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AIM

10/12/17

4

−4−6

ATC Clearances and Aircraft Separation

is authorized to conduct the climb or descent at any
rate, and to temporarily level off at any intermediate
altitude as desired. However, once the aircraft has
vacated an altitude, it may not return to that altitude.

d.

When ATC has not used the term “AT PILOT’S

DISCRETION” nor imposed any climb or descent
restrictions, pilots should initiate climb or descent
promptly on acknowledgement of the clearance.
Descend or climb at an optimum rate consistent with
the operating characteristics of the aircraft to
1,000 feet above or below the assigned altitude, and
then attempt to descend or climb at a rate of between
500 and 1,500 fpm until the assigned altitude is
reached. If at anytime the pilot is unable to climb or
descend at a rate of at least 500 feet a minute, advise
ATC. If it is necessary to level off at an intermediate
altitude during climb or descent, advise ATC, except
when leveling off at 10,000 feet MSL on descent, or
2,500 feet above airport elevation (prior to entering a
Class C or Class D surface area), when required for
speed reduction.

REFERENCE

14 CFR Section 91.117.

NOTE

Leveling off at 10,000 feet MSL on descent or 2,500 feet
above airport elevation (prior to entering a Class C or
Class D surface area) to comply with 14 CFR
Section 91.117 airspeed restrictions is commonplace.
Controllers anticipate this action and plan accordingly.
Leveling off at any other time on climb or descent may
seriously affect air traffic handling by ATC. Consequently,
it is imperative that pilots make every effort to fulfill the
above expected actions to aid ATC in safely handling and
expediting traffic.

e.

If the altitude information of an ATC

DESCENT clearance includes a provision to
“CROSS (fix) AT” or “AT OR ABOVE/BELOW
(altitude),” the manner in which the descent is
executed to comply with the crossing altitude is at the
pilot’s discretion. This authorization to descend at
pilot’s discretion is only applicable to that portion of
the flight to which the crossing altitude restriction
applies, and the pilot is expected to comply with the
crossing altitude as a provision of the clearance. Any
other clearance in which pilot execution is optional
will so state “AT PILOT’S DISCRETION.”

EXAMPLE

1. “United Four Seventeen, descend and maintain
six thousand.”

NOTE

1. The pilot is expected to commence descent upon receipt
of the clearance and to descend at the suggested rates until
reaching the assigned altitude of 6,000 feet.

EXAMPLE

2. “United Four Seventeen, descend at pilot’s discretion,
maintain six thousand.”

NOTE

2. The pilot is authorized to conduct descent within the
context of the term at pilot’s discretion as described above.

EXAMPLE

3. “United Four Seventeen, cross Lakeview V

−O−R at or

above Flight Level two zero zero, descend and maintain
six thousand.”

NOTE

3. The pilot is authorized to conduct descent at pilot’s
discretion until reaching Lakeview VOR and must comply
with the clearance provision to cross the Lakeview VOR at
or above FL 200. After passing Lakeview VOR, the pilot is
expected to descend at the suggested rates until reaching
the assigned altitude of 6,000 feet.

EXAMPLE

4. “United Four Seventeen, cross Lakeview V

−O−R at

six thousand, maintain six thousand.”

NOTE

4. The pilot is authorized to conduct descent at pilot’s
discretion, however, must comply with the clearance
provision to cross the Lakeview VOR at 6,000 feet.

EXAMPLE

5. “United Four Seventeen, descend now to Flight
Level two seven zero, cross Lakeview V

−O−R at or below

one zero thousand, descend and maintain six thousand.”

NOTE

5. The pilot is expected to promptly execute and complete
descent to FL 270 upon receipt of the clearance. After
reaching FL 270 the pilot is authorized to descend “at
pilot’s discretion” until reaching Lakeview VOR. The pilot
must comply with the clearance provision to cross
Lakeview VOR at or below 10,000 feet. After Lakeview
VOR the pilot is expected to descend at the suggested rates
until reaching 6,000 feet.

EXAMPLE

6. “United Three Ten, descend now and maintain Flight
Level two four zero, pilot’s discretion after reaching Flight
Level two eight zero.”

NOTE

6. The pilot is expected to commence descent upon receipt
of the clearance and to descend at the suggested rates until
reaching FL 280. At that point, the pilot is authorized to
continue descent to FL 240 within the context of the term
“at pilot’s discretion” as described above.

f.

In case emergency authority is used to deviate

from provisions of an ATC clearance, the pilot

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