Whether you’re an instrument rated pilot or not, there are times when you will need to copy down a clearance from air traffic control. And in the interest of time, the controller will give you the clearance quite quickly – faster than you could possibly write down the clearance verbatim. It is therefore critical as a pilot to develop a system for copying down the clearance that makes sense to you.
The FAA has published a shorthand guide that is quite useful. However, it didn’t work for me. Like many of the mnemonics I used in school and during my pilot ground training, I had to develop my own. The key is to have a symbol or very short version for words and phrases used in clearances that you can jot down as quickly as you can say them. It may be a symbol or a short form of the word. As long as you can decipher what you’re jotting down, it really doesn’t matter.
You can also categorize your clearance to help make sense of it. By categorizing your clearance you don’t need to write down as much to make sense of it. As for so many things in aviation, there’s a mnemonic for that. This one is CRAFT. C – cleared to, R – route, A – altitude, F – frequency, T – transponder code. I write these letters on the lefthand side of my notepad and then all I need to do is to copy each portion of the clearance on each line. This method works well for both IFR and VFR clearances.