Defensive IFR – The Importance of a Two Way Relationship

December 28th, 2010

The following has been abbreviated from an article was posted on avweb, the original article can be found at This article originally appeared in Aviation Safety, Feb. 2005.

The article illustrates the importance of a two way relationship between pilot and controller. It may be the controller’s responsibility to provide you with separation in most IFR situations, but this does not absolve you of the final ultimate responsibility for the safe conduct of the flight. Questioning or cross checking clearances is not argumentative or disruptive it is part of your legal responsibility as a pilot, and any ATC who is worthy of having his posterior in the seat will recognise this and appreciate it.

“The irony of all this is that it’s your chair moving at 150 knots (ed-or more!), not the controller’s. When your airplane slams into that unseen ridge, he’ll probably feel really bad. You probably won’t feel a thing.”

Defensive IFR

July 30, 2007
by Bart Epstein

Why Readbacks Are Important

Reading back a clearance is important not only to make sure you and the controller are on the same page, but to ensure the clearance you read back is actually for you. The “party-line” nature of ATC communications with aircraft sometimes means that transmissions are blocked and similar-sounding callsigns are really meant for someone else. As discussed in the main text below, a crew complied with a descent clearance for another aircraft. Although the wrong crew read back the clearance, the controller didn’t catch the error.


Controllers are just like pilots: All are human and make mistakes. Most are good, know the rules, do everything they can to make your flight efficient and safe, and make sensible judgments. Only a tiny fraction are highly paid chair-warmers too lazy or bored to have opened the book (FAA Order 7110.65) for a refresher on the finer points of their craft.

For pilots, what this means is that amidst what is overwhelmingly professional and courteous ATC service, you’ll hear the occasional boneheaded clearance, instruction or suggestion with which no sensible pilot should comply. That’s why we have readback procedures and is one of the reasons the word “unable” exists and why you should use it without fear of retribution when necessary or appropriate.

Trust, But Verify

The image depicts the minimum vectoring altitudes (circled in red) for the San Diego TRACON overlaid on the area en route IFR low-altitude chart. The accident occurred just southeast of the JLI VORTAC.

No better recent example can be found to illustrate the point that it’s your butt on the line than on May 10, 2004, when Piper Seminole N304PA collided with terrain near the Julian, Calif., VORTAC (JLI) and was destroyed. Both pilots aboard the twin were killed. The planned flight was from Phoenix, Ariz., to Carlsbad, Calif. Nighttime visual conditions prevailed, although the flight was operating on an IFR flight plan.

The cleared routing for N304PA was: Gila Bend, V66, Imperial, V458, Julian, then direct to Palomar. N304PA was number four in a train of five airplanes flying the same route for training. The airplanes were separated by about five to 10 minutes. The airplane directly ahead of N304PA was N434PA, another Seminole.

According to the NTSB, ATC communications and radar data show that N304PA reported level at 8000 feet MSL to the San Diego North Radar (SDNR) controller at 2043:48. The SDNR controller instructed the pilot to fly a 260-degree heading after crossing JLI and then intercept the Palomar localizer. The pilot read back the clearance. At 2045:47, the SDNR controller told the pilot of N434PA to descend to 6000 feet. The pilot of N434PA acknowledged the clearance. At 2047:55, the SDNR controller transmitted, “Seminole four papa alpha descend and maintain five thousand two hundred.” The pilot of N304PA responded, “Down to five thousand two hundred for three zero four papa alpha.” According to the controller, this clearance was intended for N434PA. The controller did not recognize that the clearance had been acknowledged by N304PA rather than N434PA. At 2052, the San Diego AFSS contacted the SDNR sector reporting that they were receiving a strong ELT signal from near the JLI Vortac.

Why the controller missed the readback from the wrong airplane is anyone’s guess. And, certainly, better situational awareness on the part of the two pilots aboard the Seminole probably would have prevented this accident. But the point is that once you close the cabin door and the wheels leave the ground, you’re mostly on your own to ensure the wheels safely touch down again.

Little Voices

Anytime you’re not flying straight and level well above terrain, the little voice in your head should be asking yourself some basic questions: Where am I going? Where am I going after that? What altitude should I be at now? The next leg? What am I going to do if this doesn’t work out?

For example, let’s say you’re droning along en route to your destination when you become aware the weather there has gone down the tubes. At the least, you need to stop and get some more fuel with which to tackle the weather, so you tell ATC you’d like to divert to nearby Cowpie County International. You request a “vector and lower” and the TRACON controller you’re handed off to makes a transposition error on your altitude. He meant to set you up to join the feeder route for the VOR approach at 5300 feet, but instead tells you to “descend and maintain 3500 until established” and clears you for the approach. You read back the clearance and grab the approach plate to get your bearings.

Will you notice that the altitude you’ve been given does not match the feeder route? Will you see that the altitude to which you’re descending is below the minimum safe altitude (MSA) circle on the plate?

A little voice in your head should be asking if you’re where you should be for the approach. That’s one of the reasons why each published feeder route has a minimum altitude and the plate itself has the MSA information.

Twice I have received clearances that made no sense. Both times I was glad my instrument instructor drummed into me the need to physically trace my entire route on a map before takeoff. One of the bad clearances was actually to a fix over the Atlantic Ocean. I still remember sitting in my plane that night, wondering what I had written down wrong to think I was cleared out over the water.

After conferring with the tower, I shut down the engine, trekked up to the tower cab and sat down with the controller to trace out my clearance on a chart. He was positively stunned, especially since he’d given out that same clearance more than 1000 times without any problems. Apparently, the TRACON or someone down the line always amended those clearances well before they became a problem. And, to date, no one had to implement lost comm procedures while flying the bad clearance.

Know Your Rights

But how many pilots would do the same? How many are willing to analyze an ATC clearance or directive on-the-fly then stand up on two hind legs and refuse an unsafe or out-of-line instruction?

Part of the problem is that we tend to accept the authority of anything uttered by a controller as the last word. After all, he wouldn’t be a controller if he didn’t know what he was doing, right?

The antidote, of course, is knowledge and experience. The knowledge comes from knowing the FARs and AIM procedures; we can assure you most controllers and pilots don’t. Experience comes from flying and using the system and applying that knowledge.

And that’s why an annual flight review or IPC without some discussion of real-world procedures and regs is a sham, lending truth to the notion that what you don’t know can hurt you.

Am I Paranoid Enough?

Some may say it is not practical to be constantly paranoid and suspicious of everything ATC asks or commands. And it may seem like overkill to focus on these types of errors when so many pilots are still making much larger and dumber mistakes, like flying well below an MDA to take a peek or launching into icing conditions with nothing more than a lukewarm pitot tube.

Of course, flying defensively is about more than nitpicking clearances. At the end of the day, it’s your butt that matters, not the controller’s.

Controlling The Negotiation

By Jeb Burnside

On many of my regular flights up from the southeast, controllers at the local TRACON routinely give me a descent clearance many miles out from my destination. I suspect it’s because I’m in a FLIB and their letters of agreement specify that IFR FLIBs must be at 5000 feet many miles south of my home plate’s feeder fix. But there are numerous airports in that area, generating all kinds of traffic, and radio reception is sometimes is lacking at that altitude in that area. Droning along level at 5000ft for many minutes that far out from my destination gives me the willies, as I know that, eventually, someone is going to get in my way. Over the years, a few encounters of the close kind with aircraft not talking to the TRACON confirmed my fears.

So, I generally try to negotiate something other than that clearance, usually to cross 20 miles southwest of the fix at and maintain 5000 feet. That keeps me higher longer and ensures decent communications. No one seems to mind.

On other occasions, I’ve refused heading changes and climbs or descents while in the en route environment if they would put me in ice, tall cumulus clouds or other bad situations.

Putting aside for the moment the misconception that controllers “control” airplanes, the bottom line — for me, anyway — is that dealing with ATC is a negotiation. If I like the way the negotiation is going, I’ll be quiet. If there’s a safety, comfort or operational reason for me to not like things, I’ll renegotiate with the controller. I’ll do it professionally, calmly and concisely, and I won’t hesitate to tell him what the problem is. Ninety-nine percent of the time, we can work out something with which we both can live. Especially me.

Who’s The Boss?

By Jeb Burnside

The irony of all this is that it’s your chair moving at 150 knots, not the controller’s. When your airplane slams into that unseen ridge, he’ll probably feel really bad. You probably won’t feel a thing.

Maybe it’s the anarchist gene in me, but I’m not spring-loaded to believe everything the government — or a controller — says. Yet as pilots, most of us react in the opposite way when confronted with ATC clearances and instructions that disrupt our plans and sound fishy or ill-advised. We go along. We comply. We’re happy to help.

Why? For the simple — and understandable — reason that we assume controllers know their business and, as only sometime-users of the system, we similarly assume our knowledge is flawed. So we go along with ATC’s wishes, sometimes to a fault.

The ultimate authority, of course, is FAR 91.3, the PIC imprimatur that gives you ultimate authority over the safety of the flight. Controllers don’t exactly have their own version of this and even if they did, your authority trumps ATC’s.

On the other hand, there’s FAR 91.123, which requires compliance with ATC instructions and directives and requires the pilot to seek clarification if he doesn’t understand ATC’s wishes. The ultimate escape valve, of course, is emergency authority, which overrules anything ATC has to say.

If it was this simple, though, rejecting clearances would be easy. Instead, there are massive gray areas here. For example, rejecting a directive to land your Skyhawk short behind a landing 737 and opting instead to land long for wake avoidance reasons might screw up the local controller’s flow, but that’s not your problem. No right-thinking ATC facility would make an issue of it. The same applies when given a clearance for an immediate takeoff? Should you rush your takeoff and departure routine just because it might save two minutes?

Putting the shoe on the other foot, suppose you were following another aircraft to land, the tower controller calls for a go-around and you reply, “Unable.” You certainly have the authority to do so but you’d better have a good explanation at hand, such as a rough engine, smoke in the cockpit or some other emergency-like condition. The FAA will take a dim view of promiscuous use of “unable” and we suspect an administrative law judge will know the difference between legitimate PIC balking and pure bs.

Some of what ATC does falls into the realm of “suggestions.” Comply at your own whim and risk. Refusing the request won’t cost you any enforcement points while granting it could cost a lot more.

Cessna Training Manuals

Radio Phraesology Techniques Link

November 12th, 2010

Here’s a link to a nice article about Radio Phraseology. (You guessed it, it’s one of our pet topics).\%22

The article explains a little about the Flying Tigers accident, which formalised removal of the word “to” from an altitude clearance in ICAO radio procedures – a word, which, along with ‘for’ has been

This alone did not cause the accident, I’ll post a link to the movie clip associated with it soon.

A comment, which I am sure you’ll feel like saying “That’s easy for you to SAY – NOW!” but I’ll say it anyway, and if you listen to the transcripts I’m sure you’ll understand where I’m coming from, but what pilot in their right mind would descend to 400ft AMSL prior to reaching the final approach track???

A Really Cute and Helpful Radio Techniques Guide

August 7th, 2010

I found this guide online at Austin Collins’ webpage.

Here’s an exert, so you’ll understand why I find it cute, helpful, and humourous, all the GoNumbers’ mantras.

Hold the Mayonnaise

Let’s consider a transmission. Then let’s replace all the unnecessary words with the word “mayonnaise.” Then we’ll hold the mayonnaise and see how much it cleans up the call.

“And, SoCal Approach, this is, uh, Cessna eight zero one three eight with you.”

If we replace the unnecessary words with the word “mayonnaise” we get:

“Mayonnaise, SoCal Approach, mayonnaise, mayonnaise, Cessna eight zero one three eight mayonnaise.”

All the pilot really needed to say was:

“SoCal Approach, Cessna eight zero one three eight.”

Now let’s try it again.

“And, Orlando Executive Ground, this is Flight Express Trainer Three, we are a Cessna 210 and we are at the Flight Express Ramp with information Tango. We’re ready to taxi to the active runway and we’ll be a VFR departure to the northwest today.”
Again, if we replace the unnecessary words with the word “mayonnaise” we get:

“Mayonnaise, Orlando Executive Ground, mayonnaise Flight Express Trainer Three, mayonnaise Cessna 210 mayonnaise Flight Express Ramp with information Tango. Mayonnaise mayonnaise mayonnaise mayonnaise VFR mayonnaise northwest mayonnaise.”

All the pilot really needed to say was:

“Orlando Executive Ground, Flight Express Trainer Three, Cessna 210, Flight Express Ramp, Tango, VFR northwest.”

Why say it in 44 words when you can say it in just 15 words?

Next time, before you speak, remember to “Hold the Mayonnaise”.

Check out the rest of the file at www.redskyventures free stuff:
Flight Express operates some Cessna 210s on mainly on IFR freight operations, if you want to learn more about the C210, Austin Collins also has a Cessna 210 guide, a short internet search should find it, and you can also check out our Cessna 210 text book at Cessna 210 Book.

ATC Complaints

June 24th, 2009

We all know ATC are trying hard to do their job, and to achieve the objectives of ‘safe and efficient’ flow of traffic. Which is compounded when you have a busy environment like JNB, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. Especially when you have seen the situation handled better by someone perhaps with a bit more experience.
For many Airlines which are bottomless job creation pits designed to extract tax payers money, it is a minor inconvenience, but for smaller charter operators, who have a small but very critical profit margin, it can be the difference between profit and loss on a flight, and overall well being of the company.
We do understand and presume all ATC are trying to do their job to the best of their ability, but this article below, archived from the Arfican Pilot newsletters, explains nicely some of the frustration felt from the pilot’s point of view.


Phoebus Apollo photo shoot on Sunday
Visitors to the Harvard Café were treated to an exciting photo shoot at Rand Airport where we parked two DC-9s and a DC-3 on the concrete ramp right outside the historic terminal building for a photo sortie. Hennie Delport flew me in a Robinson helicopter to capture these exciting images for future marketing purposes. Rand Airport’s ATCs were very professional as usual in accommodating the Robbie 22.

However, the ATCs at Johannesburg International Airport leave much to be desired. One of the DC-9s had to reposition to Rand Airport for the photo session, but was kept at the holding point for 45 minutes burning expensive Jet A1. Do ATCs realise that this aircraft probably burnt more fuel in value waiting for a departure slot than some of them earn in a month? Phoebus Apollo often repositions various aircraft types to and from FAJS to FAGM without any delays when suitably qualified controllers are on duty. The VFR flight takes all of three minutes, yet the frustration of having to deal with controllers who do not understand the logistics of aircraft. Unfortunately, several people were delayed as a direct result of the controller’s inability to manage a slightly unusual situation.

Later in the day when the DC-9 had repositioned back to FAJS a brand new Gulfstream taxied its left winglet into the tail cone of the DC-9 knocking the cone clean off the aircraft. The pilot has a cursory look out of his left window and continued taxing to the holding point for an international flight, asking for “immediate line-up and take-off.” Due to the fact that the Phoebus Apollo pilots had witnessed the accident and telephoned ATC to report this, the Gulfstream was denied clearance and told to return to the ramp. The company operations were fuming, but what about the passengers? Does a professional pilot simply continue with the flight after an accident of this nature?

(Note to) South African ATCs
Please note that the above is not intended to ‘have a go’ at South African ATCs; indeed many ATCs are good friends of African Pilot. However, some ATCs have great difficulty understanding the cost involved in keeping aircraft airborne. In addition, the unnecessary time wasted at the holding points is a huge cost to the operator as well as being very bad for aircraft engines. It appears that better performance and accountability is what is required from ATNS management from individual air traffic controllers.

More Frequency Funnies

August 27th, 2008

Actual exchanges between pilots and control towers

Tower: ‘Delta 351, you have traffic at 10 o’clock, 6 miles!’
Delta 351: ‘Give us another hint! We have digital watches!’


From an unknown aircraft waiting in a very long takeoff queue: ‘I’m f…ing bored!’
Ground Traffic Control: ‘Last aircraft transmitting, identify yourself immediately!’
Unknown aircraft: ‘I said I was f…ing bored, not f…ing stupid!’


O’Hare Approach Control to a 747: ‘United 329 heavy, your traffic is a Fokker, one o’clock, three miles, Eastbound.’
United 329: ‘Approach, I’ve always wanted to say this..I’ve got the little Fokker in sight.’


A student became lost during a solo cross-country flight. While attempting to locate the aircraft on radar, ATC asked, ‘What was your last known position?’
Student: ‘When I was number one for takeoff.’


A DC-10 had come in a little hot and thus had an exceedingly long roll out after touching down.
San JoseTowerNoted: ‘American 751, make a hard right turn at the end of the runway, if you are able. If you are not able, take the Guadeloupe exit off Highway 101, make a right at the lights and return to the airport.’


A Pan Am 727 flight, waiting for start clearance in Munich , overheard the following:
Lufthansa (in German):’ Ground, what is our start clearance time?’
Ground (in English):’If you want an answer you must speak in English.’
Lufthansa (in English):’I am a German, flying a German airplane, in Germany Why must I speak English?’
Unknown voice from another plane (in a beautiful British accent): ‘Because you lost the bloody war!’


Tower: ‘Eastern 702, cleared for takeoff, contact Departure on frequency 124.7′
Eastern 702: ‘Tower, Eastern 702 switching to Departure. By the way, after we lifted off we saw some kind of dead animal on the far end of the runway.’
Tower: ‘Continental 635, cleared for takeoff behind Eastern 702, contact Departure on frequency 124.7. Did you copy that report from Eastern 702?’
BR Continental 635: ‘Continental 635, cleared for takeoff, roger; and yes, we copied Eastern… we’ve already notified our caterers.’


One day the pilot of a Cherokee 180 was told by the tower to hold short of the active runway while a DC-8 landed. The DC-8 landed, rolled out, turned around, and taxied back past the Cherokee. Some quick-witted comedian in the DC-8 crew got on the radio and said, ‘What a cute little plane. Did you make it all by yourself?’
The Cherokee pilot, not about to let the insult go by, came back with a real zinger: ‘I made it out of DC-8 parts. Another landing like yours and I’ll have enough parts for another one.’


The German air controllers at Frankfurt Airport are renowned as a short-tempered lot. They not only expect one to know one’s gate parking location, but how to get there without any assistance from them. So it was with some amusement that we (a Pan Am 747) listened to the following exchange between Frankfurt ground control and a British Airways 747, call sign Speedbird 206.
Speedbird 206: ‘ Frankfurt , Speedbird 206! clear of active runway.’
Ground: ‘Speedbird 206. Taxi to gate Alpha One-Seven.’
The BA 747 pulled onto the main taxiway and slowed to a stop.
Ground: ‘Speedbird, do you not know where you are going?’
Speedbird 206: ‘Stand by, Ground, I’m looking up our gate location now!’
Ground (with quite arrogant impatience):’Speedbird 206, have you not been to Frankfurt before?’
Speedbird 206 (coolly):’Yes, twice in 1944, but it was dark, — And I didn’t land.’


While taxiing at London ‘s Gatwick Airport , the crew of a US Air flight departing for Ft. Lauderdale made a wrong turn and came nose to nose with a United 727. An irate female ground controller lashed out at the US Air crew, screaming:
‘US Air 2771, where the hell are you going? I told you to turn right onto Charlie taxiway! You turned right on Delta! Stop right there. I know it’s difficult for you to tell the difference between C and D, but get it right!’

Continuing her rage to the embarrassed crew, she was now shouting hysterically:
‘God! Now you’ve screwed everything up! It’ll take forever to sort this out! You stay right there and don’t move till I tell you to! You can expect progressive taxi instructions in about half an hour, and I want you to go exactly where I tell you, when I tell you, and how I tell you! You got that, US Air 2771?’
‘Yes, ma’am,’ the humbled crew responded.
Naturally, the ground control communications frequency fell terribly silent after the verbal bashing of US Air 2771. Nobody wanted to chance engaging the irate ground controller in her current state of mind. Tension in every cockpit out around Gatwick was definitely running high. Just then an unknown pilot broke the silence and keyed his microphone, asking:
‘Wasn’t I married to you once?’


Think Before Speaking, Please

August 10th, 2008

We found this a very ‘gonumbers’ post from:

Jul 22, 2008

By Ross Detwiler

I’ve been flying professionally for a long time — two score and four years, actually — first flying fighters for the U.S. Air Force, and since 1974, piloting business jets for the executive air force.

Throughout, I’ve noted procedures and calls that made no sense when I first encountered them and still make no sense today, though they’re still in use.

When I fly, like most pilots, I like it quiet, save for the routine calls necessary for control and operation. These are a part of a pleasant background from which any of us can pick out the calls meant for us and the rest seem to just quietly flow by, unobtrusive, not abrasive.

But there are other calls that are still routinely made, that will probably be routinely made 30 years from now and yet don’t seem to accomplish anything but feed someone’s ego and/or grate on everyone else’s nerves. Some of these may seem necessary, but as I write this tongue in cheek, I often wish the speakers would keep their tongues in cheek instead of wagging them to make certain calls. Knowing full well that every one of these calls will have a staunch supporter, nevertheless I put them out as my personal “Whys?”

How about this one? “Good morning, Center, this is So and So level at FL 330. How’re the rides this morning?” I know turbulence is an important concern as is passenger comfort, but let’s just for a moment think about this call.

It used to be that, “We’re trying to serve a meal back there,” was the standard reason for this query, but nowadays a bag of peanuts can be thrown at an uncaring Seat 25C regardless of the ride. Consider also this fact: If the controller were to answer that the rides are the worst he’s ever heard, it would still take a few minutes to get clearance to come down and to execute the descent. Pilots are all required to report more than light turbulence or chop. Why not wait just a moment and actually listen to how the rides are. If they’re bad, you’ll hear about them in less than 30 seconds. Only about one guy in ten still makes this call, but that’s still one too many since it’s unnecessary.

Here’s another favorite. “What’s the reason for that delay?” C’mon, skipper, use your head. The only two common reasons for ATC delay are traffic or weather. Look out the window. If you see weather, that’s the reason. If you don’t, it’s traffic. We all get upset about delays, but this is just another one of those radio calls that needn’t be made since the answer is obvious and the inquiry only jams up the airwaves. The fact is that the person asking it is usually in a bad mood because of the delay and the call is a way of expressing frustration. I would say to that person, when you PA the folks just tell them weather or traffic or both. They don’t care about the cause of the delay, but rather its likely duration.

ATC is not immune to silliness either. How many times have you received the clearance, “Cross 24 miles Northeast of so and so at Flight Level 250″? Or “Cross 25 Northeast of so and so at 240″? Those clearances are misread almost every time they’re given. I’d be willing to make ATC a deal: I’ll gladly spot you the mile or the thousand feet to make it 24 miles at FL 240 or 25 miles at FL 250. This happens too often.

But the beat goes on. The vast majority of traffic is handled with the sure knowledge that all pilots in flight want to get their passengers on the ground as expected, and all pilots on the ground want to get their passengers in the air as promised. I truly believe controllers feel exactly the same, i.e. keep us moving and get us out of their space.

While we’re on the 24 miles gig, for years and years when coming up the East Coast to New York’s Westchester County Airport (HPN), the descent clearance read, “Cross 24 north of Sea Isle at Flight Level 24″ (How ’bout that, 24 at 24?). Finally an intersection was put at 24 North of Sea Isle and they named it Beckr. I remember thinking how smart this was at the time. Since virtually every airplane that came along got the same clearance, now they could just say, “Cross Beckr at Flight Level 240.” Nope, too easy. So what is the clearance now? “Cross 5 north or 5 south of Beckr at 240.” I actually queried a controller about this one day. He laughed and said I had a point and cleared me to cross Beckr at FL 240. It hasn’t happened since. Why name the descent point you’ve been crossing for years at FL 240 and then require users to be at FL 240 just before that point?

Here’s one that constantly irritates me, although the reaction may be mine alone: “The National Weather Service has issued a severe weather warning along and 30 miles either side of a line from 34 miles east northeast of Boston to approximately 26 miles west southwest of Buffalo to twelve miles west southwest of Dryer to Pittsburgh to 24 south southwest of Armel to 34 miles east northeast of Boston . . . .”

Call me stupid here, but really, is providing that geographic corral necessary? I’ve long since given up on TV weather for any useful aviation weather information because every snow storm is a blizzard, every rain storm is a nor’easter and every thunderstorm a tornado maker. This does not help those of us who “have to go anyway,” and do. And the complicated description of the severe weather area doesn’t help us, either. How about this instead? “The National Weather Service has issued a severe weather warning in an area from Boston to Buffalo to Pittsburgh to Washington, D. C., back to Boston.” I will get the idea. Watch out in the northeast.

Also, after so many years of this, do we really need the follow-on explanation of what a severe weather warning means in terms of damaging wind, hail and so forth? Severe means “Watch out! Keep the radar on. If you get sucked into one of those big white puffies, you might not come out the other side right side up. Don’t get sucked into something just because, ‘everyone else has been going through there.’”

Here’s another exchange that gripes me: I begin, “Good morning so and so, this is Falcon 123 Alpha Bravo at flight level 330.” Now I’m not one to repeat myself two seconds later because I know how busy the guys are in the control centers. So, I wait for a response for at least a minute, and only then try again. “So and so, this is Falcon 123 Alpha Bravo at 370.” Wait another minute and then try for the third time. Finally, back comes the reply:

“Falcon 123 Alpha Bravo, stand by. I’m handling a lot of traffic. I heard you, please stay off the air.”

When I hear this, my temptation is to stay off his frequency until I’m out of the sector and try the next guy. This cause and effect is so unnecessary. I respect the fact that a controller may be busy. All I need is a “Standby,” or even just a grunt in the mike to let me know he heard me. If I hear “Standby,” I will do just that in silence until spoken to.

Now a toss up in the controller’s favor. How many times have we heard this one? “Atlanta Center, this is Falcon 123 with a request.” Now the center has to come back and say, “Falcon 123, go ahead with your request.” Which in turn prompts, “Roger, Falcon 123 requests so and so.” And then, “Okay, Falcon 123, you’re cleared to do such and such.” That’s four transmissions. While this call may be mandated, it would still be easier on everyone if the captain simply waited until it’s relatively quiet, if possible, and then make his request speaking clearly and slowly in his initial call up. At least nine times out of ten ATC will answer yes or no immediately, thereby eliminating the additional two transmissions.

I know someone will quote the way such and such reg on the subject is written, but common sense has to jump in here somewhere. Let’s cut down the noise.

Another all-time great gratuitous call: “Hello, Washington, this is so and so at Flight Level 330. Nice ride up here, how you all doin’ down there? We’re moving right along. Nice day for flying.” Okay, friend, here’s my input for what it’s worth: No one cares how your ride is going. All most folks care about is how quickly they can get in touch with ATC if they need them. Save the big Howdy and chit-chat for lunch at the barbecue in Tulsa.

A little barb that usually ties up otherwise busy ground frequencies: “Dulles Tower, what number are we?” The funny thing about this query is it usually comes from a guy buried about ten deep in the line. My technique, for what it’s worth, is count the airplanes in front of me. If there are ten, I assume I’m roughly number 11 in line. If there are two lines to the runway, I’m number 20. When I get to the runway, if they don’t call my number, I’d advise them of it and await clearance. If I’m off by a number or two, who cares? Meanwhile, I’ve reduced the noise on the frequency.

Here’s a hometown favorite. The STAR into HPN is relatively direct and allows one to keep the speed up until about 35 miles out, all of which is good. The trouble comes when you look at the top view of the arrival. It’s long. If you fly the entire arrival you will be at it for about 20 minutes. However, in the last 15 years I don’t think I’ve ever flown the STAR in its entirety. Remembering the premise that the controllers want to get rid of us as much as we want to get where we’re going, we always get a shortcut about a fourth of the way through the arrival. Nevertheless, and despite the fact that you always get the shortcut, some Captain Quigg will click his little steel balls together on check-in and ask, “Any chance of the shortcut today?” This superfluous call requires an answer prior to the actual issuing of the shortened clearance.

Out over the North Atlantic, or over any stretch of water for that matter, there is always an air-to-air frequency. This is supposed to be for operational talk, but what constitutes “operational” is in the mind of the talker, and let’s face it, there’s a lot of time to talk over most expanses of water. While I still maintain that I prefer quiet, I have no problem at all with someone transmitting, “Hey 23, where you coming out of? We’re going to Detroit, and so forth.” Some of these conversations get a little wordy, but so what? I can always turn them down. If I did need that frequency rather than guard, I could always come in with a, “Pan, pan, pan, or even “Mayday, mayday, mayday . . .” I’m sure I’d get it.

What bugs me here is the people that have taken upon themselves to be the frequency police with a tone button, electronically jamming the frequency every time some guy wants to brag about how smart he was with his airline scheduler. They never speak up and ask to use the frequency, they just replace a minor annoyance with a major one, anonymously.

As F. Lee Bailey wrote in this publication just last year, “All the guys with big cojones have their names withheld.”

As a final I offer this: “Tower what’s your phone number? I’m going to call the supervisor.” To me the truth of the matter is if the guy that gave you a bad clearance is a decent hard working controller, he’s already said he was sorry. If he isn’t, he could care less and will probably have an attitude when you call. The supervisor is already in the cab and has heard everything. If you think safety was involved, write a letter. If not, shut up. People are trying to land, take off, or taxi.

So there’s my list. Do I think this article will change anything? Nope. I just put the calls out there to see if anyone else is bugged by them or any other favorite sillies they hear on a routine basis.

But with all this, there are some calls that are just too good, when made in quiet times, not to like.

*”Center if you would like to clear us to Out West VOR . . . we have the technology.”

*”Yes sir, I said light, but I will revise that to moderate and wipe the coffee off the center console and my trousers.”

*”Hey Gulfstream so and so, that’s a cute little airplane. Who owns that?”

“Well, airliner so and so, it’s owned by ABC Insurance.”

“Sure is cute.”

“Guess what airliner so and so?”


“We own your airplane too.”

*”Sir, this is Southern 200, did you say taxi to Runway 9 Left?” (This was at Atlanta Hartsfield right after the two south runways were put into operation. The taxi distance was about three miles.)

“That’s right Southern.”

“But sir, we only goin’ to Huntsville.”

It’s a great way to make a living. *

Radio Short Funnies – Noise Abatement

October 27th, 2007

(the following is apparently a true story, only the names were changed!)

Aircraft: “Nambabwe 123 requesting climb to flight level 310″

ATC: “Nambabwe 123 maintain flight level 280 for noise abatement”.

Aircraft: “What noise abatement is there at 28,000ft?!?”.

ATC: “Have you ever heard the nioise a 737 makes crashing into a Regional Jet.”.

Pilot Controller Conflict

September 18th, 2007

From a Blog that seems very akin to our own themes….

Pilot-Controller Conflict
Writer – Michael Oxner
Source Site –
3rd January 2007

I was recently confronted away from the radar screen and radio, by a pilot that had a nasty experience with ATC. A pilot made a mistake, it compounded its way into the following aircraft, and the controller acted less than favorably to the pilot that made the mistake. The pilot, in turn, was very distressed at the way he was treated, and wanted to know why someone, who is supposed to be a professional, reacted the way the controller did.
In response, let me start by saying I’m not trying to defend anyone on the ATC side of things. This is
just a statement of my belief.

Procedures MY Arguments with ATC

August 12th, 2007

IFR Procedures MY Arguments with ATC

I want to raise a few issues I continuously have with ATC – issues I obviously think I am right about – but am completely willing to accept if someone can explain otherwise to me.

1. Canceling IFR.

I’ve mentioned it before but someone please tell me why an IFR aircraft has to cancel IFR to descend into an airfield without an instrument approach? Surely being VMC is the only requirement for descent below MSA on an IFR flight plan?

2. Departure Procedures:

Why is ATC so unhappy about descending an IFR flight below MSA that they refuse to do so unless the IFR flight cancels their status, however they are quite happy to let an IFR flight depart in IMC without a departure procedure. How does the controller or pilot for that matter ensure adequate terrain separation from ground to MSA?

Apparently the common answer to this riddle is that departure procedures are only provided for radar equipped airfields, as there is no requirement to see and avoid terrain at non-radar equipped airfields, and they are called SID’s and have nothing to do with the management or flow of traffic.

4. Boundary Change Over

A number of controllers at my home base continue to instruct students “report entering the training area, call 5 minutes before returning”.
You want to know about us before we are ontop of your airspace so you can plan (5 mintues) , but what about the traffic in the training area, will they hit hover mode when they reach the boundary to avoid a conflict (report entering)? You should know the traffic in your zone, how about a constructive handover for the uncontrolled traffic.

3. Radar Terrain Clearance
PANSOPS 8168 implies the only time, controllers are responsible for terrain clearance is when radar vectors are being issued, for obvious reasons the pilot cannot always work out where they are. My common understanding is “Radar Terrain” are the terms used when an aircraft descends below MSA whilst said radar controller is watching said pilots position on his/her radar screen with terrain mode activated. That is my understanding.
So why does the controller become irritable when I confirm -”descent under radar terrain clearance?” with the response “ABC you ARE under rader control” like the two things are the same?

Controllers Vs Pilots – Why it is a bit like a Bad Marraige…

August 7th, 2007

A few years and many landings ago….
A Controller once said to me – why is it that it seems the relationship between pilots and controllers is a bit like a bad marriage?

Well time gone by it still rings too true – and it seems to me as usual to stem from a few minor things.

Firstly there is a control gradient. I mean how can you work together in an effective partnership when one person is always telling the other what to do?!?

Well I guess it is necessary but – you know it does aggravate issues…

One must remember the most effective control is the one where the other party doesn’t notice – how and why? Either give them what they need, want, or provide attractive alternatives and compensation.

Secondly there is a big – “my wife (husband) doesn’t understand me” issue.

How so? Well pilots don’t always understand the terms required for separation, and seldom do the controllers know what is involved to fly.
Long time ago – they tell me anyway – controllers were required to learn basic flying skills as part of their training – at least to have minimum air experience time. Now days, and I know a few for sure, some controllers have never set foot in an aeroplane whilst others when they do actually fly tend to stick to scheduled pax flights. It’s a bit like the “would you trust a bald hairdresser?” scenario.

I like to rub the salt in a bit more mentioning, pilots normally control to a VFR or tower requirement on their own when at unmanned airfields to some extent. Whereas controllers in question… well enough said.

Of course IFR creates another rift, but that also leads to the scenario of the possible reconciliation through extended knowledge of participants, you either stick together and things get better, or you call it a day and move into a new profession!

Pilots don’t always understand the complexities of the controllers requirements for separation, nor do controllers always find out what the pilots need in terms of performance and engine types (and for those not so sympathetic-we are not just specifying piston/turbine and jet, IFR/VFR, or IMC/VMC here!).

The reconciliation comes in when those of us who want it hang around in the system long enough and take the time to learn a bit about the other side. Information sharing can help dissolve the misunderstandings causing the rifts between us all and promoting more understanding. As I heard once quoted, (the big finger to 911 – see more on locked doors in another post) “Whenever a controller is in the jump seat or a pilot in the control tower we move a step closer to aviation safety”.

When the pilots begin to learn about required separation standards, and provide helpful requests and/or suggestions, and the controllers begin to learn about pilot requirements, aircraft performance, and flight priorities not from the books but from the realities of aviation, we can all work together more effectively.

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