Aviation In Canada

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Aerial Exploration

For my last post to this blog, I thougth I'd end on a more positive note that some of the posts I've made. As mentioned, I'll be moving to Aviation.ca starting November 1st. This blog will still be online for reference, but there will be no new posts after Nov 1.

The enjoyment of flight has been around me for a long time now. I received my pilot's license back in 1988, while still in high school. While others my age were saving for their first car, I was flying planes and enjoying the crap out of it. Since I recieved my license, however, one thing that has really fallen by the wayside was cross country. The time it takes, and the amount it costs, was just way too far beyond my budget.

I went without flying for 8 years, and then a good friend of mine took me flying a few years ago. As a current instructor, he saved the left seat for me, and had me do the entire flight. My first flight in 8 years. I knew I missed it, but it had been so long that I couldn't remember why. It hardened my resolve, and the next thing I knew, I was qualified and flying on my own again.

Thinking back to this cross country thing, I decided that I would do one or two. The enjoyment, the travelling, and the exploration, too. Exploration. What would there be to explore? I had been developing a fascination with the coastline of the Bay of Fundy. I knew there were huge cliffs and rugged features, so I went for a look. And what was there? About 3NM in shore, somewhere I wasn't even looking, some motion caught my eye. It was a waterfall. I took some photos from a distance, but didn't, for some reason, venture inland. The photos revealed this waterfall, based on estimated distance (GPS track, position of the falls believed to be within 100m) and known focal length, to be in the order of 100m (300 feet) high. In my own back yard! After a second flight for aerial reconnaisance, I found a way to get to it. It is indeed about 300 feet high. It's not Niagara Falls with the huge amount of water, but it's in a scenic river gorge and it's beautiful. And it's something I would have never known about if I didn't do that little cross country flight, since the area is not accessible by car, nor is it visible from the Bay itself.

I'm planning some other cross country flights, now, to see what else I can see. Flying is absolutely wonderful!

In case you're interested, I've posted a picture to try to show you what I saw. Click Here. It's nearly 3MB, just to get the detail in it.

Friday, October 28, 2005

This Blog is Moving

If you've been following this blog for a while, now, you'll recall that the folks at Aviation.ca invited me to write for them in a blog-like environment. I accepted their invitation, and am currently mirroring (well appoximately) this blog on their site, in a "column" entitled "Controller's Corner". I have been talking with their administrators, and have decided to discontinue this blog and write on their site. Their editor is a little easier to get along with and has plenty of features (including scheduling of posts for future, which I like and can't seem to do on Blogger).

Since posting there, I've come to like the site for a variety of reasons. For one, the aviation news always seems to arrive there before my local newspaper, which I can't trust anyway, and for the fact that if I'm looking for aviation news I don't have to wade through every other story to find it. Also, the community in the forums seems to be quite interesting. There are a number of individuals there with a lot of experience from different angles. It all makes for some good reading.

Anyway, as of November 1st, I will stop posting here and formally move my blog writing to their site. I know some of you already visit their site, but I really hope the rest of you will stick with me. Even Frank, to help keep me in line when I post a duplicate story. Which, BTW, there are some of those stories I've told twice here which haven't been written at all there, so you'll have to endure them again sometime. We've had some good discussions with some posts here, and you've been a good group to write for. If you don't care to follow me over, well, thanks for you participation here. If you do, maybe I'll see you there.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Altimeter, I say again, Altimeter

Have you heard ATC or FSS say the altimeter twice in your travels? Perhaps just listening to the scanner? Probably most who are reading this already know the rule for this little quirk.

The idea is to add emphasis to unusually high or unusually low altimeter settings. The vast majority of the time, we hear alimeters expressed in inches of Mercury (inHg) as "two niner" something something, or "three zero" something something. But what happens when a deep low or high high pressure system rolls through?

The bigger conern is the low pressure system. Given how often we set 29.XX in the little window, it's awfully easy to mistake 2898 for 2998 or 2989 or some other close-sounding setting. The big danger, of course, is having a subscale in the altimeter gauge set about an inch too high, meaning your alimeter will read higher than you actually are. This would lead a pilot to thinking he was 2,000 feet, when he's really at 1,000. He may be thinking he's 1,000 feet above the charted terrain, when really, he's about to get a close up look at it. If you're VMC, you can see it out the window, but if you're in cloud, that's a little tougher to do.

So when the barometric pressure is below 29.00, ATC and FSS personel are supposed to read it twice. The official phraseology is, "Altimeter two eight six seven. I say again, two eight six seven." That way if a pilot is dialing up 2967 in a bit of a rush, he might reply the transmission: "Did he just say that twice? That's unusual for 2967... Maybe I didn't catch that right." And then he can ask for it again to ensure he has set it right. It's a little safety mechanism in the system that evolved for a reason, and, while annoying for those who have to read it and listen to it, it is probably a good thing. The altimeter setting is supposed to be read twice when it's above 31.00 as well, though this side is less critical, since it results in an altimeter set too low, meaning it's showing lower than the aircraft really is. And hey, rarely has a pilot hit terrain or obstacles for being too low. This one is more of a concern with other traffic in the area.

Incidentally, they ran some stats in our local paper the other day. There was a record set by a hurricane this year for the lowest recorded barometric pressure in the eye of a North Atlantic storm. I forget which one scored it, but the pressure was 883 millibars, equivalent to 26.07 inHg. That's pretty low. The only storm lower was a typhoon in the Pacific, which measured 870mb, or 25.69.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Altimeter Readbacks

This question arises every now and then as well: Do I have to readback an altimeter. I've done some research on it in Canadian books and have yet to find anything written about it. There is, apparently, no requirement to read back an altimeter setting to ATC, whether you're IFR or VFR.

Having said that, the vast majority of pilots will readback altimeter settings issed them by ATC, and it just seems to have become one of those work practices. As a controller, I'll listen to the readback as dilligently as I listen to a clearance readback. In fact, I've caught more errant altimeter readbacks than IFR clearance readbacks that were in error. This said, I think the practice of reading back altimeters by IFR aircraft should continue, personally.

I say IFR, since IFR aircraft are often operating in cloud, and this becomes especially important for aircraft on approach during IMC. Even with an ILS to guide you, where the glidepath covers you for altitude guidance, the altimeter is used as a cross check at the FAF as well as the guage you generally look at for determining when you're at the Decision Height. As such, it is vital, even with vertical guidance, to have the correct altimeter setting.

For VFR, however, the altimeter setting is secondary, since a VFR pilot's main way of flying is by looking out the window. Sure, there are gauges which are truly important (ASI, tachometer, altimeter, compass, etc) but mostly, you're determining how high you want to be (in a general sense) by what's out the window, using the altimeter as a reference point once in a while. Is the altimeter setting important to you? Sure. But not as critical as for IFR flight.

As a controller, I have never chased an aircraft for an altimeter readback. I'll definitely say that when a pilot doesn't read it back, I do feel like something is missing in his transmission, and it's almost an urgent feeling, too, one that I often tell myself to let go of. I quite readily listen for them, though, and given the number I have caught, I think a readback is an appropriate practice and hope it continues.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Initial Contact - VFR Flight Following

This question has cropped up for me a number of times in the three years I've been writing publicly. "When I want to call up for VFR flight following, do you want me to just check in, first, or just say everything?" There are a few different ways to look at it.

Some say if they blurt everything out at once, there are fewer transmissions and things can go quicker. Others say that there should be an "attention getting" call made first and give ATC a chance to get ready for you. Here's my take on it.

Often in a call for flight following, there is a fair bit of information to get out there from the pilot and be picked up on by ATC. Just because the radio may be quiet doesn't mean the controller isn't busy. A pilot's radio being quiet, in the same sense, doesn't mean he isn't busy, either. We have many hotlines, phonelines and adjacent controllers to coordinate flight data with, as well as keeping up on changing conditions such as traffic patterns and weather conditions.

If you call up and spit everything out at once, there remains the possibility of having to say it all again if the controller misses it for being busy doing something else when you call. Often, even if I'm on the phone when you call, I find that I can catch your callsign, or at least know that someone called and I can answer you when I get a chance. Also, I've zinged more than one IFR aircraft through a localizer on a radar vector because someone tied up my frequency at an inoppotune moment with a call like, "Moncton Center, this is Cessna Golf Romeo India November. I'm over Grand Lake at 3,500, VFR, heading for Moncton along the highway. It looks like there are some clouds up ahead so I might have to descend a little bit. Requesting flight following." If he simply called up with his callsign and let me answer him, I could either issue my turn to final or at least say, "standby," without having to issue a correcting vector later.

The initial call of, "Moncton Center, Cessna Foxtrot Romeo Oscar Golf," gives me as a controller a chance to get my pen and paper handy to copy the information I want when I'm ready to answer you. It does mean, as some point out, an extra transmission or two, but in my eyes, it's worth the extra radio traffic. And I'm firmly one for clear and concise communications over the radio as anyone who has read my writing before can attest. I believe firmly in saying everything needed in as few words as practical to save air time. The more we all talk, the more chances of tying up a frequency for someone who really needs it.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Pet Peeves

Time to share some pet peeves. I hope you'll participate.

Here are some things that pilots do that can become interesting, if not irritating:

1. Ask for "direct FIIXX, the IF for runway 05" when their at least two ATC units removed from the destination aerodrome, some 500 NM away. All for a 1° course change, when the controller their talking to doesn't even know (nor does he care) if the runway will even be available by the time the aircraft gets there. My suggestion? The only one who can tell you for sure your desired runway is available is the controller on the frequency marked "ARR" on the top of the approach plate. Maybe waiting until you talk to him to make the request would be a good idea, unless you know otherwise.

2. Change frequency without telling us. This is more so for VFR flight following than for IFR. Many VFR pilots call for flight following and then disappear into the ether. I can't provide you with any services if you're not listening to me.

3. Pilots who won't acknowledge a frequency change. "Contact Gander on 132.3" should be acknowledged somehow, even if it's a quick "see ya", or a double mic click. If you don't acknowledge it, I have to keep looking for you, even bothering the controller I told you to call to see if you did check in.

4. Back to the IFs, request a clearance direct to an IF, acknowledge it, and then project a waypoint off to the side. This means that you're aiming at a point 4-5 NM away from what I'm expecting you to do. With your RNAV abilities, I'm expecting a nice, straight track to the fix, and I could be putting someone on a parallel vector beside you, only to see you two converge. If you want to do this, all you need to do is ask. But at least let us know what you intend to do.

5. Accept a clearance for "the straight-in ILS runway 03 approach via URVAM", then see the airport and conduct a visual approach instead. By doing this, you're no longer adhering to the IFR clearance you were issued and acknowledged, and it may affect separation with other traffic. If you want to do the visual, seek approval from ATC (either directly or relay through FSS), or cancel IFR and do your own thing. If you take a turn to the airport earlier than expected, it may affect separation with departing traffic, both in terms of you getting closer to the departure's outbound assigned track, as well as shaving a minute or two off the separation that ATC believes exists.

Alright. Now that I've spouted off some stuff here, have a go at me. What sorts of things do ATC do to you that twist you out of sorts?

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Lottery Jackpot

It has been a while since I honestly believed I would actually win one of those super jackpots out there. Last night's $30 Million, yes with a capital "M", does inspire dreams, though...

What kind of plane would you buy if you won a large sum of money? Would you look at a hot single, like a Mooney Ovation with the glass cockpit? What about a light twin? If so, what kind? If you're into that kind of money, why not see if you can pick up a Beech 200 Super King Air, or the like? It's hard to believe that anyone would spend such a large amount on getting into a jet, but you never know... There are a number of entries into the "very light jet" category on the books that look sharp and perform nicely, all without the high price tag of a nice, new G5.

So what would it be, if you won $30M? Me? I'm thinking I'd keep it fairly simple with a Beech 58P, and look at the idea of building my own hangar if guaranteeing hangarage wherever I end up living would be difficult. Yes, a nice, comfortable turbocharged twin. Ah, the dreams...

Friday, October 21, 2005


A reader asked me about UFOs recently. You know who you are.

I can honestly say I haven't seen anything that related to UFOs while on the job. Or at least, nothing that stayed unidentified. For example, I once saw a target on radar, no transponder return just the reflected radiation (aka Primary Radar), that was heading directly to CYHZ in an area where no known traffic was operating, with a groundspeed of over 1700 knots. Being the keener I was, my thoughts went to the SR-71. No, wait, they're not flying any more (they weren't at the time). Well, perhaps, ... Could it be?... An Aurora? The product of speculation in recenty years as the works of the Lockheed Skunkworks in Area 51? Wow! Turned out to be an erroneous set of returns when we looked at the raw radar data. The target did exist, just not at the azimuth that was being reported, and therefore the plotting of the changes in distance made for an exaggerated groundspeed.

We've had other stories, though. When I worked in the TWR I received the odd call from time to time of someone in a panic asking if we knew of an airplane in their area. Typically, these calls came in about 2:00 am, and alcohol was suspect...

And another time I had a B727 underflying a formation of a KC-135 and 3 F-15s in the wee hours of the morning. The 727 pilot called in a panic asking if we had traffic for him. Well, my instructor nearly shit himself since he wasn't paying much attention (it was late in my training, and I was easily capable of handling two flights) until this call came in. It shocked me, so I scanned the radar, then the databoard, to see what I had forgotten and began immediately thinking about how short my career in ATC would be. Then it hit me. The formation flight was directly overhead, about 7,000 feet above him, but he was likely looking at the wide spacing between the nav lights and filling in the black hole between them, with perspective making it seem like it was a single airplane just outside his windshield. But a UFO, it was not. Fortunately for all of us, it wasn't a problem with traffic, either. But I think the pilot needed a new seatcover, if you know what I mean.

Anyone else out there with UFO stories from an ATC or pilot perspective?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Magazine Articles

I don't have much to write about today, except that the magazine articles I was invited to write may not happen. It seems NavCanada has a problem with me writing without their thumb in it, since "you can't write from your perspective without representing NavCanada." What can I say? I don't mind an editor turning down an article, but I have a problem with NC looking over my shoulder and vetoing anything I write. It's too much like censorship to keep my interest. This shouldn't bother me, since the way I intend to write should be clean as far as they're concerned anyway, but it still bugs me to no end. I haven't decided what I'll do about it just yet. I'll talk to the editor, first, just to see how this is going to go...

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

ATC Simulator

A software company in the US has produced an Air Traffic Control simulator program for some time, called ATC Simulator. I've never, personally, been incredibly happy with it, although many rave about it. I'll give it that it's better than the old Kennedy Approach for the Commodore 64 was 20 years ago, but there was something that just didn't make me enjoy it. Reportedly, they designed the look of the porgram to mimic US ATC radar displays very well, though I haven't seen one in person to say yes or no to it. Either way, it was interesting, if nothing else.

Why am I telling you this? Because radar has always been what most people think of when they think of ATC. Well, once they understand that air traffic controllers are not the guys who wave flashlights around at parking airplanes. There are several facets to the ATC world. Not getting the glory, but perhaps more difficult than any other type of ATC is referred to as "procedural" control. This is where IFR ATC has its roots. No radar, just pilots giving position reports and the ATC using his Mark I Brain and a set of rules to determine if separation exists, and if not, assigning pieces of airspace to make sure it does.

The same company who released the ATC Simulator radar product has now taken the next step, releasing a non-radar ATC simulator. You have flight progress strips and a clock to guide you and you must use your brain to figure out if you have separation and make it happen if you don't. I haven't seen how well this simulation actually simluates the environment, but the idea does sound interesting. I'd hate to buy a copy and be disappointed, but it would be neat to see. It's nice to get another aspect of ATC in the public eye, even though it may differ somewhat from how Canadian ATC operates.

Here's a link to their website, and you can find info about the new product there.


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.

Saturday, October 15, 2005


I have a simple question to ask of my readers. I'd like as many responses as I can, but I need some information from you as well. Below, I'll ask the question. Then, without first reading the comments of any others, formulate your opinion, and click on the comments line to enter yours. After entering your answer, feel free to review the answers of others. I'd also like to know something about you: Are you a pilot (IFR, VFR, simulator only), ATC, industry observer, airspace planner, or whatever. What's my point? There is some discussion about the subject, and I want to know, in a non-scientific poll, how others feel. I'll leave this up until Monday, hopefully getting more answers, and then fill you in on further details. All I want today is your answer to the question, and we can get into discussions of why you think the way you do starting Monday. So don't defend yourself or your stance, and don't criticize others for their view here today, just let everyone answer the way they feel about it. The question is asked in a very general way, since I don't want to lead readers' answers. Don't think in terms of definitions and rules, or how you might explain it to someone. Just give the first answer that comes to mind. Now on to the question:

What is a SID (Standard Instrument Departure)?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Avoiding Becoming a Statistic

In a recent article on Aviation.ca, it was reported that three aircraft were heading from St.John's, NF, to Halifax via Port aux Basques, NF. When they encountered bad weather, one landed at an airstrip, one carried on to Halifax, and the third, the one that garnered the attention, landed on a highway.

The part of the article that had my interest was the wording. They said the RCMP received a "complaint" about an aircraft landing on the highway. Was this simply a term chosen without thought, or was it really a complaint? Perhaps "report" might have been better? If it was truly a complaint, the complainant should be educated.

While I wonder why the pilot didn't head for the airstrip like the other fella did, at least he used his brains and chose not to continue on in deteriorating weather. He could have become a very different form of "complaint" call if he tried to continue. It's always a tough decision to make a precautionary landing, especially somewhere like a highway. I doubt he made that decision lightly. It may be a demonstration of strength of character rather than total idiocy. Of course, with two sides to every story, we'd have to know more to draw any such conclusions, but at least the pilot of this aircraft and his passenger are still alive to talk about it.

Here's the link to the article in question from a few days ago. Cessna Landing Story

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Pre-Taxi Clearances Revisited

I don't know how many have read back to see the recent reply to my Pre-Taxi Clearance post. An unidentified user posted some very good points that deserve a reply, and I wish to address that.

One point was made that in a terminal environment, aircraft departing on SIDs simply don't progress far enough to see many potential SID violations, and that it is entirely possible that many of these departures actually could end up being SID violators. At an uncontrolled airport with a mandatory frequency, such as the airports in question where Moncton is planning to institute the PTC operation with FSS (CYFC, CYSJ and CYYG), pilots are making calls on the MF, as per CARs, and may lose sight of the SID in the process. There are several points that are made by themselves, here. First off, SID or no SID, MF or no MF, an IFR pilot has to follow an IFR clearance. My "theory" regarding a pilot's likelihood of misunderstanding a SID at an uncontrolled airport stands, in my opinion, since that's the most common defense offered by pilots subsequent to a SID bust at one of these places. It's not something I made up, nor is it a n unproven belief that I attached myself to.

Also, I didn't say the pilots at larger airports never bust SIDs. The term I used was "rarely", and this is especially important to stress when we look at the sheer number of IFR departures at CYVR, CYYZ, CYYC, CYEG and any other major airport compared to CYFC, CYYG and CYSJ. How many SIDs were actually busted out of your example of CYVR last year? 10? 20? 100? Out of how many IFR departures at this airport? When we talk about an airport with one or two percent of the IFR departures, and having an equal or greater number of SID busts, something has to be looked at. And your comments regarding the fact that ATC simply may not see SID busts at the larger airports because of the terminal environments there only furthers my point that we don't have the equipment structure at these airports to monitor this adequately. Last evening, for example, a pilot departed CYFC, runway 09, Fredericton 7 departure (runway heading, 5,000) and told us he was "heading 120 to intercept V93 on course". H120 out of CYFC's runway 09 is a heading for CYR724, noted on charts as "continuous live firing". If he didn't tell us that off the ground, how close could he have gotten to that restricted area before he got high enough for us to see what he was doing? Most pilots who depart these airports with clearances that allow them to go on course (versus SID) will simply not tell us what they're doing. But if we issue clearances that allow them to go on course out of CYFC, we specify the direction of the turn after take-off to ensure this sort of thing doesn't happen.

As far as union grievances go, please find one that made any headway. There wasn't, to my knowledge, and I was in the thick of it, anything to do with one labour group versus another that stopped this procedure last time. As I mentioned in my original post, the tower at a controlled airport gives the IFR ATC unit flexibility which doesn't exist at an uncontrolled airport: More efficient cut-offs regarding IFR arrivals versus IFR departures, the ability to issue IFR clearances with conditions that are not read to the pilot but kept "in house" between units (for example, a complete IFR clearance issued with the term "clearance validation required, such as would be used between an ACC or TCU and a TWR in just such a case with PTC). The few people who objected to this in the past based on some kind of union stance were quickly and repeatedly shut down by local management, and for the griping they may have done, this was not the cause of the cancellation of the procedure last time.

The number of SID busts at CYYG being lower compared to CYFC and CYSJ is most likely a function of the traffic levels. CYFC and CYSJ were significantly busier than CYYG. Also, the number of IFR operators at CYYG compared to CYSJ and CYFC at the time this last procedure was in place was largely Air Nova, Air Atlantic, and Air Canada. These three operators have in place a training support which private operators don't have in place, and therefore the number of violations after the first three or four months from these operators was small compared to others. These two factors combined to change the overall appearance of more compliance at CYYG than the others. But, rest assured, there were still a number of SID busts, since an investigation, normally only a brief one, has to be conducted to ensure that ATC and FSS staff are not at fault for ambiguous communication before "writing up" a pilot, and I remember being pulled from the boards for several CYYG SID busts over the term of the test.

As for my opinion of FSS, please don't speculate on that. In every job and in every position, we see a small percentage of weak people. I have seen the odd occasion where an aircraft instructed to climb straight out made a turn and the FSS operator didn't tell me, and confirmed that he had seen the departure make the turn in a later point in the investigation by management. But that was just one flight service specialist. Overall, the group we happen to work with is not just good, but very good. I don't mean to say that FSS will simply sit on their hands, saying, "oh, well." I would hope that they would recognize the dangers involved and say anything they can to help prevent a pilot from rolling when he shouldn't. What I was referring to was the regulatory structure: FSS is not permitted to give instructions to pilots, and a pilot who knows his way around would also be aware that FSS has no authority over aircraft movements. If FSS makes a suggestion, should they listen? Undoubtedly. Will they? Most likely. Are they required to accept suggestions and comply with them? No. At least with a tower, non-compliance with an ATC instruction results in penalty, or at least a defense process, and this regulatory structure does not exist with FSS. There was no disservice to FSS intended.

As far as confidence in flight crews go, I believe in the system we're using presently and have had very few problems with it. Certianly many fewer problems with the current methodology than with the previous institution of PTC. Transport Canada's own statistics clearly demonstrated that we had fewer IFR clearance violations when issuing a clearance under current methods than we had for the duration of the PTC and SID trial last time around. And as far as I'm concerned, the clearances we issue now are a little more complex than the clearances issued with a SID, and the crews have fewer problems adhering to them. This leads to more confidence in the flight crews than you suggest I have. The only reason I mentioned that private operators will have longer term difficulties with this is because of the training environment I mentioned earlier with the airlines. If one of their pilots makes a mistake, the training crews can get a hold of it, investigate it, and make a report for other crews to help them understand what was said, what happened, and what should have happened. Some of the private operators that run into these airports may fly here once in a year, or may not even have the occasion to return. So perhaps I miscommunicated my intent on that line. It wasn't to say that every private operator would have a problem with this every time. I meant that private operators could be seen having trouble with the procedure long after the airlines have greatly slowed their problems with it, simply because some may not have flown into one of these airports for some time after this procedure begins, and may not have been exposed to it. I don't believe for a second that a pilot who got stung in the past would do it unwittingly again under normal circumstances. And this issue should be alleviated, anyway, since the new procedure will not be open, apparently, but only be used by operators by prior arrangement with NavCanada.

Have I left any comments unexplained? I'm open to continuing the debate.

Monday, October 10, 2005

ATC and Non-Radar Separation, Part 2

Continuing from yesterday, we'll talk a little about lateral separation, looking at how much airspace must be protected for an aircraft on any given track. How much ATC must reserve for an aircraft depends on how he's navigating. Aircraft operating in domestic airspace with no navigation guidance from NAVAIDs or on-board systems (basically dead reckoning his way from point A to B) are provided with 45NM either side of track in a non-radar environment. Quite a chunk of airspace. It means that the pilot may, as far as ATC is concerned, be anywhere within a 90NM swath of airspace centered on the flight planned track. This is hardly efficient if you have more than one aircraft who want to operate in the area. So we need some navigation guidance, something to narrow down the amount of airspace to protect.

If he's using a VHF NAVAID like a VOR, then the basic airway width is 4NM either side of track until it meets lines that splay at 4.5° from the airway centerline, at a distance of about 50NM. An airway based on two VORs less than 100NM apart is, therefore, only 4NM wide throughout. It's only when you exceed the 100NM distance between VORs that the 4.5° splay comes into place. NDB airways are similar, though slightly wider in basic width and splay. Technically, parallel airways based on VORs need only be a little over 8NM apart to say that the tracks are laterally separated. I don't know if there is anywhere in Canada that two airways run on parallel tracks that could be used practically in this way, or at least for any long distance.

If an aircraft is using RNAV, also known as Area Navigation, then ATC has other options. For aircraft that are operating in RNPC airspace (which stands for Required Navigation Performance Capabilities) and are RNPC certified, ATC can use 10NM either side of track. It's a bigger cut than VORs, but not everywhere has NAVAIDs to be used on the tracks desired. For aircraft that are on crossing tracks but not on airways, RNAV distances from a common point on both tracks may be used to determine longitudinal separation. Ok, so who is RNPC certified? Anyone with a "G" in their flight plan counts in this category. This is why in a recent post about the non-IFR certified GPS I made the point about not filing G in the flight plan. If that's what ATC sees, he may apply an RPNC minimum between you and another airplane. If your receiver isn't certified, then you can't be 100% certain you are where your receiver says you are for a variety of reasons, and less than ideal circumstances may exist, possibly leaving less than the required separation. But look at it this way: You may get to enjoy the in-flight movie on the other airplane.

It is more often that tracks converge than run parallel. For example, most VORs in the country are "tie downs" for more than one airway, which means that the airspace from one airway will overlap the airspace to be protected for another. If ATC were to have to aircraft converging at a common VOR at the same altitude, he'll look first at the times for the two aircraft, and see if longitudinal separation exists. The aircraft must be considered in this, too, since a faster behind a slower won't necessarily keep enough separation after passing the NAVAID. If there isn't enough time between them, ATC must act to ensure another form of separation exists before the second aircraft enters the area of overlap, and this is most often done by forcing an altitude change to one aircraft. ATC must also provide a buffer case the estimates are off, and this "fudge factor" is equal to half of the appropriate longitudinal separation minimum. If time is being applied and 10 minutes is the minimum, then the second aircraft must be at the new altitude 5 minutes before before he is estimated to enter the area of overlap. If distance is the tool, then half that minimum is what's applied. DME can be useful for determining the separation to be applied, as can RNAV (including GPS), as mentioned earlier.

So now you know a little about how ATC controls in a non-radar environment. ATC has many other tools in the toolbox, but this was a basic look at how ATC must visualize the protected airspace concept.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

ATC and Non-Radar Separation

A reader asked about how ATC uses GPS to determine separation in a non-radar environment. Before we go there, we should take a look at the basics of non-radar separation. This is actually quite a lengthy topic to do in detail, so we'll just skim the surface.

The Canadian Aviation Regulations, or CARs, contain the separation standards used by ATC. There are a number of other procedures that are contained within an "in-house" document, but the foundations are all in the federal regulations.

One of the many concepts that ATC uses in a non-radar environment involves what's known as protected airspace. The ATC clearance issued to each aircraft defines the airspace that ATC will ensure is clear of other traffic for that aircraft to operate in. This contains a route of flight, an altitude, and a time frame, largely determined by speed. As such, ATC can separate aircraft by assigning different altitudes (1,000 feet for most airspaces as we all know), by assigning airspaces that don't overlap, or by ensuring that there is enough spacing between aircraft on the same or crossing tracks at the same altitude. At all times, ATC will monitor the positions of his aircraft to ensure that separation exists. This monitoring, in a non-radar environment, is accomplished through position reports by pilots over fixes and NAVAIDs and estimating the times of arrival for subsequent fixes along the route of flight. If it is determined that separation may be compromised, ATC will take action to ensure that another form of separation exists before he loses the current one he is working with.

As an example, two aircraft are operating on tracks that cross over a NAVAID. One is flying from north to south, the other from east to west. ATC will first check their altitudes. If they're separated by the appropriate minimum, then he has to check no further. If they are at the same altitude, he'll look at the times the aircraft are estimated to arrive over the NAVAID. ATC has conditions to meet, including the speeds of the aircraft and who is in front, to determine if there is enough spacing between the aircraft. If there is more than the minimum time between aircraft at the NAVAID, then longitudinal separation exists, even though the tracks converge, and nothing more needs to happen but monitoring to ensure they continue as expected. If it is determined that the minimum longitudinal spacing does not exist, ATC must ensure that he provides another form of separation before the aircraft are too close and separation is lost. In this case, ATC will likely force one of the aircraft to change altitude, and instruct the aircraft to reach the new altitude by a certain time or a certain distance from the NAVAID, and that time or distance would equate to the lateral separation minimum. ATC could also delay one of the aircraft from reaching the NAVAID on his estimated time of arrival there, and perhaps "build" more longitudinal separation at the NAVAID. The delay could consist of a speed restriction, or a short holding pattern far enough away from the NAVAID to ensure that lateral separation exists between the airway for one aircraft and the holding airspace assigned to the other.

Tomorrow we'll look at some more to do with this topic.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Morning Star C208 Crash

By now, whoever reads this blog is likely to have already heard about the crash of a Cessna 208 near Winnipeg Airport within the city's boundaries. They're looking quite seriously at the weather, and in particular the icing reported by the pilot in her last words to Winnipeg ATC.

It was reported in Moncton's local paper, the Times-Transcript, that the pilot was a Dieppe native. Dieppe is a city in southeastern New Brunswick that abuts against Moncton's city boundaries, and is where the Greater Moncton International Airport is. Apart from the pilot's connection to the city, Moncton ATC also know her. She had been running the Moncton to Charlottetown route in one of MorningStar's Caravans for some time prior to flying in Winnipeg, and her voice was well known by Moncton ATC and the FSS staff at Charlottetown. I actually met her at the Nova Scotia International Airshow in 2004.

I hope all is as well as it can be for her friends and family.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Off-Airway Navigation

When determining a route of flight, there is no real need to run on an airway. If two NAVAIDs are in close enough proximity to each other that at least one can be received at all times, filing NAVAID direct NAVAID is perfectly acceptable. You fly outbound on one until you can receive the other. This is the basic idea behind airways in the first place. There is a little more to it, though.

Airways are assessed for obstacle clearance and NAVAID coverage. Hence you'll see at least an MEA (Minimum Enroute Altitude). This guarantees signal coverage continuously through the route. If the airway segment is safe at a lower altitude, a MOCA (Minimum Obstacle Clearance Altitude) may also be published. Flying below the MEA but at or above the MOCA means that you're above terrain and obstructions, but you may be below signal coverage at least at some points between airway segments. With no airway, you don't have the benefit of these established altitudes to know you're safe. The basic rule of IFR flight now comes into play: Ensuring you're at least 1,000 feet above the highest terrain or obstruction within 5NM of the aircraft. Now, if you're in one of the 5 Designated Mountainous Areas (detailed in the AIP and the Designated Airspace Handbook), then you have to be 1,500 or 2,000 feet, as appropriate, above the terrain and obstructions. This can be tougher to figure out and be 100% sure of. If you're operating off airway, then the pilot is responsible to ensure his altitude is acceptable. One thing you can use is a GASA, or Geographical Area Safe Altitude found on LO charts, as well as, perhaps, overlapping 100 NM safe altitudes from airports where instrument approach plates are published. Just make sure that whatever altitudes you use are good for your route segment, and include a reasonable overlap just in case you drift a little off course.

One way pilots can file flight plans including route portions where NAVAIDs without airways between them are used is the radials/tracks they'd be flying between them. For example, the pref route published for FL180 and above out of Halifax for Toronto has "YHZ 303 MLT VLV" and onwards, with the 303 between YHZ and MLT representing the YHZ 303 Radial. The idea is exactly what was described above: Flying outbound on the YHZ303R until you receive MLT and flying direct MLT from that point on whatever radial you end up on when you pick it up. Now that's a high altitude pref route and obstacle clearance is not an issue at that altitude for the Moncton FIR.

If you do your homework right, you can find a safe altitude for the route segment to be flown. It would be wise, also, to become very familiar with the surroundings along that route, just in case you have a problem, such as encountering ice that you can't get above and end up having to descend instead. It would be nice to know a course of action that's possible to keep you out of harm's way with the terrain around your route if worse were to come to worst.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

GPS Question

I received a few questions recently, and the most interesting ones regarded the filing of flight plans with non-certified GPS units. A reader said he has been flying with a non-IFR certified GPS unit, and filing flight plans indicating GPS equipment with remarks stating "non-IFR certified GPS". ATC in his area had been issuing clearances to fixes that were not contained in the GPS database, and the reader was confused about why ATC would be relying on his GPS equipment, as evidenced by the clearances issued, and whether he should be accepting them. Here's the best answer I can give.

If you're talking legalities, then no, a non-certified GPS is not a legal method for navigation for IFR. To get certification of an IFR GPS, certain minimum requirements must be met, though to be honest, I don't know what they are. They are contained in documents, though, and the certification level is coded as TSO-C129a or higher. There are different levels of certification, including those that make use of WAAS. If it doesn't meet that, the GPS receiver may be not be used as a method of navigation. If a unit meets the standard, then it is legal and may be used. The reason for certification is to ensure the unit meets standards of redundancy and standards of reporting to a pilot if it isn't operating up to standard for accuracy. For example, if your GPS stops receiving good satellite geometry and the navigation solution has a high HDOP (Horizontal Dilution Of Position), does your receiver let you know? If it doesn't meet TSO129C, then it may not report such a situation at all, or the reporting method may not be adequate to let you know you have a problem. If you can't be certain about your position then what happens if ATC clears you on a routing and separates other traffic from you, only to find out that you're not where you thought you were?

I have seen a couple of situations in which my basic GPS receivers showed in error, and one in particular that was dramatic, and inexplicable. It showed me 35 km away from where I knew I was, out of 21,000 feet climbing at 65 km/h when I was stopped on the surface nearly at sea level. There was excellent geometry with the satellites, but no indication on the unit that something was going wrong. 35km is almost 20NM, and if ATC is using your G as coding for a capable GPS and something like this were to happen, you could end up anywhere between where the unit says you are and 10NM on the other side of the traffic ATC is separating you from. I think you can see how this could be bad.

Another issue with GPS is the database. For example, some people believe it's fine to enter waypoints into a GPS by hand, set up a route including the fixes, in order, associated with a GPS approach, and use the GPS to guide them in. Apart from the issues I just mentioned above, there are other points that need to be made. The approaches, to be legal, may not contain waypoints entered by hand. Instead, the approach must be pulled from a database and run through automatically in sequence, rather fixes that are "hand picked" by the pilot. The reason for this is the possibility of a serious error when a digit is missed by one, or two digits reversed. Image descending on an approach profile you loaded by hand only to pass a step-down fix and suddenly take a 90° left turn. Just before you head off toward the hillside that's beside your approach path, you realize that you inadvertently entered "45 53.760" instead of "45 57.360" translating to an error on the order of 5 NM. By the time you disconnect the autopilot and start a turn back, you may have already progressed to a dangerous position, and you're at a low altitude already having completed most of the approach. Similarly, even if the named fixes are in a database, the approach must be pulled from the database to ensure errors don't occur by choosing the wrong name. A few years ago, a pilot asked for "direct BIMKU" at Moncton (it no longer exists), and took a turn of about 90° to the left. When queried, the pilot realised in accidentally entered "BIMTU", which was at Bathurst, about 90NM north of Moncton. This in itself could have been serious if I had traffic on a parallel vector north of him, but the consequences on an approach could leave very little room for error indeed.

Now to the flight plan. Not all remarks you file in your flight plan will make it to the controller's eyes. If you file as having GPS on board, their flight information may reflect GPS equipped. ATC only sees one equipment suffix, so if you file G, it will show up over S and many others. Also, the remark about it being non-IFR certified may get lost somewhere along the way due to equipment limitations or processing of the flight plan. Hence, if they see a G in the equipment suffixes on your aircraft, you'll quite likely receive clearances direct to VORs that are not in range and to fixes. Also, ATC may separate you from other traffic relying on your GPS and therefore reducing separation between you and other aircraft.

In short, I'd recommend sticking with your airplane's capabilities, and filing flight plans accordingly. This is the only way to ensure that you get clearances that keep you on routes within the aircraft's capabilities, and that you are capable of continuously and reasonably navigating what you are assigned. Separation, and therefore safety, could be compromised if you're not meeting standards. I know the standards thing can seem constraining at times like this, but those standards are not without their reasons and there is a lot of background data that we just aren't privy to in the general populace. Transport Canada has been slow to react to GPS, but they have their reasons for going cautiously. I understand completely the issue made about the long way around on some airways. If the issue is really that important, getting an IFR certified GPS installed in the aircraft might be worth it. I'm sure, with the price of gas, there can be a business case made for the long term fuel savings vs. the cost of purchasing and installing a regulation unit. Not to mention the peace of mind that comes with knowing you're doing it right.

*an important add on for information has been added as a comment to this post. References to the other standards for GPS installation and TC approval have been added. The section of the AIP that deals with GPS is COM 3.16.

Sunday, October 02, 2005


Anyone who works shift work knows the importance of sleep, and at least some of the difficulties surrounding getting sleep. I used to be a sound sleeper. I could sleep through anything. Now, just about anything wakes me up. I often wonder how pilots do it. Some of their schedules are worse than mine (they must be to be in the air when I get to work for an early shift).

As tired as one could be, adrenaline often keeps one awake and alert while things are hopping. I picture this being the same in the cockpit starting up, taxiing and preparing for take-off, and in the initial phases of flight. The descent to landing, the approach, and the touchdown in particular are all things that I would expect would keep a pilot awake. But the enroute portion, especially on a long leg, I picture being largely boring enough to prevent the release of adrenaline (unless, of course, your ATC were to make a mistake), and I can see how monitoring gauges and looking at a sometimes endless sea of white cloud below and blue sky above, or indeed nothing on a dark night over the ocean, could lead one to become very drowsy.

For ATC, looking at a largely empty piece of airspace with no conflicts to monitor and nothing to say as everybody goes about his business can be pretty, well, tough. I mean, in order to do your job, that is to provide "full time attentive flight monitoring," you have to watch what's going on, and staring at a blank screen and keeping your attention focussed on the job can be a challenge. Statistically, they say that most incidents in ATC occur not when things are busy, but when things are slow.

Of course, being well rested is very important. A good night's sleep can help stave off sleepiness that can arise from a low workload, which in turn lends itself to a low stress load. As bad as too much stress can be for an individual, too little can also be a bad thing. And as pilots well know, there are few chemical remedies that can be legally be used to help get sleep or keep someone awake at those crucial times. I suppose that's where coffee comes in, since caffiene is legal.

For all it's importance, sleep is still underrated. A good night's sleep is so important, and yet we'll all forgo some sleep at some point in time voluntarily for that awesome party or whatever else takes one's attention. As long as we don't let it get in the way of the radar screen we're looking at, or the cockpit tasks we have to monitor, we should be OK, no?

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Airbus Landing

I'm sure we've all heard of the Jet Blue A320 that landed with the nose wheel cocked to the left. I just head something this morning that had me thinking. Apparently the A320 in question had the in-flight entertainment system available to passengers, and CNN was one of the stations they could tune in. Given the fact that the A320 can't dump fuel and had to circle to burn it off, first, there was plenty of time to get news crews all over that airport to watch it, and "capture it for the public". Apparently, many of the passengers on board watched their own plane from the outside as sparks flew from the nose strut after touchdown.

So here's the question: Suppose the situation were more dire. Would you, as a passenger, want to watch your own death on TV as it happens? Maybe so. Perhaps it would kind of detach you from the situation, allowing more peace of mind at the big moment, since you now have an outsider's perspective on how things are going. I'm not sure what to think of this. Either way, with or without the TV, there's nothing you can do to cahnge the situation. But would you want to watch it all?