IFR initial clearance[PDF]


This article is applicable only for IFR pilots on a controlled airfield and for air traffic controllers handling IFR departures from a controlled airfield.

The first task for a pilot is to fly safely and before flying he needs charts and get his flight prepared.
The first task for an air/ground traffic controller is to have all IFR charts on hand when controlling and read them all in order to catch all local restrictions and recommendations.

Initial IFR departure clearance

Every flight that is intended to be operated under Instrument Flight Rules has to receive an initial IFR clearance. When receiving your initial clearance, your flight plan is approved and you can perform your flight.
Clearances shall contain the following in the order listed:
  • aircraft identification.
  • clearance limit.
  • designator of the assigned SID, if applicable.
  • cleared level(s)
  • allocated SSR code (squawk/transponder code)
  • any other necessary instructions or information not contained in the SID description, (non-standard departure route, instructions relating to change of frequency ...)

The construction of the initial clearance shall be:

  1. CLEARED TO (destination airfield)
  2. [VIA (departure SID identifier) DEPARTURE], [RUNWAY (departure runway)],
  3. CLIMB (initial level),
  4. SQUAWK (squawk number)
  5. [AFTER DEPARTURE, (description of the non standard departure clearance manoeuvres, and/or change frequency)]

Example full clearance:

Icon ATC.png Scandinavian 845, CLEARED TO Stockholm-Arlanda VIA ROC1H departure, RUNWAY 14, CLIMB 4000 feet, SQUAWK 3456

Example of a vectored departure:

Icon ATC.png Scandinavian 509, CLEARED to Stockholm Arlanda, CLIMB altitude 4000 feet, SQUAWK 3737, AFTER DEPARTURE maintain runway track, when passing 3000ft turn left direct Nicky VOR.

Note.- If the clearance for the levels covers only part of the route, it is important for the air traffic control unit to specify a point to which the part of the clearance regarding levels applies

Type of departure and selection

As a pilot or a controller, you may select a departure. There are several choices for departure:

  • standard departure
  • omnidirectional departure
  • non-standard departure

Standard departure definition

A Standard instrument departure (SID) is a designated instrument flight rule (IFR) departure route linking the aerodrome or a specified runway of the aerodrome with a specified significant point, normally on a designated ATS route, at which the en-route phase of a flight commences.
This SID route is published on charts using graphical and/or text description.

The SID terminates at the first fix/facility/waypoint of the en-route phase following the departure procedure. For standard instrument departures (SIDs), all tracks, points, fixes and altitudes/heights (including turning altitudes/heights) required in the procedure are published.

In a SID, you do not need to give the runway in use if the SID description includes it unambiguously.

Example full clearance:

Icon ATC.png Scandinavian 845, CLEARED TO Stockholm-Arlanda VIA ROC1H departure, RUNWAY 14, CLIMB 4000 feet, SQUAWK 3456

Example clearance with SID only (SID description provides runway):

Icon ATC.pngAir France 4422, CLEARED to London-Gatwick VIA ANG1N, CLIMB FL110, SQUAWK 5352

Omnidirectional departure definition

Omnidirectional departures normally allow departures in any direction where you will fly to a fix when for instance passing a defined altitude.
Departure is selected using the omnidirectional method, where no track guidance will be provided or no suitable navigation aid is available.
As an omnidirectional departure is not necessarily published, the controller must give the departure runway and the initial level/altitude cleared.

Since the point of lift-off will vary, the departure procedure assumes that a turn at 120 m (394 feet) above the elevation of the aerodrome is not initiated sooner than 600 m from the beginning of the runway.

Restrictions can be expressed as sectors to be avoided or sectors having minimum gradients and/or minimum altitudes.


Icon ATC.png Scandinavian 845, startup approved to Stockholm-Arlanda, omnidirectional departure direct SALVI, runway 14, initial climb 5000 feet, squawk 6521

Non-standard departure definition

There are other possibilities to depart from an airport. Those Non Standard Departures are less frequently used ways to get to the first fix. Non-standard departures are mainly used for separation reasons but also to save time, for noise abatement, no ability to fly a SID, etc…

In a non-standard departure we can find :

  • Vectored departure: a Vectored departure is a departure where a full description of the trajectory is given by the active controller.
  • Visual departure: a Visual departure is a departure where pilots navigate to the initial fix through own navigation and by the use of visual terrain monitoring. The pilot shall perform this departure under VMC conditions.
Non-standard departures have to be coordinated with the departure controller (who has to define and approve the procedure) prior to the pilot receiving the clearance.

Example of a vectored departure:

Icon ATC.png Scandinavian 509, CLEARED to Stockholm Arlanda, CLIMB altitude 4000 feet, after DEPARTURE maintain runway track, when passing 3000ft turn left direct Nicky VOR, SQUAWK 3737

Departure selection

When flying IFR, as a pilot, you must select the best SID in function of the restrictions given on published documentation.
The SID shall be mainly selected in function of:
  • Route to destination
  • Departure restriction
  • Aircraft performance and equipment.
It is mandatory for an IFR pilot and a controller to have the departure charts in order to correctly select the right SID and respect the restrictions.

Examples of poor selection of a departure:

  • Select a departure of which the aircraft’s category is non-adequate.
  • Select a RNAV departure with a non-RNAV aircraft (equipment)
  • Select a daytime departure during aeronautic night
  • Select a departure in opposite direction or different direction if there is a more adequate departure
  • Select a departure not linked to the route when a departure linked to that route exists.
Usually, the first point of the pilot route is the last point of the SID.
If there is no SID published on the airport, or no adequate SID available:
  • The pilot can choose an appropriate FIX or navigation aid for an omnidirectional departure
  • The controller can choose an omnidirectional or a non-standard departure to the first route point.

Advices for the pilot

Fill in your flight plan correctly before contacting any controller for an initial clearance.
Study all charts in order to read all available departure procedures and constraints (SID, MSA, landmarks, geographical items…). With this study, search for an adequate departure for your flight.
Your first en-route point shall be the final point of the selected departure route (or included in it).

If there is no SID available, you can select a FIX or a navigation aid for an omnidirectional or a nonstandard departure. Be aware of your area constraints and select your first point well.


  • Try to avoid restricted areas and fly nearby prohibited areas
  • Try to avoid mountainous areas and areas with high landmarks
  • Try to avoid arrival point if many incoming traffic is expected
If the SID given by the controller is not adequate due a regulation or technical reason (wrong aircraft category, equipment required not present…), you must tell the controller that you cannot perform the SID and give the reason. The controller must issue another clearance.
If a departure clearance given by the controller is not wanted by you, but you can perform it, you can only try to negotiate with the controller in order to get a new clearance. But, the controller has other constraints and he is not obliged to change that clearance.

Advices for the controller

Study all charts in order to read all available departure procedures and constraints (SID, MSA, landmarks, geographical items…).
Before issuing a clearance for an IFR flight, the controller should check the first waypoint of the filed route in order to select the most adequate departure for this aircraft.
In case of issues, ATC may inform the pilot about the issues with his flight plan.

Examples of issues:

  • First point of the pilot flight plan is selected out of any available SIDs and it is in accordance with one published SID
  • First point of the pilot is an arrival point and not a departure point ( confusion between arrival and departure)
  • First point of the pilot is part of outdated departure (pilot has outdated charts)
  • No point at all or point does not exist (bad flight plan, typing error…)
If there is no suitable published departure according to the aircraft flight plan, as a controller, you may select an omnidirectional departure or a non-standard departure.
An omnidirectional departure and non-standard departure shall be first given and approved by the approach or the area control controller if no approach controller is present.

It is the responsibility of an approach controller to decide:

  • To impose a SID to the aircraft when no SID is selected
  • With no suitable SID, to select the omnidirectional departure or vectored departure
  • To give the parameters for vectored approach delivery or ground controller
As a controller, you can impose a certain departure upon a pilot. The pilot only has the negotiation rights to obtain something different. When possible try to negotiate with the pilot if he wants to.

See also


  • ICAO Documentation 4444 - Air Traffic Management - 16th Edition 2016 - Chapter 6.3
  • ICAO Documentation Annex 11 - Air Traffic Services - 14th Edition - July 2016 - Chapter 3.7


  • VID 150259 - Author
  • VID 531824 - Wiki integration
  • VID 150259 - Update February 2019


  • 09:38, 16 November 2019


  • This documentation is copyrighted as part of the intellectual property of the International Virtual Aviation Organisation.


  • The content of this documentation is intended for aviation simulation only and must not be used for real aviation operations.