Pre-Departure Clearance Guide (PDC): What it is & How it Works

Unless you're a commercial pilot for an airline, the term "Pre-Departure Clearance" may be unfamiliar to you. But what exactly is it and how does it affect private pilots? Although it has some similarities to an IFR clearance, there are also significant differences.

In this guide, we'll cover everything you need to know about a pre-departure clearance, from what they are to how to request them.

Let's begin!

What is a Pre-Departure Clearance - Pilot MallWhat is a Pre-Departure Clearance?

Before taking off on an IFR flight plan in the US, pilots must obtain a clearance from ATC.

A Pre-Departure Clearance (PDC) is an official text clearance. These clearances include important information such as the planned route, assigned altitude, transponder code, departure frequency, and any special instructions.

PDCs are often used by airline flight operations, especially at major airports, where airlines and pilots rely on streamlined procedures for IFR flight plans. It involves obtaining the IFR clearance electronically or through ACARS data link systems.

No Need for CRAFT

Normally, pilots will contact clearance delivery to request their IFR clearance. They use the CRAFT acronym to write down the clearance and then read it back to the controller. PDCs eliminate this process by allowing everything to be done through text. This means no more concerns about missing something during your CRAFT readback.

A PDC is equivalent to a verbal clearance from Clearance Delivery, but instead of a traditional clearance from air traffic control, pilots will receive a printed message or text via the datalink box in the aircraft, typically around 20 to 30 minutes prior to the filed departure time.

This method streamlines the process for aircraft carriers and ATC by having less vocal traffic on the comms.

Airports Where PDCs Are Available:

PDCs are only offered at a limited number of major airports and come with specific guidelines for the types of aircraft that controllers will provide them to.

ABQ Albuquerque International 

ADW Andrews AFB

ALB Albany International 

ANC Anchorage International

ANC Anchorage International

ATL Atlanta Hartsfield International

AUS Austin-Bergstrom International

BDL Windsor Locks Bradley International

BNA Nashville International

BOI  Boise Air Terminal

BOS Boston Logan International

BUF Greater Buffalo International

BUR Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena

BWI Baltimore Washington International

CHS Charleston International

CLE Cleveland-Hopkins International

CLT Charlotte/Douglas International

CMH Port Columbus International

CVG Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky

DAL Dallas Love Field

DCA Washington National

DEN Denver International

DFW Dallas/Fort Worth International

DTW Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County

ELP El Paso International

EWR Newark International

FLL Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International

GSO Greensboro Piedmont Triad International

HNL Honolulu International

HOU William P Hobby - Houston

HPN Westchester County - White Plains

IAD Washington Dulles International

IAH Houston Intercontinental

IND Indianapolis International

JAX Jacksonville International

JFK New York Kennedy International

JSJ San Juan Marin International

LAS Las Vegas McCarran International

LAX Los Angeles International

LGA New York LaGuardia

LIT Little Rock Adams Field

MCI Kansas City International

MCO Orlando International

MDW Chicago Midway

MEM Memphis International

MIA Miami International

MKE Milwaukee Mitchell International

MSP Minneapolis Saint Paul International

MSY New Orleans International/Moisant Field

OAK Metropolitan Oakland International

OKC Oklahoma City-Will Rogers

OMA Omaha Eppley Airfield

ONT  Ontario International

ORD Chicago O’Hare International

PBI Palm Beach International

PDX Portland International

PHL Philadelphia International

PHX Phoenix Sky Harbor International

PIT Pittsburgh International

PVD Theodore Francis Green-Providence

RDU Raleigh-Durham International

RNO Reno-Tahoe International

RSW Southwest Florida International

SAN San Diego International-Lindbergh

SAT San Antonio International

SDF Louisville Standiford Field

SEA Seattle-Tacoma International

SFO San Francisco International

SJC San Jose International

SLC Salt Lake City International

SMF Sacramento Metropolitan

SNA John Wayne Orange County

STL Lambert-Saint Louis International

TEB Teterboro

TPA Tampa International

TUL Tulsa International

VNY Van Nuys

How to Request a Pre-Departure Delivery Clearance - Pilot MallHow to Request Pre-Departure Clearances

Pilots can request a PDC from ATC by utilizing various channels, including clearance delivery, apps or via datalink systems where available.

When contacting clearance delivery or controllers at airports offering this service, pilots should provide essential details like their flight number, scheduled departure time, and departure frequency, along with their IFR flight plan.

The PDC service delivers the clearance in a specified format, encompassing important elements such as the assigned transponder code, cleared altitude, and the active flight plan list.

In instances where contacting ATC poses challenges, pilots can resort to alternative methods vetted by airlines to receive PDCs, ensuring adherence to the IFR flight plan.

Step-by-Step Videos

There are several videos that can help step-by-step with setting up ACARS.

ACARS Pre-Departure Clearance YouTube VideoThis video shows the process of setting up and double-checking ACARS using a Flight Simulator. A flight sim is a great way to put into practice how to use various digital systems available in an aircraft.

PDC YouTube VideoThis video shows a real-life example of setting up a PDC in the aircraft.

Apps for PDCs - Pilot MallApps for PDC Requests

Technology has made it easier than ever for pilots to submit Pre-Departure Clearances for their flight, with convenient apps available on your phone or tablet. Keep in mind, that these apps may come with varying monthly or annual fees in order to utilize PDC service work for your aircraft.

These apps will allow you to recieve text clearance issues by ATC, helping to get your clearance delivery and transponder code for your aircraft painlessly.

Problems with PDCs - Pilot MallProblems with PDCs

While using PDCs instead of receiving verbal clearance from ATC can present some challenges, the Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) reported that the main issue is often due to a lack of proper reading and comprehension on the part of the flight crew. It's important for them to carefully review any changes in the PDC before proceeding with their flight.

Preventing Problems

To avoid any issues with your pre-departure clearance, it's important not to assume that all the information listed is accurate. Take the time to verify and double-check for any errors.

If ATC gives you a different transponder code than what was stated in your PDC, don't hesitate to ask for clarification. Better safe than sorry!

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do I get a PDC clearance?

    You can receive your PDC a number of ways, through a datalink such as ACARS that add the DPC information directly into the avionics, and through apps, such as Garmin or Foreflight(apps will not add the PDC to your avionics).

  • How long is a PDC valid?

    You'll receive the PDC 20-30 minutes before your planned departure time, and it will be valid for 2 hours after you take off. If the air traffic controller can't send the PDC or your flight isn't eligible for it, just reach out by calling clearance delivery for further assistance.

  • Do I need to contact clearance delivery after I receive PDC?

    No, after receiving your PDC, double-check the information and use the provided squawk code.

  • What does ACARS stand for?

    ACARS stands for Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting.

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Pre-departure clearances were designed to help alleviate the stress load from both airline pilots and air traffic controllers at busy, major airports. Being able to use a device to receive an IFR clearance delivery helps to streamline the process of getting flights in the air and passengers to their destination airport on time.

Continue to learn and grow as an aviator in both knowledge and skill.

Fly safe!

Want to know more about radio communications and IFR clearances?

Our guides are designed to help student pilots become professional pilots and for private pilots to brush up on their knowledge and skills.

Did you find this article helpful?

Do you think we missed anything important or make a mistake? Let us know in the comments below!

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