We are currently experiencing some issues with slow log ins. If you are having trouble logging in, please do not reset your password, but try again later.
Click here to upgrade to a newer version of Internet Explorer or Microsoft Edge.
Stay InspiredEAA is your guide to getting the most out of the world of flight and giving your passion room to grow.
What Would You Have Done?
By Peter Conant
February 2017 - 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. It 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 I was told rather curtly that the ramp was “uncontrolled.” There was 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 I 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 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 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’m 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?