have been ASSIGNED an altitude (such as in Bravo or Charlie airspace) under the FAR that says you must report leaving one assigned altitude for another (note the use of the word 'assigned').

If a controller is busy and you're flying in a relatively remote area with no upcoming conflicts, then the controller generally doesn't care if you climb or descend a few thousand feet. That's why, upon reporting the change in altitude, you might get a somewhat gruff, "roger" or "maintain VFR..." or even a full on, "no need to let me know unless I ask you to report changes..."

Cases where a controller might ask you to report prior to any changes would be if you're talking to a center controller at 9500ft and you are overlying tracon airspace which goes from sfc to 8k. The center controller might say, "advise prior to any alt changes," because if you were to drop from 9500k to 7500k and he/she didn't notice, then the tracon controller would be upset about a center-tagged aircraft in their airspace who they are not working.

So, it largely depends. I would generally not say anything unless advised to do so, or unless you've been assigned a hard altitude, or you have knowledge of the airspace and know you need to climb out of tracon airspace into center airspace, or descend from center to tracon, etc...but most ppl aren't aware of those nuances. Alternatively, you be can be more conservative and dutifully notify the controller each time, unless they specifically say, "no need to let me know," in which case, do not take it personally....it doesn't mean you've been doing it wrong your whole life, it just means that with this controller, right now, you now know that they don't need to know....for now :)
Keith Smith
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Re: Flight Following and altitude changes

Postby silberztein » Sun Mar 29, 2020 6:12 am

Thanks for the clarification!
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Joined: Tue Apr 02, 2019 11:09 am

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