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Been flying in European Airspace and wanted to try flying in the U.S. Clearance is different, they tell me "[] transition," What does this mean?


Max Carr
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When I receive clearance in the UK, they just give me a SID, a squawk and sometimes the active runway, but when flying in the U.S I receive a transition level and a departure frequency. I understand the frequency and the rest of the clearance, just a bit unsure on what is meant by "[] transition." Would really appreaciate some help on this as the U.S seems like it's so fun to fly in! It always seems so busy and most airports have at least 1 Controller active which means there will never be a 'quiet' section of my flight. 

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Posted (edited)

If you hear the word "transition" in an IFR clearance, it almost always indicates a departure procedure transition, not the transition level (18000/FL180 across the entire US). US IFR clearances are composed of 5 parts represented by the acronym CRAFT

  • Clearance limit
    • Typically your destination airport, but may be a NAVAID or fix for a holding clearance
    • "Cleared to [X] airport"
  • Route
    • Route to fly including departure procedures. This is where you would hear someone say "[X] transition."
    • For example, looking at PORTT4 from KEWR (scroll down to Departure Procedures on https://skyvector.com/airport/EWR/Newark-Liberty-International-Airport or use your favorite source of charts), your clearance might include "via the PORTT4 departure, BIGGY transition, then as filed." The "[X] transition" phraseology is instructing you to fly the route segment depicted on the chart from the runway to the BIGGY fix which will then connect to the rest of your route.
    • You may also get assigned a SID with a climb procedure. For example, the Laguardia 7 departure (https://skyvector.com/airport/LGA/Laguardia-Airport) has multiple climb procedures depicted. These may or may not be programmable into your FMC (you may have to hand-fly them). The phraseology for this would be something like "via the Laguardia 7 departure, Flushing climb, radar vectors MERIT, then as filed." You would then have to fly the climb as depicted and described on the chart and narrative pages and then ATC will vector you to your first fix.
    • If your route doesn't include a transition, or the airport doesn't have a SID with transitions, then you'll likely get "radar vectors [X]" where X is the first fix on your route.
  • Altitude
    • Climb-out instructions which may be an altitude to maintain or the words "Climb via SID" which means comply with the published altitude restrictions on the SID chart. This may also include an instruction to "expect [cruise] [X] minutes after departure." That is information for use in a lost comms scenario, not a clearance to climb to your cruise altitude on departure.
  • Frequency
    • Departure frequency
  • Transponder
    • Squawk code

A full clearance from EWR to DCA might look like: "[Callsign], cleared to Washington National Airport, PORTT4 departure, BIGGY transition, then as filed. Maintain 2500, expect flight level 220 10 minutes after departure. Departure frequency 119.2. Squawk 7102."

Or LGA to BOS: "[Callsign], cleared to Boston Logan Airport, LGA7 departure, Flushing Climb, radar vectors MERIT, then as filed. Maintain 5000, expect flight level 210 10 minutes after departure. Departure frequency 120.4. Squawk 7103."

Edited by Alex Ying
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New York ARTCC

Instructor // ZNY/ZWY Facility Coordinator

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