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"When ready, descend to FLXXX" clearances

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"When ready, descend to FLXXX" clearances

Old 24th Nov 2021, 14:29
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"When ready, descend to FLXXX" clearances


I wish to gather views on this. When issue with the clearance to descend when ready, do you notify ATC when you are leaving level?

My take is since they issue the clearance, they should expect it and sequence us accordingly.

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Old 24th Nov 2021, 15:17
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I don’t expect a notification, I’ve given you an open ended clearance, it’s now up to ME to tell YOU if anything changes in the meantime. Plus if you haven’t actioned a cleared level change, the system will notify the controller within a given time parameter.
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Old 24th Nov 2021, 15:47
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Thanks. Makes sense
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Old 24th Nov 2021, 17:18
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There was always the risk of someone getting it wrong so I was taught to listen out and build a mental picture of possible conflicting traffic. There have been notable accidents where ATC or a pilot got it wrong. Had a couple of air misses in controlled airspace including one where I ducked and another where I saw that the guy had a proper sized cigar in his mouth.
Over Africa it was standard ops on box two as it was on NATS.
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Old 24th Nov 2021, 20:07
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Descending into Boston on my first commercial flight into the United States I opted to follow the guidelines shown in the FAA AIM. Having received a "descend when ready clearance" I made the obligatory leaving call and was promptly advised in the most Bostontonian way that I could shove standard procedure and to stop clogging up the frequency.

I find that when in doubt, take it right back to basics. In this case, are we radar identified? If yes, then only make the call if you have reason to suspect based on your mental picture of the traffic situation that ATC has forgotten they gave you a "descend when ready" clearance. If you are not radar identified, then make the call. I take this stance because controllers can be working multiple frequencies, most of which I may not be aware of. If the controller has told me I'm identified, then I'm a part of their scan, so I don't want to interrupt them will a needless call unless I suspect or know their impression of the traffic situation is incorrect.
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Old 24th Nov 2021, 21:04
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It’s always best to stick to standard procedures as they are there for a reason. Back in the 80s there was a cracking Airprox (Airmiss) in the DXB hold between two aircraft waiting for weather improvement. An Air India B707 had been in the hold for a while at FL200 when a Heavylift Shorts Belfast freighter came on frequency at FL210. After holding for around half an hour the Belfast crew, unaware of the B707 almost directly beneath it, commenced descent. It was the middle of the night and with nothing else going on, the radar controller wasn’t paying attention to his screen but fortunately the aerodrome controller noticed the descent on his radar feed. By the time he alerted the radar controller the Belfast was just behind and above the B707 and was instructed to “Climb immediately FL210”. Unfortunately, inertia took the Belfast through FL200 before a laborious climb regained separation so there were two Airproxes for the price of one!

The reason that the Belfast had started descent without apparently getting a clearance was poor coordination or misunderstanding from Bahrain Centre. Standard inbound clearances were given FL130 and this had been passed to the Belfast crew but they requested to maintain their cruise level for the moment, thinking that they could “descend when ready”. The DXB radar controller, unaware of this, was told that the aircraft was maintaining FL210 to await WX improvement. Had the Belfast crew made a leaving call, the situation would have been avoided. (Of course this was pre-TCAS)
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Old 25th Nov 2021, 11:18
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One might say that this is covered by a 'system', as in post 2 above, but I was always glad to get a leaving call as it often acted as a prompt to do something else with a flight - such as provide further clearance or a frequency change.
And, if some time has elapsed, there's always the possibility that your earlier clearance is no longer as safe or effective as you'd intended.

Last edited by Liobian; 25th Nov 2021 at 11:21. Reason: slight addition
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Old 26th Nov 2021, 10:06
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My old airline mandated a "leaving" call and in Oz ATC expected it of us. Their leadership said that it triggered a quick check of traffic nearby.
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Old 4th Dec 2021, 16:28
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Never mind that US controllers don't call it "descend when ready", they call it "descend at pilot's discretion", but carry on...
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