The use of transponder code 1202 for VFR glider flights not in contact with ATC was instituted in 2012 to differentiate gliders from powered aircraft flying VFR and squawking 1200.
The expanded use of code 1202 to include gliders in contact with ATC was authorized in an internal FAA order updating elements of the National Beacon Code Allocation Plan.
“Due to the transponder equipment used by many gliders, changing beacon codes in flight can be a cumbersome process that diverts the pilot’s attention away from scanning for traffic,” it says. “In addition, because gliders often have very unique flight profiles, allowing VFR gliders to remain on code 1202 when in contact with ATC preserves the intent of that beacon code in alerting other aircraft as well as ATC to the presence of the glider.”
AOPA welcomes the update, said Jim McClay, AOPA director of airspace, air traffic, and security.
“Gliders can make radical changes in flight direction to find lift, but they are unable to hold altitude if ATC were to issue instructions to do so,” he said.
Given those characteristics, it is crucial for ATC to be immediately aware from the transponder code being squawked that an aircraft in a traffic-separation scenario is a glider, he said.
In 2015 the FAA instituted a similar expansion of VFR transponder code 1200 for powered aircraft, authorizing its use by aircraft “that may or may not be in radio contact with an ATC Facility.”