IFR Lost Comm Procedures

It’s turbulent, getting dark, you know your approach will be down to minimums. Now to
top it all off you haven’t heard anyone transmitting on the radio for a few minutes. You
call up nonchalantly and ask for an altimeter setting, no response. You go back to your
previous frequency and try to contact someone, anyone, to no avail.

Where do you go? When do you get there?

Flying IFR can be strenuous when everything is working, let alone when something
goes wrong. Studies show people can remember things better when they are broken
down into acronyms, as pilots acronyms are something we’ve learned to be very fond
of. Our acronym for IFR lost comm’s is A-V-E-F M-E-A

Not to bad to remember Avenue F MEA. It’s much better then some of the other one’s
I’ve seen. Lets take a closer look

There are two portions to our acronym the first part A-V-E-F (Avenue F) has to do with
our route of flight. You are to fly your route based on your last:

Assigned (Your last assigned heading)
Vectored (If nothing is assigned fly your last vector)
Expected (If no vector fly what was expected in your clearance)
Filed (Finally fly what you filed)

For altitude we use the MEA portion of our acronym
Fly the HIGHEST of the following

Minimum en-route altitude
Expected altitude
Assigned altitude

Let’s apply this to a situation
Your clearance reads as follows:

“Cleared to the Ocala airport via V-441 to Gators then as filed. Climb and maintain 3,000
expect 6,000 10 minutes after departure.”
Shortly before takeoff the tower tells you “turn right heading 210 cleared for take off
runway 14.”

You take off and enter IFR conditions at 500 feet. After 4 minutes of flying you
experience communications failure your altitude is 2,500 feet and heading is 210.
The MEA along our route is 5,000
What might you do in this situation?

Let’s break down our acronym

A – We were assigned heading 210 so we’ll continue to fly that
V – In our limited communication with the controller we never received radar vectors
E – Our clearance instructed us to fly V-441 to Gators VOR then as filed
F – After we fly what was expected, we’ll fly what we filed.

So we’ll continue to fly 210 until we intercept V-441 and proceed to Gators VOR. Upon
reaching Gators we’ll continue as filed which in our case is direct Ocala.
What about our altitude?

Remember we want to fly the highest of our
M – Minimum en-route altitude (5,000 in our case)
E – Expected (6,000 as given in our clearance)
A – Assigned – We were not assigned another altitude by another controller

So after 10 minutes of flying “expect 6,000 10 minutes after departure” we will climb and
maintain 6,000 feet with a heading of 210 until intercepting V-411 to Gators and then
continue direct Ocala as filed.

If Ocala is IFR we will enter a hold over the Ocala VOR. This is why it is crucial to always
file to a fix rather than an airport. It works out in our case because Ocala has a VOR.
But when flying to an airport with out a VOR file to a fix on the field this way you can
hold until you reach your time of arrival you filed for.

We will hold over the Ocala VOR until we approach our ETA on our flight plan, from
there we can commence our approach as prescribed on our approach plate.

Remember to squawk 7600!

  • Chorton

    how do we hold?

  • David

    Question: Are you saying we should ignore the “climb to 3000” clearance once our comms go out and climb to 5000 immediately until our 10 minutes are up (then climb to 6000)?

  • Jack Grady

    good stuff.

  • You may be interested to know that there is no need to hold until ETA unless holding instructions have been received without an EFC. I recently got the Chief Counsel to admit enough to put this misunderstanding to bed. Click here and read all the references in the bibliography at the end to understand the history of the ‘Lost Comm Amendment 91-189’: http://www.avclicks.com/lost_comm/Lost_comm2/index.html

    Dave Tuuri

  • Dbpreach

    What does squawk 7600 mean?

  • IFRalessandro

    squawk means put in the code 7600 in the transponder. 76oo is the FAA code to let ATC know that your radios have failed

  • Jaacie

    Would like to see some Helicopter posts

  • Rudy

    Overhead a Fix, holding patterns are assigned with a minimum holding altitude and direction (left turns, right turns) in that pattern you can loose your altitude until your filled or assigned ETA, there after you can start your approach

    This pattern is also a procedure for full approach procedures, so ATC can send you direct the fix to join the hold! 

  • Good review!!  Thanks for posting Jason.

  • Dan

    Eeeeexcellent review.

  • Brian

    Question 1) We maintain our last (highest) of the MEA/Expect/Assigned  altitudes (in this case 6,000) and keep returning to it even if we had to climb to a higher MEA, we would return to that 6,000 feet even when a published MEA is lower BECASE it was the last assigned altitude.  right?   Question 2)  Do we hold at the same 6000 at the IAF waiting for our filed ETA, but when do we start our decent? While still IN the hold, or as soon as we leave it?  Thank you for your help.  These are the things that drive me nuts when I don’t have answers to them.

  • In question #1, if 6000′ is the assigned altitude, then you are correct. The  altitude rule pertains to the route segment currently flown and ‘route segments’, i.e., 91.185(c)(2), end at the IAF where the ‘approach procedure’ takes over.

    In question #2, you only wait for an ETA in the event you have been given a hold, but ATC has not yet given you an EFC. Routinely waiting until an ETA went away back in the 1980s, but some instructors, well most, didn’t notice the change. The old rule was based on a concept called EAC–“Expect Approach Clearance”. They did away with it by amendment to Part 91 (used to be 91.127, now 91.185). Confusion set in because they simultaneouly changed the title of paragraph (c)(3) from “Leave holding fix” to “Leave clearance limit”, so now everybody thinks you’re supposed to fly over the airport and leave there, since ATC loosely refers to the destination airport as a clearance limit.

    But last year I got the chief counsel, after a struggle, to admit they intended no such thing as adding a holding pattern over the airport, therefore there’s no holding unless, like in the original rule, you are told to hold. Remember, your initial clearance is almost always to the destination airport, not a holding pattern. Here’s a link that  goes back to the original rule, which was not proposed to be changed by AOPA’s petition to simplify the rest of Part 91. In the course of simplification, though, the FAA dropped EAC and changed  ‘holding fix’ to ‘clearance limit’ . They didn’t want aircraft milling around, clogging up traffic and running low on gas in a modern radar environment.

    Dave Tuuri

  • Brian

    Thank you, Dave.  Truly.  Very comprehensive.  I’m very grateful to you.  I don’t mean to overstay my welcome here, or trespass on your hospitality, but may I trouble you with one more IFR lost comm question?  It is as follows: (Let’s call it question #3)  Let us say minimums are too low at our destination airport, and we’re forced fly to our filed Alternate.  MY QUESTION:  What route do we fly? Altitude I would expect is MEA until established on the published approach procedure at the IAF.  But… again:  What route to get to the IAF?   

    Again… thank you for your patience and guidance.

  • Dtuuri

    The odds are slim of losing comm in the first place, and the odds of having to miss an approach are small as well. I doubt both things are going to happen at the same time. Maybe the FAA thought so too, so settled for not providing for that scenario in the rules.

    My feeling is that you are only required to carry enough fuel, by regulation, to reach an area where the weather forecast supports a reasonable chance of being able to land. Forecasting is not an exact science and the area where weather is more favorable may be predictable in size, the geographic center of it could be missed by a couple hundred miles. Considering that, if you were authoring a missed approach/lost comm rule, would you declare that the pilot MUST proceed to the filed alternate? I doubt it. You’d let the poor soul use good judgment and 91.3(a) to safely get down, right? That’s just what I think they did.

    Dave Tuuri

  • Brian

    Fair enough, and thank you!

  • Big j

    Do it man

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