What does 'Maintain present heading and altitude' actually mean?

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A lot of ATC will get revamped because WT is ripping out the legacy Flight Planning logic and replace it with the ARINC compliant model inside CJ4 and NXi today. ATC doesn’t understand all those leg types so both will be updated by WT team. Clearance/Departure for example doesn’t assign a SID or Approach doesn’t assign a STAR because ATC isn’t coded correctly for those leg types.

For now in the sim, use a chart or an EFB, evaluate whether the approach makes sense and accept or request a new one. Once agreed upon, Load the Approach. When cleared to the Approach, Activate it. Until then, do not deviate from the plotted leg assuming you’re in on Autopilot and following a plan.

Yeah, people need to understand that in-sim ATC has absolutely no connection with reality…


Unfortunately yes…

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Yes, there’s a minimal resemblance to actual ATC. I get maintain heading and altitude while decending to an assigned altitude and heading in the sim. It does not make sense and ATC rarely says it, unless they think there’s some confusion or say youve meandered off the alt and hdg. If they think it works for them, they may issue a new instruction to maintain present hdg and alt. Expect after you land to maybe get a request to call ATC to discuss the meandering.

It’s not needed for ATC to give you an altitude and heading and then later repeat maintain heading and altitude. Its implied in he first instruction.

For anyone not flying in FAA-land, I wrote a Mod to transform the MSFS phraseology into ICAO phraseology, I have removed the option for vectors entirely as MSFS does not currently give vectors. Also this “maintain present heading and altitude” is gone.

ATC doesn’t tell you to keep doing something. “Proceed on course” is not akin to “keep doing what you’re doing.” Talk to any pilot, the in-sim ATC is a joke. Except it’s not a joke, because jokes are funny.

What really blows my mind is that they developed a sim from the ground up and clearly didn’t even bother with ATC. They didn’t even try. It’s just astounding.

I am a pilot.

In real life you are correct. Sorry I wasn’t clear. I was posting that the instruction MSFS intends to assign:

Continue on course to clearance limit (which is the transition fix)

(Yes I know this is also the wrong phraseology)

Has phraseology that is so incorrect : maintain present heading and altitude

That it actually has changed the meaning of the intended instruction.

Fly in a straight line

“Continue” is common instruction in US when handed off to tower but before landing clearance can be issued.

Me “Ohare Tower, Bigbird 123, 5000, ILS 28C”
ORD “Bigbird 123 Continue. Traffic ahead on 5 mi final”


Thank you and thanks @Zeeflyboy, that makes perfectly sense now. I made the AZF (german international radio certificate for IFR) years ago but never proceeded to the IFR rating so while the phraseology and usually common procedures are nothing new to me some things remain a secret :smiley:

It is worse than that, they did not develop a sim from the ground up but they leveraged as much as they could and wanted from FSX. Yet FSX ATC worked better and was more realistic than MSFS2020 ATC.

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I can only imagine how difficult it must be to build an intelligent and creatively “thinking” AI for a 3D flight simulator. The ATC of FS9 and FSX was robust but totally simple and very very wrong, XP has a simply terrible attempt of an ATC. That’s not just a couple of cops spawning and running at you, taking cover behind a wall, rather it must be a logic that can catch you wherever you are and guide you to wherever you want covering a couple of thousands of rules and regulations and on top of that coordinate that with AI or even other players’ traffic. And then, cherry on the cake, make a difference between countries. That would basically cover the expectations of people in this forum.

Development alone might be worth a couple of hundred of dollars per customer. I would prefer no AI ATC at all and a good implementation and support/cooperation of VATSIM and IVAO. But that won’t happen either :smiley:


Yeah, I remember a few times hearing developers talking about working with FSX code. It left me slack-jawed.

Good news is you always have the option of disabling the AI ATC and using VATSIM or IVAO full-time if you want (at no extra cost).

that’s the advantage in this direction, that’s true. It is muted here indeed.

Yes, disappointing how that worked out :-1:

I’ve read a lot about Pilot2ATC. Does it handle traffic at airports better? Or does it ignore AI/Live Planes?

I got Pilot2ATC…and it’s ok, but still serverly limited. Can’t say I ever noticed it handling traffic at all…don’t think it can?

I used it as a bit of a trainer for Vatsim. And now I pretty much only fly on vatsim, which is a game changer. Flying into Dubai last Saturday with literally dozens of other aircraft on approach, with 2 (highly proficient) approach controllers managing the traffic flow was really an amazing experience.

“Maintain …” is not the same as “proceed on course”. “Proceed on course” must be an FAA phrase, I believe it has the same meaning as the ICAO “own navigation”?


KLM 123 for separation, maintain present heading.

KLM 123, own navigation EEL.

Although its more common to receive a “direct to” as “own navigation” means you don’t need to proceed in the shortest direction.

KLM 123, direct EEL.

The point is, ATC does occasionally clear you to maintain something you already have which could be present altitude, heading or speed. But the MSFS phraseology is wrong.

Present heading → indicating transfer to whatever procedure or airway you are currently flying to radar vectors. The phrase “maintain present heading” is correct in this case. Its common practise to report the present heading for further vectoring by ATC.

KLM 123, maintain present heading, vectors for ILS approach runway 27.

Maintain heading 360 degrees, KLM 123.

Present altitude or level → the only situation I can think of is being cleared to follow the lateral part of a procedure but not cleared to follow the vertical part yet or only to a certain altitude. The phraseology used here should be “maintain altitude … ft”, thus the cleared altitude or level is repeated. “Maintain present altitude” is not a phrase used in (ICAO) RTF.

KLM 123, cleared … approach, maintain altitude … ft.

KLM 123, cleared visual approach runway 27, maintain altitude … ft, expect descent shortly.

KLM 123, maintain altitude … ft until on final.

Another example is this category is asking for a higher / lower level with traffic above / below, again the currently cleared altitude or level is repeated.

KLM 123, request climb FL350.

KLM 123, negative, maintain FL330, traffic above.

Present speed → if ATC wants you to maintain present speed, they would likely ask you what speed you are currently maintaining and then clear you to maintain that speed.

For example:

KLM 123, report speed.

Speed 250 kts, KLM 123.

KLM 123, maintain speed 250 kts.

Conclusion of a long story, “maintain present heading” is a thing (after which you should receive vectors of course and not having to ask for the next vector yourself :joy:), “maintain present altitude” is not a thing.

So is it asking me to continue my approach without changing altitude?

Because in the case I was dealing with last night if I continued the approach and began my descent then ATC would contact me complaining that I wasn’t maintaining altitude. If I continued to the runway I was never given clearance to land.

When I continued my direction it eventually (10 minutes later) told me to contact the tower for landing.

I’m really thinking what the game is asking me to do is to hover around the airport until whatever traffic is landing has landed and the runway is free for me to land?