Jan 1, 2011 --- VFR flight following is a service provided by air traffic control (ATC) and available to all VFR pilots which can improve your situational awareness and safety. While receiving flight following, you'll be in radio contact with a radar controller. The purpose of the service is for controllers to issue traffic information to pilots concerning other aircraft in their area. In addition to traffic advisories, you can take advantage of other services while receiving flight following. Controllers provide "safety alerts" if they judge that an aircraft is at an altitude that places it in unsafe proximity to terrain, obstructions, or other aircraft. You may also request radar vectors for navigational assistance, or for separation from other air traffic. It's important to note that you must request radar vectors; in most cases, controllers can't initiate radar vectors for VFR aircraft. While using flight following, chances are you'll be able to fly a more direct course to your destination because you won't have to deviate around some types of airspace.
You can fly through class B or C airspace once you receive proper clearance or authorization from ATC, and controllers can clear you through restricted areas in real-time if they know they are not being used.
Another benefit of flight following is the knowledge that you'll receive immediate assistance if you experience an emergency situation. Since you're already on-frequency with an ATC facility, you can request vectors to the nearest airport or you can alert ATC to your position if it's necessary for you to make an off-airport emergency landing. In either case, ATC can get emergency response services in motion immediately.
It's important to understand that while under flight following, you do not delegate any of you responsibilities as pilot in command to ATC. You are still responsible for seeing and avoiding other aircraft, remaining in visual flight conditions, and complying with the FARs. You will need at least a radio and a transponder to obtain flight following. Transponders allow ATC to positively identify your aircraft by displaying a data block next to its radar target on the controller's screen. The data block displays your tail number, aircraft type, groundspeed, controller-entered remarks (such as your route of flight), and your altitude if your aircraft is equipped with a Mode C transponder.
The Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) provides information for radio communication with ATC. Use the standardized phraseology in the AIM's Pilot-Controller Glossary whenever you communicate with controllers. After a while, you'll begin to see that you say the same thing in the same sequence, in response to what the controllers are saying. Think before you key the microphone, and know what you're going to say before you say it.
To request flight following services, you first need to know the appropriate ATC frequency. You can look up your departure airport in the Airport Facility Directory (AFD) or other airport directory, look in the communications section, and find the frequency of the approach-departure control or ARTCC serving that airport. If you are already in flight, look up the ATC frequency for the nearest airport to your current location.
After takeoff, and after you have changed from tower or advisory frequency, change to the departure or center frequency and listen. Wait for a few moments to make sure you're not going to interrupt someone else's transmission. When you're ready to transmit, state the name of the facility you're calling, your aircraft type, and full tail number. ATC will then issue you a transponder code, radar identify you, and give you the nearest current altimeter setting. From that point onward you're receiving traffic advisories and you'll be handed off to other ATC sectors as you pass through them during your flight. While receiving flight following, it's your responsibility to remain on the frequency you were issued unless you tell the controller you want to cancel flight following or the controller terminates your service.
Flight following is a service provided only when ATC has the time. ATC's primary responsiblity is separating and sequencing of IFR traffic, and VFR flight following is provided on a "workload permitting" basis. Don't expect a very busy controller to talk to you. If you call a number of times and are not acknowledged when a controller is busy they are probably too busy to provide you with services. Use some judgment to decide when not to call. Consider waiting five or ten minutes until the frequency is less congested or you fly into another controller's radar sector. Controllers may also terminate flight following services to you if they become too busy or if they can't hand you off to the next controller.
When you receive instructions to change to a new frequency, read back the new frequency to the controller before you change the frequency selector. When checking in on the new frequency, make sure to state your altitude so that the controller can verify your aircraft's mode C readout. As stated before, using proper radio phraseology is very important. You should know the key phrases and terms in the Pilot-Controller Glossary section of the AIM. It's also important to use standard phraseology when responding to traffic advisories. If you receive a traffic call and see the traffic, state:
Your aircraft #, traffic in sight.
If not, say:
Your aircraft #, negative contact.
These two phrases are meant to sound different so that they are not confused with each other. Remember to communicate your intentions and requests to the controllers. If you have a request, don't be afraid to ask. Almost as important as what the controllers are saying, listen to the other pilots on the frequency. You can pick up information on what the weather is like along your route of flight, what the density of the traffic is like, and where other aircraft are in relation to you. You'll also learn a lot by listening to their phraseology.