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Expect Holding; Now What?

Approaching Houston we were issued the clearance "turn right heading 320 maintain seven thousand expect TRANN". Without further instructions what do we do next if we lose communications?

If you lose communications you must comply with FAR 91.185 which states if we lose communications and we cannot continue in visual conditions we must fly to the fix we were told to expect in the clearance. While being radar vectored the controller should tell you what to expect next in case you lose communications. In our case the controller issued instructions to expect TRANN intersection. Therefore, we should fly direct to TRANN if we lose communications.

But what if we are given the clearance "descend to seven thousand turn right direct TRANN expect holding"? Afterwards the the Air Traffic Controller gets busy giving instructions to other airplanes. Now what do we do?

The Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) states if no holding pattern is depicted and no instructions where given by ATC prior to reaching the fix you should hold on the course on which the aircraft approaches the fix using right turns. Your holding speed must comply with the maximum holding speed for the altitude which is 200 knots indicated airspeed (KIAS) up to six thousand feet mean sea level (MSL), 230 KIAS up to fourteen thousand feet MSL, and a maximum speed of 265 KIAS above fourteen thousand MSL.

Using the recommended procedure we enter the hold at TRANN. We continue to try and establish two way radio communications but are unsuccessful. Now what do we do?

Since TRANN is the clearance limit and also a fix from which the approach begins, you must hold and commence the approach as close as possible to your estimate time of arrival as calculated in your flight plan. You also must start your descent to arrive at an altitude where the approach may commence at your approximate ETA. Therefore we must reach an altitude and be at a fix where the approach begins at your approximate ETA and then begin your approach.

Since we are at seven thousand we must begin our descent to arrive at five thousand and and begin the approach at our ETA. After completing the approach and landing we should look for light gun signals for landing clearance and taxi instructions. If the visibility is too low then look for a follow me truck or in the absence of any instructions taxi to the ramp. After parking the plane make sure you file the ASRS or ASAP report if you fly for the airlines. Also remember to call flight service or the tower and let them know you landed so they don’t begin search and rescue efforts.


When you receive your clearance from ATC you should always think what you will do next if you lost communications. Then review the entire flight from your current position to your destination under lost communications procedures. This will not only prepare you for the possibility of lost communications but will help you review your knowledge of lost communications procedures every time you fly.

Fly Safe!

For More Information:

FAR 91.185 Lost Communications

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