VFR Flight Following


I was discussing with the manager of my local tower today about VFR flight following and the computer system.

Basically, for a VFR flight following aircraft to show up on FlightAware, the flight has to be entered into the NAS system computer. I asked about which flights are entered, and his response was those that go into the boundaries of other ARTCC’s.

Otherwise, the flights are just hand written on strips and flashed on the screen to other TRACONs.

I am not sure whether this holds true for all towers, but if you are friendly with the controllers, you may want to see if they can put you into the computer, therefore making your flight available in the ASDI feeds.


Yes, but ATC would also need a squawk from you giving them altitude, and location.


Thats what Flight Following is. :unamused: :unamused:


All aircraft entered into the system do have a squawk code, so for this to work you would need an aircraft with mode c transponder.


my bad :blush:

Well, still not every plane has the capability due to lack of mode c transponders as mentioned earlier.


The whole system of codes and how codes are allocated to towers, approach controls and centers would take up many pages of explanation. Add on top of that the many different types of airspace and ATC areas of responsibility, and what you get is a quite confusing morass.


The thing is the workload for the controller goes up quite a bit. To enter a VFR flight plan so that it goes into the NAS would take the following input (at a minium) into the FDP computer.

FP N12345 C172/A 110 BFM PXX00 045 BFM…GTR

In contrast the input for a “local” VFR flight is much less. The actual input varies depending on what radar system is in use, but it could be as simple as:

N12345 +

or less. Sometimes when a plane calls up for VFR FF I’ll type in the callsign (e.g. N12345) and give him a squawk (such as 1245). When I see the code pop up I can move the cursor over to the target, hit a button and it’s “tagged up”.


If you have an ARTS system (STARS is probably the same way, but I don’t know for sure, I’ve never used it), you can type into the ARTS


And it will print out a VFR flight plan from the FD printer.



My local controllers use X12345 for local VFR traffic and N12345 for IFR flight plans.


Procedures differ from facility to facility along with the equipment. My point was controllers won’t take the extra time to put a VFR flight plan in to the NAS unless there is a good reason, e.g. it will make coordination easier later, it’s required by a letter of agreement with another facility, etc. There is of course a sure way to get your flight in the NAS and therefore FlightAware. Call FSS and file a VFR flight plan. :slight_smile:


The way that VFR flight plans are handled at my airport are that you call for clearance like normal, and then you use another radio or request a frequency change to activate your flightplan with the FSS on the VOR, and these flights do not show up.

Would it help to tell the controller that you have a VFR flight plan?


No; we do not receive VFR flightplans. The flightplan you file/activate with FSS is primarily for search and rescue.


Filing a VFR flight plan and getting VFR flight following aren’t connected.

When you call clearance delivery and request flight following somewhere, you aren’t filing a VFR flight plan. Conversely, when you file a VFR flight plan, you aren’t in the ATC system.

When you file a flight plan, Flight Service keeps track of your info for search and rescue. If you haven’t called to close your flight plan within 30 mins of your ETA, they start calling around looking for you (kind of a hassle to have to get someone to drive around the airport looking for your airplane), so close your flight plans! ATC’s job is not to close your flight plan!!! We have to call FSS just like you do to do that, and sometimes the wait is just as long for us as it is for you.

When you get flight following, you’re given a beacon code, radar identified, and handed off from sector to sector just like an IFR airplane. That’s when you show up in FA. The difference is traffic advisories are workload permitting and the separation standards are different.

We talked about this in another thread recently, but if you get a code that starts with ‘0’, you’re on a local transponder code and won’t be on FA, and probably won’t be able to be handed off outside of the airspace of the facility that gave you the code. If your code starts with a 1-7, you’re in the NAS system, will most likely show up in FA, and can usually be handed off to the next controlling facility along the way.

My facility also uses X12345 for local VFR traffic, then N12345 for IFRs and VFR flight following aircraft. The only reason for the ‘X’ vs the ‘N’ is for quick reference to everyone else that the aircraft is VFR. It’s just a local procedure though, some places have other means of identifying VFRs vs IFRs, etc . . .


Both flights were VFR flight following, no FP flights. ATC service all the way, with traffic advisories.

flightaware.com/live/flight/N908 … 108Z//KSFB

flightaware.com/live/flight/N908 … 6Z/X61/K22.
The 1st leg was started with Indy center and terminated with Orlando approach.

The second leg, the return trip was started with Daytona approach and terminated with Indy center.
On the return trip ATC service was excellant all the way, but did not get to FA until we were almost home.