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IMC Weekend Edition 22 June 2013

22 Jun 2013 1:31 PM | by IMC News Service (Administrator)
What Would You Have Done?

By Peter Conant
- I'm sure I'm not the only pilot who has ever gotten confused over a clearance, an assigned heading or an approach procedure. Here are a few situations I have found myself in, wondering what I should or might have done differently. What would you have done?

The first was a relatively straightforward clearance to fly the ILS Runway 24 approach at Nantucket. The weather was clear but it was after dark so I had requested the ILS procedure. Cape Approach had assigned me a heading (I think it was 210) and as I watched, the localizer needle came in from the left , crossed the center, and began drifting off to the right. I didn't say anything, having never heard "join the localizer" or "cleared for the approach." Cape came back a few seconds later and I was given "turn right to 270, join the localizer, contact Nantucket tower."

Should I have said something? It was not a busy night and as far as I knew the controller at Cape Approach might have just forgotten about me. Should I have joined the localizer anyway with the weather being VFR, telling Cape what I was doing? What would you have done? I never did hear "Cleared for the approach."

The second was at Teterboro, New Jersey. I was flying my daughter and a friend down to New York from Boston and was cleared to land on Runway 24. Turning left base, I noticed a Cessna holding on the numbers at the approach end. I called the tower, saying "Teterboro tower, this is Arrow N824ND. Looks to me like there's a plane on the runway. Are you sure I'm clear to land?" I was immediately told to go around, and then heard the tower say "Cessna N12345, what part of 'taxi for takeoff' don't you understand?" Perhaps the Cessna had heard this non-standard language for the first time, which probably indicated an inexperienced controller and a low-time pilot. I mean, when have you ever heard the words "taxi" and "takeoff" in the same transmission? Was there something else I might do? What would you have done?

Next was an IFR flight to College Park, Maryland. I had crossed over the Delaware River and was talking to Dover approach ("Over to Dover"). The weather was solid IMC, visibility nil. As Dover handed me off to Baltimore approach, I heard "Bonanza 1016W, radar service terminated, frequency change approved." Uh huh. I'm ashamed to admit that I was just a bit testy, saying something like "Dover, I'm in IMC here on an IFR flight plan. Can you do something better than terminating me?" Obviously, this was an inexperienced controller thinking I was VFR, but I regret that I snapped at him. Now, older and (hopefully) wiser, I think I could have just calmly pointed out the situation. I mean, there was no immediate danger involved here. What would you have done?

The Baltimore controller, as I remember, gave me a heading and went off to talk with someone else. The heading had no termination limit (fix or waypoint) and I was just flying down the Chesapeake Bay, dumb and happy, waiting for the next heading. Which never came.

By this time the weather was good VFR, so I called Baltimore and asked if I could proceed GPS direct KCGS. "Oh yeah, sorry about that, proceed direct College Park" was next. Again, not a serious problem although an experience that always reminds me that controllers can forget things. Should I have requested direct sooner? What would you have done?

Next was the ground controller at Centennial Airport in Colorado. I had just completed a long cross country to attend my nephew's wedding in Englewood and was a bit bushed when I landed. Taxiing clear of the active, I called ground control for taxi instructions (progressive taxi) and was told rather curtly that the ramp was "uncontrolled." No further information at all. I finally found the transient tiedowns but was a bit put out that, tired as I was, I had only the airport diagram to work with. This of course was before anything like the GPS Safetaxi feature on an iPad. I didn't feel like arguing with a ground controller but perhaps should have said something like "Unfamiliar, request taxi to transient parking" or some such. When I am tired I don't think as well as I might. So, what would you have done?

And then there was also an experience, early in my IFR days, when coming back from Maryland to Norwood I found myself over Long Island monitoring EFAS and hearing about thunderstorms between New York and Connecticut. I was given a heading along an airway that I was pretty sure would take me close to the reported storms. I declined the clearance, saying I wanted to go north to avoid what I had heard were storms along the route. The controller, clearly put out, gave me a heading and an airway up to New Hampshire(!). I didn't know and still don't know if approach control radar would be showing the lightning and heavy rains, but I didn't want to be the first to find out. Should I have relied on the controller to keep me clear? Was I being too cautious? Should I have asked him about the weather ahead? What would you have done?

I'm sure there are other stories like this out there. I know I have quite a few more. So, I'd be interested to hear your comments. Now that we all have XM Weather in the cockpit and can read all about real-time trends, are we better off than blindly trusting to ATC? Should I have contradicted a New York TRACON controller in busy airspace? Given what you can now see on your iPad, what would you have done?


  • 22 Jun 2013 6:13 PM | Jason Strong
    Should I have said something? It was not a busy night and as far as I knew the controller at Cape Approach might have just forgotten about me. Should I have joined the localizer anyway with the weather being VFR, telling Cape what I was doing? What would you have done? I never did hear "Cleared for the approach."
    - See more at: http://imcclubs.org/weekend?mode=Reply&bmi=1324699&replyTo=1324699&anchor=addComment#1324699

    You did the right thing by staying on course. I recently completed a workshop with ATC Controllers and that question came up. The answer was, stay on your assigned heading even if you cross the localizer because ATC may be "clearing" airspace ahead or around you.
    It never hurts to ask...especially on a flight with little or no ATC chatter, but staying on course until you hear the words, "turn (L or R) and intercept the localizer; cleared for the approach" is what is ATC expects.

    On your 2nd IFR Flight you were 100% correct. "See and Avoid" are priorities even on an IFR flight plan.

    On your flight to College Park in IMC letting ATC know that your "unable to go VFR due to IMC conditions" and requesting to maintain radar services until VFR conditions are available should have worked. If you knew where VFR conditions were, and it was on your planned route, requesting "direct to" sooner (to get out of solid IMC) sounds like a good plan to me...and it may have gotten the controller on his/her toes as well.

    At Centennial on the ground I definitely would have used the word "unfamiliar" especially at night or in a low vis situation. If you're wandering around, tired, and "uncontrolled"...someone else probably is too.

    I would never rely solely on a Controller to keep me clear of weather, especially if convective activity exists in my flight path or area. I would ask about the weather ahead and around me, even inquire as to the distance his radar could "see". Maybe asking to leave the Freq to contact FSS or Flight Watch is the answer if the Controller is unable to help...possibly doing ALL of the above while keeping your "back door" to good weather or an alternate in mind as well.

    The new "toys" are great, but proper planning,and using ALL of the available sources and information, including "looking out the window", will minimize risks in IMC conditions.

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  • 23 Jun 2013 7:36 AM | Bill Castlen
    Peter, as an OLD CFII, I believe each of your situation responses was adequate for the time and place of occurrence. Of course, over the years, both ATC challenges and capabilities and our cockpit resources have evolved and improved so that our situation responses could well be shaded differently now than then. The common thread in each of your situations was communication. Since flying in the system and working with ATC is a team effort, it will always be important to make sure the folks on both sides of the mic have a common understanding of the current situation.

    Of course, a key ingredient in being effective on that team is, as Sophocles said, "learn by doing." And that thought leads us back to the value of IMC Club discussions.

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  • 30 Jun 2013 7:27 PM | No Current Leader
    1st issue
    As a CFII for 40 years, one of the first things I teach is situational awareness, and your authority as PIC to question when things don't seem right. I used to teach IFR in Kansas City when Fairfax airport was 1 mile parallel to the west, with IFR approaches running concurrently. I would have said "I'm intercepting the localizer, am I cleared for the approach"?

    2nd issue
    Tower, if the aircraft is holding in position for me, I can land long.

    3rd issue
    Negative on the service termination, I'm solid IFR awaiting approach clearance.

    4th issue
    Yes, I would have said "Unfamiliar, request taxi to transient parking.

    5th issue
    I would have asked if he was capable of assisting with weather avoidance, or do I need to contact another facility?

    As a Pilot, VFR or IFR, you have the responsibility to conduct your flight with SAFETY as you'r first priority. To that end you need to ask questions whenever you have any question as to what is going on, and where you are, and does the controller know where you are, and what you want to do.
    I teach Command Authority, but it is truly learned in the real world as you build experience, as long as you live through the situations as you experience them.
    Remember as PIC you need to do what is necessary to conduct a SAFE flight. Good luck and safe flying.

    You can call me if you have any flying questions. RON STAFFORD 816-739-7005 Scottsdale, AZ IMC Club.
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