Aviation In Canada

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Free Flight

There are many aspects of Free Flight that I disagree with. That may not surprise you, since I am an ATC. I agree with direct routings where practical, but one thing that comes to mind right now is restricted airspace.

In today's world, more and more aircraft are quite capable of long range, point-to-point navigation without the use of land-based NAVAIDs and such. As I mentioned in a previous posting, all too many pilots seem to disregard the concept of charts, opting instead to put in waypoints and let the GPS tell us which way to go. It is quite easy, and as someone who loves the little electronic toys, I can't say I blame a pilot for wanting to play with the technology. The problem I'm talking about today is what happens when a pilot enters a waypoint that he wants to go to, but from his present position, he would fly directly through restricted airspace.

This happens routinely in the Moncton FIR, as I'm sure it happens elsewhere. The biggest offender is one of the biggest in the country, our own CYR724. Pilots wishing direct routings for fuel and time savings often ask for direct a particular fix or NAVAID, rather than staying on the flight plan route. Something I understand and appreciate. However, I would hope a pilot would look at his place in the sky and have a look at what lies between him and his destination before pressing "Enter" to ensure he's not flying somewhere he shouldn't. We routinely have to alter the flight plan routes of aircraft to keep them out of this block of airspace. And dispatchers aren't off the hook either, since we often receive flight plans such as "CYFC > CYHZ", which would go right through the northeast corner of it.

I recognize that some of the more advanced systems provide a visual display of restricted areas and they would provide a pilot with a heads up about danger areas and such on the route of flight. But given the number of aircraft we have flying and the level of technology that is in them, and the number and range of types of aircraft we have that need such corrections, it makes me wonder just how successful something like Free Flight would be. If a pilot were to choose his own routings at will, just how well would this work?

I'm not basing retirement plans on the timetables of Free Flight proponents just yet.