According to FAR 91.183, pilots operating under IFR in controlled airspace must ensure that a continuous watch is maintained on the appropriate frequency. It’s notable that many pilots are hearing from the FAA about lapses in radio contact. Often, a lapse is the result of a missed hand-off or a pilot’s neglect to check in with the next controller after receiving a hand-off. The FAA gets pretty testy about these lost-com-type events, especially if radio contact is lost for more than 20 minutes. If such an event occurs, ATC will catalog it as a possible pilot deviation and you can expect to hear from an FAA inspector. It may not lead to certificate action, but of course, we should work to avoid such issues in the first place.
Many of us have developed our own practices and procedures for switching radios. Your particular technique may depend on the type of radios or audio panel you use and your experience level. Whatever your method, be sure to remain vigilant. If it seems a little too quiet, go ahead and give ATC a call to verify contact. Though it’s not a regulatory requirement, it’s also a good idea to monitor 121.5 MHz during cruise operations and when otherwise practical. ATC will appreciate the ability to raise you on an alternate frequency, if needed, and you might appreciate not being the subject of an investigation.
In fairness to us pilots, lost com issues are not always the result of our inattention. ATC makes mistakes and radios and electrical systems fail. It’s a good idea to review FAR 91.185, IFR operations: Two-way radio communications failure, as well as sections 6-4-1 to 6-4-3 in the Aeronautical Information Manual that address this subject. Remember, if two-way communication is lost under IFR in VMC, the FAA wants us to continue the flight under VFR and land as soon as practicable. In such instances they don’t want us to continue IFR and “unnecessarily as well as adversely affect other users of the airspace”.
To learn more about AOPA Pilot Protection Services, visit www.aopa.org/pps.