VFR-On-Top

Jan 23, 2009
63
0
6
Iowa
Alright... I'm looking for some clarification/interpretation from y'all on this. VFR On Top, per the 7110.65 7-3-1. The Phraseology according to the .65 is:

CLIMB TO AND REPORT REACHING VFR-ON-TOP,

and

TOPS REPORTED (altitude),

or

NO TOPS REPORTS.

IF NOT ON TOP AT (altitude), MAINTAIN (altitude), AND ADVISE.


At my current facility, when issuing a VFR-ON-TOP clearance to someone departing our airport (a class C airport), the clearance delivery/flight data controller would issue the clearance as follows (again, this is per our SOP here...and the airport/fixes I use are not in our approach control airspace, just meant as an example.)

"N12345, cleared to the Eagle Creek airport via direct brickyard, direct. Maintain 3,000. Expect VFR-ON-TOP one-zero minutes after departure. Departure frequency 121.9, squawk 5555. No tops report available (or) tops reported at 5,000."

Here's the bone I have to pick. If you issue the VFR-ON-TOP clearance as per the .65, it should be "Climb to and report reaching VFR-ON-TOP. If not on top by 3,000, maintain 3,000 and advise, no tops report available." Essentially, either way you issue the clearance you're getting the same point across to the pilot that they are to maintain 3,000 and they can expect vfr-on-top with departure. When I asked at my facility why we don't say it like the book does, here are the reasons I'm told:

1. a VFR-ON-TOP clearance is an IFR clearance (okay, I agree), so you should say it exactly how you would a standard IFR clearance (nope, disagree with ya there!).

2. "Section 7-3-1 of the 7110.65 applies to approach control, not to clearance delivery, and that is phraseology that approach controllers would use." Ooookkayy.... except that it doesn't state anywhere in chapter 7 that that chapter or section applies to only radar controllers and not a Clearance Delivery. And when I asked to provide me an example of when it would be used by approach control, no one can give me an example, other than reverting back to "this is how we do it".


So, my question to y'all is, how do you interpret and/or use VFR-ON-TOP at your terminal facilities? What is your prescribed way of issuing the clearance? Any ammunition you can provide would be great! Thanks!

Signed ~
Agitated Trainee :rant:
 

jamisjockey

Banned
Jan 10, 2010
2,834
30
48
Hahahahahaha epic


You may clear an aircraft to maintain
“VFR-on-top” if the pilot of an aircraft on an IFR

flight plan requests the clearance.

And they are correct. OTP is an approach function, not a tower function. You're giving him an IFR clearance out of your airspace with an expect further clearance to OTP conditions in 10 minutes.
YOU ARE NOT GIVING HIM AN OTP CLEARANCE. Departure is.

Like pen said.....don't pick this fight. I promise you're not going to win. Do it their way.
 
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WatchThis

Trusted Contributor
Apr 29, 2010
561
0
16
Arizona
From the OP's example, it sounds like an interim altitude is being assigned for departure prior to the eventual climb to VFR on top clearance some time later. In that case, I'd say they are correct in complying with the 10 minute climb advisory rule in the clearance and the procedure looks right except I think it should include an actual final altitude. "Expect OTP in 10..." sounds a little open ended if comm is lost. There's also another step happening that he might not be aware of. There's a controller down the line that will issue the last part - "climb to and report reaching VFR on top, if not on top.... Etc...

What he is probably used to is the clearance being read without an interim altitude. In this situation, the phraseology should not include the 10 minute advisory and it would be more streamlined like the reference in chapter 7 without having to mix-in other phrases. This would be where the first climb-to altitude was expected to contain the entire procedure and allow the aircraft to reach VFR on top in a more short range procedure.
 
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MikeATC

Retired FAA, NATCA Member
Apr 3, 2009
1,230
3
38
Nashville TN
Another procedure we always did for VFR on Top was to issue the clearance to a fix that kept the aircraft within our airspace until they reported on Top, so you didn't Hand off someone before they became VFR on TOp. Once the were on top then the clearance was issued to the destination and handoff was accomplished.

Granted this added a little extra workload to departure but it kept VFR On Top pilots from entering another facility/controllers airspace prior to being On TOP.
 

TimShady

Senior Analyst
Mar 12, 2009
887
5
18
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Chicago
I agree with WatchThis in that you are clearing them to 3,000 and to expect VFR-on-top later. I would assume that departure issues the "climb to and report reaching" whenever they have them leave 3,000. Just a local procedure.

Ours is more in line with the .65 but that doesn't mean it's more correct.

"N12345 cleared to Amarillo Airport via radar vectors, climb to and report reaching VFR-on-top, tops reported xxxx or no tops reported, if not on top by 17,000 maintain 17,000 and advise, departure frequency 119.5 squawk 0155." We usually just use 17 since that's what we own up to.

As a trainee myself, I know it can be tempting to argue certain things if your way seems to make more sense, but it's definitely ill-advised. You don't want that reputation.
 

BeaconSlash

Trusted Member
Aug 19, 2011
367
12
18
Last I knew... OTP was in the "Requested Altitude" field of the flight plan. Ergo, it's only a request until a controller assigns it. Therefore, no problem assigning any altitude as it would be for any other IFR aircraft.
 

FM_Weasel

Senior Analyst
Dec 9, 2008
991
7
18
Tim, so when tower departs that aircraft they climb ifr to 17000 without restriction?

Just clarifying. The OPs example makes sense when an initial altitude is required by SOP
 
Jan 23, 2009
63
0
6
Iowa
Haha! I realize that my thread sounded like I was tied up in some sort of bitter battle to the death with my trainers... but trust me that was not the case at all! The point behind my asking my trainers was more geared toward using the proper phraseology as I saw/was interpreting it in the book, especially since the ATM has began a crack-down on everyone's phraseology in the facility.

I did receive some clarification last night from another controller who was better able to explain it to me. As he put it...

99% of the time you're issuing a vfr-on-top clearance to the little guys who will be going to a practice area or to a satellite airport in your airspace. No biggie. But what about that one time you're issuing a vfr on top to say a C421 going a few hundred miles away. If, you issue the pilot a clearance as per the book (climb to and report reaching vfr on top, if not on top by 3,000, maintain 3,000 and advise, etc etc), what do you do if the pilot departs, climbs to 3,000 and goes NORDO? You've just screwed over the pilot and he has to fly all the way to his destination at 3,000. With the "expect vfr on top 1-0 minutes after departure", if he goes NORDO, the controller will expect him to climb to VFR on top. Here's the other thing. If the pilot does go NORDO, (say a bad radio on his end), he is supposed to land at the nearest airport. Now granted, that is all more of a "perfect storm" scenario, but it helped make sense to me.

And for the record, I'm not "that guy" who argues everything to the death, just to be right. I met "that guy" at my last facility. He was hated by all, and once he certified and ERR'd to another facility, he was told he didn't have return rights! There's a difference in arguing just to hear the sound of your voice and to always be right, compared to discussing something you are unclear on. Thanks to those who offered your insight and were not critical, I appreciate it! :)
 

TimShady

Senior Analyst
Mar 12, 2009
887
5
18
32
Chicago
Tim, so when tower departs that aircraft they climb ifr to 17000 without restriction?

Just clarifying. The OPs example makes sense when an initial altitude is required by SOP
All IFR's are cleared to 17,000 initially here. I would assume they would reach VFR-on-top before that anyway but it's just the standard clearance limit.
 

zachoe

Senior Member
Dec 25, 2009
240
0
16
Purgatory, USA
We deal with VFR OTP quite a bit at my facility. Tower issues the aircraft an IFR clearance, e.g., "Cleared to XYZ via radar vectors, climb and maintain 3000, expect 7000 1-0 minutes after departure..." and tower advises the aircraft that approach has their request for VFR on top. Once they're switched to departure, the radar controller issues the spiel in 7-3-1 allowing the aircraft to climb to and report VFR on top.
 
Jan 23, 2009
63
0
6
Iowa
We deal with VFR OTP quite a bit at my facility. Tower issues the aircraft an IFR clearance, e.g., "Cleared to XYZ via radar vectors, climb and maintain 3000, expect 7000 1-0 minutes after departure..." and tower advises the aircraft that approach has their request for VFR on top. Once they're switched to departure, the radar controller issues the spiel in 7-3-1 allowing the aircraft to climb to and report VFR on top.
I like that!!! I think that would be the most efficient way to handle it.