Aviation In Canada

Monday, October 17, 2005

Question Explained

Wow. I got a number of good answers to the post on Saturday. Thanks to all who participated. Some of the answers there described directly or indirectly what I was getting at. The direct answer I was wondering about was whether a SID was considered part of the route for an aircraft, or if it was departure instructions. The way the question was worded was, I fully admit, ambiguous if that's the answer I was looking for, but I had to word it in a way that would avoid "leading the witness," or so to speak.

The real reason I wanted to know what people thought of that question was related to IFR clearance format. ATC has direction to issue IFR clearances in a consistent format, and, while not all items are included in every IFR clearance, they should always show up in the same order. According to our Manual of Operations, or MANOPS as some will know it, we have to issue IFR clearances in the following format:

1. Prefix (In most cases, this is "ATC Clears")
2. Aircraft Identification
3. Clearance Limit
4. SID
5. Route
6. Altitude
7. Mach Number
8. Departure, Enroute, Approach or Holding Instructions
9. Special Instructions or Information (Transponder code here, for example)
10. Traffic Information

Notice the location of the SID in there: just before the route. The reason this topic came up is that we have had a number of SID violations in the Moncton FIR in the past few years, with the vast majority at uncontrolled airports in case you haven't been following recent threads. Several pilots seem to have misinterpretted the clearances received. When I talked to pilots outside of work, it's often given to me as a reason, which I can plainly understand, that part of the confusion may be derived from the location of the SID in the standard clearance format. For example, the following flight plan may have been filed:

ACA601, A320, CYFC YFC V352 HUL J509 YOW J546 YSO SIMCO2 CYYZ, FL340.

To which the following IFR clearance might be issued (bearing in mind that the CYFC7 departure instructions are "runway heading for radar vecrtors, maintain 5,000" with comm failure included):

"ATC clears ACA601 to the Toronto Pearson airport via the Fredericton Seven departure, direct HUL flight planned route, depart runway 27, squawk 3601."

The discussion I'm looking at right now is the placement of the SID in the above clearance. Many people argue that a SID is a set of pre-planned departure instructions and as such, belongs after the route (with the runway number to be used for departure) in the standard format as itemized above, and not before it. Several pilots have indicated that, when in receipt of such a clearance, they interpretted the "Direct HUL" as a modified SID heading since it followed the mention of the SID, essentially allowing the pilot to proceed on course immediately after take-off, rather than having to fly the runway heading as depicted on the SID plate for the CYFC7. I can see how this could be interpretted that way. Anyone else? In such a case, the term "flight planned route" may not be useable without first assigning the route to the first compulsory reporting point, and so something must be said instead of just "flight planned route". Since the controller issuing this clearance has no intent (and no desire) to see the aircraft take off and turn directly to the YFC VOR before setting course (since this would require a turn to the east before turning back to the west on course), he is amending the route to allow the aircraft "direct HUL" to pick up the FPR from there, rather than back to YFC, first.

The discussion now moves to, "where should the SID be in a clearance?" Many, if not all, of the controllers I work with believe the same thing, that a SID is departure instructions. The majority of pilots I have spoken with concur. It should be noted that this is by no means a scientific poll, nor is it anywhere near a representative number of controllers or pilots. However, those who write the procedures believe that a SID is actually part of the route, and therefore belongs elsewhere in the clearance, not near the end with the departure instructions. If, indeed, the SID should be considered departure instructions and it belongs later in the clearance, the clearance might then sound like this:

"ATC clears ACA601 to the Toronto Pearson airport via direct HUL flight planned route, depart runway 27, Fredericton Seven departure, squawk 3601."

What do you think? Does this make more sense than the original clearance quoted above? Do you think this would be less likely to be misinterpretted? I'm really curious to know how many people think one makes more sense than the other, and which one they think makes more sense, if either. Perhaps there is another format you think would make even more sense and be less likely to be mistaken? I'll welcome any comments on this.

BTW, for those who think I was being discriminatory by asking for background, I'll explain myself. If you're a controller, you'll have received the same training I have and may believe, since you were told to put it there, that the SID belongs where it currently is. If you're a pilot, I'm thinking that you're probably looking at the clearance and trying to make sense of what to do, and since you're the one who may misinterpret it, I'd put more importance on your view. If you're an observer or simulator pilot only, your feedback may be of interest, too, since you have the luxury of not having to deal with one side or the other.