Airports Aviation Articles

ATC, ATCT, TRACON, ARTCC -- Who are We Talking to and Why?

ATC (Air Traffic Control) is a really big part of the safe operation of a flight. Even though their goals are similar, ATC assists pilots in different phases of reaching their destination utilizing different specialties and methods. So, who are we talking to and why?

What Does Air Traffic Control Do?

  • The controller’s responsibility is to provide a safe, orderly, and expeditious flow of air traffic
  • Provide safety alerts to aircraft
  • Properly sequence aircraft while ensuring that traffic remains a safe distance from each other

Where do ATC controllers Work?

Controllers work in three different specializations:

(1) Air Traffic Control Tower (ATCT)

  • They have windows! ATCTs monitor aircraft that are on the ground or airborne within 5 miles of the airport. Due to the close proximity and range of service, these controllers use line of sight to help aid in the safe flow of traffic.
  • They even have light guns to serve as another means of communication with airborne or ground-based traffic.

  • Clearance delivery— Clears a pilot to fly a specific predetermined or amended route
  • Ground control— provides pilots with taxi instructions to or from the active runway
  • Local control—they are responsible for controlling aircraft that are prepared for departure or approach (“Cleared for takeoff Runway… or cleared for landing runway…”). They are usually referred to as just ATC.

  (2) Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON)

  • They once used large vacuum tube radar scopes to watch dots (aircraft) transition across the screen via the radar line of sight. 

  • They provide en-route air traffic services to low altitude aircraft VFR or IFR flight plans.
  • TRACON controllers have airspace of a 50-mile radius centered at the primary airport usually from the surface to approximately 10,000 ft.

(3) Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC or “Center”)

  • A Center does not have to be at or even near an airport. They are usually in less populated or more rural areas. There are 21 centers across the United States. The responsibilities of a TRACON controller and ARTCC are similar. They both provide air traffic services to aircraft, but more specifically ARTCC provides services for flights operating at high altitudes on IFR flight plans during an en-route phase of flight. According to the FAR/AIM Pilot/Controller Glossary, it states that “when equipment capabilities and controller workload permit, certain advisory/assistance services may be provided to VFR aircraft.”
  • Several hundred controllers controlling several million square miles of airspace.
  • Usually from 11,000 ft to the edge of outer space (60,000 feet)!

Trivia Question: Why aren’t ARTCC’s Located near an airport? Provide your answers in the comments below!

Understanding Departure Procedures and its Two Different Types

 

I look back to a year ago and remember the lessons I was covering in my instrument training— Fight instruments, Nav-aids, system limitations, etc. We, my flight instructor and I, had not quite reached the point of learning the full details of instrument approach plates, departure procedures, arrival routes, etc. When we did discuss it, it was a lot of terms and concepts to learn. Instrument flying has a great deal of information essential to safe IFR operation, including its many different plates and procedures. Generally, when you are training for your instrument rating, you tend to spend most of your time focusing on holds and instrument approaches and not nearly as much time with the encompassing factors associated with IFR departures.  

Let’s take a closer look at DP’s (Departure Procedures) and the two different types— ODP’s (Obstacle Departure Procedure) and SID’s (Standard Instrument Departure). 

To understand the importance of departure procedures, there are a few standards that need to be recognized. According to the U.S. standard for TERPS (Terminal Instrument Procedures), there is a specific obstacle clearance that must be maintained. Your aircraft must climb at least 200 Feet Per Nautical Mile (FPNM). This is determined through an observed obstacle penetration slope of 152 FPNM. If an obstacle does not penetrate the 200 FPNM climb gradient, the pilot has a minimum obstacle clearance of 48ft.

Side Note* the 152FPNM is the 40:1 ratio often referenced. 1 nautical mile is roughly 6067 feet, therefore 6067/152 = 39.9 or 40 to 1.

When obstacles penetrate that 40:1 obstacle slope, this can increase your required climb gradients as well as none standard takeoff minimums. ODP’s (Obstacle Departure Procedures) are created by the NFPO (National Flight Procedures Office) to ensure requirements are put in place to maintain sufficient obstacle clearance. ODP’s can be published either Textually or graphically. Do not be confused in that SID’s are only graphical (but may have text on them).

Highlighted in red is an example of a textual ODP. In the TPP, it is easy to confuse the ODP section with the “takeoff Obstacle Notes”. These are not the same thing. Takeoff Obstacle Notes are “low-close in obstacles” that are less than 200 ft above the departure end of the runway (DER) as well as within 1NM of the end of the runway. These do not require greater take-off minima. It is the pilot’s responsibility to see and avoid these obstacles.

Highlighted in yellow is a notable feature of graphical ODP’s that differentiate them from SID’s. On the plate, it will state OBSTACLE. Graphical ODP’s have identifiers (Ex. DRAKE2.DRK) which allows them to be filed during your IFR flight plan, while textual ODP’s can not.

Lastly, SID’s (Standard Instrument Departures) require an ATC clearance prior to flying the route. They are used to increase efficiency by expediting traffic flow and alleviating some pilot/controller workload. These are often seen at larger airports where congestion is high. If you received clearance from ATC via the SID, you are automatically cleared for the ODP. But if you are cleared for an ODP, that does not mean you are cleared for the SID. You have to make sure before accepting a SID, that your aircraft can perform to required climb gradients. If it can not meet requirements, put “No SID” in your remarks section of your flight plan.

There are two main types of SID’s — Vector and pilot navigation SID’s.

Vector SID— ATC will provide radar vectors right after takeoff and will continue until you reach your fix charted or an assigned route. As you can see here on the MEADOW FOUR, common to vector SID’s they do not have transitions or departure routes to follow. Depending upon your route of flight, after you follow the initial directions (heading and altitude) ATC will vector you via a Nav-aid in the direction of your flight. 

Pilot Navigation SID— have a set of instructions for every aircraft to follow a particular route. You may see two or more transitions listed on this form of SID. As you see here on the KKIDS ONE it has a visual (graphical or plan view) section and a textual description. This confuses a lot of people because SID’s are only graphical. Textual descriptions simply re-iterate what the graphical depicts but in some simple transitions textual descriptions will not be included. 

To all of the pilots who have personally flown departure procedures, what was your experience with them? 

Before You File A Part 16 Complaint Against An AIP Airport Sponsor, Make Sure You Try To Settle.

Airport owners or operators (“Airport Sponsors”) who receive federal grant funds under the federal Airport Improvement Program (“AIP”) must agree to certain obligations and conditions.  These obligations and conditions are commonly referred to as “Grant Assurances.” Sometimes an airport tenant may end up in a dispute with an Airport Sponsor if the tenant thinks the Airport Sponsor is not complying with certain Grant Assurances and harming the tenant.

Some of the most commonly disputed Grant Assurances include Grant Assurance 19 (Operation and Maintenance), Grant Assurance 22 (Economic Non-Discrimination), Grant Assurance 23 (Exclusive Rights), Grant Assurance 24 (Fee and Rental Structure), Grant Assurance 25 (Unlawful Revenue Diversion), and Grant Assurance 29 (Airport Layout Plan).

If a dispute arises, an airport tenant has options for pursuing a complaint against the Airport Sponsor.  However, the tenant should use reasonable efforts to try and resolve the dispute with the Airport Sponsor.  Not only is this a good business practice, but it is also a requirement if the dispute can not be resolved and a formal complaint to the FAA is needed.

Making A Complaint

An airport tenant who believes an Airport Sponsor has violated one or more of the Grant Assurances (the “Complainant”) may make a complaint to the FAA. The FAA will then investigate and, if the FAA finds non-compliance, the FAA may take enforcement action.

Informal Complaint.   Under 14 C.F.R. Part 13, a Complainant may make an informal complaint to the appropriate FAA personnel in any regional or district office, either verbally or in writing. The FAA will then review the complaint, investigate as needed, and determine whether (1) FAA action is warranted, or (2) if it appears that the airport sponsor is violating any of its federal obligations.

Formal Complaint.     If the matter is not resolved to the Complainant’s satisfaction, the Complainant may file a formal complaint with the FAA under 14 C.F.R. Part 16. And as the reference implies, this type of complaint involves a more involved and lengthy procedural process.  It also takes significantly more time before the FAA decides whether a violation has occurred.

Informal Settlement Efforts

Before a Complainant may file a formal complaint, 14 C.F.R. § 16.21 requires the Complainant to initiate and engage in good faith efforts to resolve the disputed matter informally with those individuals or entities the Complainant believes are responsible for the noncompliance. These efforts may include common alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediation, arbitration, or the use of another form of third-party assistance.

Additionally, the FAA Airports District Office, FAA Airports Field Office, FAA Regional Airports Division (responsible for administering financial assistance to the airport sponsor), or the FAA Office of Civil Rights are available, upon request, to try to help the parties resolve their dispute informally. Efforts to resolve the dispute informally are mandatory.

When the Complainant files a formal complaint, 14 C.F.R. § 16.27 requires the Complainant to certify that: “(1) [t]he complainant has made substantial and reasonable good faith efforts to resolve the disputed matter informally prior to filing the complaint; and (2) [t]here is no reasonable prospect for practical and timely resolution of the dispute.”

Although neither the FAA nor the regulations require a specific form or process for informal resolution, the Complainant’s certification must include a description of the parties’ efforts, which must be relatively recent prior to the filing of the complaint.

If the Complainant fails to make the certification, does not sufficiently describe the settlement efforts, or if the parties did not engage in informal settlement efforts, the FAA will dismiss the Complainant’s complaint.  Although the dismissal will be without prejudice, the Complainant will then be required to refile the Complainant’s complaint with the required certification.

Conclusion

If you are an airport tenant in a dispute with an AIP airport sponsor, you have options available to you for resolving the dispute.  As is often the case in disputes, the parties’ mutual settlement of the dispute is preferable and encouraged.

So, it usually a good idea to engage in settlement negotiations early.  And if the matter is not settled, you should be able to document the settlement efforts in which the parties engaged.  That way if a formal Part 16 complaint is required, you will have what you need to certify your informal settlement efforts and avoid dismissal of your complaint.

GlobalAir.com Challenges You to Step Up for the FBOs (#FBOchallenge)

With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to take hold of the aviation industry, now is the time to support each other. Specifically, we need to support our Fixed Base Operators (FBOs) on the field. These FBOs are the backbone of the aviation industry.

From the time an aircraft arrives at an airport, the FBO is responsible for fueling and maintaining not only the aircraft but the pilot. Often pilots are provided complimentary treats and coffee from the FBO on the field.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, many FBOs have had to cut down on their hours and staff at the airports. For those who do so much for our industry, we are challenging you to give back to them.

GlobalAir.com will be providing lunch for the employees and staff at Louisville Executive Aviation on Bowman Field (KLOU) as a thank you for all of their hard work during the pandemic. The staff continues to work to service aircraft coming into the airport as well as maintaining those within the hangars.

We are challenging you to do the same!  Say a big thank you to your local FBOs as they work tirelessly to keep the airport going during this time. Say thank you by tipping after a full-service fueling, providing lunch or baked goods for your local FBO, sending cards of appreciation, or posting a message of encouragement on their social media pages!

Times are uncertain for the aviation industry and the world, but spreading kindness and saying thank you to those who work hard in our industry is important!  Join #FBOchallenge and spread the word.

Remembering my first soft field landing

In flying, as with anything else, when you have a goal, it helps to stay laser-focused. It helps to avoid distractions.

This is especially true when you're working on earning a new rating or trying to learn a new skill.

Take soft field landings, for instance.

I did my first soft field landing in April 2018. It was several months before I would get my private pilot ticket, and my instructor at the time, Justin, was intent on teaching me soft field landings on actual SOFT FIELDS.

That's the only way to learn it if you want my opinion. Simulated soft field landings might get you checkride-ready, but there's nothing like having some actual grass and hard dirt under the wheels to show you what it's really like.

The field in question was Lee Bottom Airport (64I), a gorgeous 4,000-foot-long nicely kept grass strip tucked away among trees in Hanover, Indiana. While it made some instructors nervous, Justin loved that field, and would often be happy for any excuse to touch down there, as long as the grass wasn't wet.

I still have video of my first landing there. With my Go-Pro pointed out the window – slightly crooked, as always seemed to be the case – I swung the plane onto final, at Justin's direction. Nervously, I could see the tops of the 60-foot trees passing below me as our aircraft glided closer to the airstrip's threshold, the branches seemingly reaching up trying to snatch our little Cessna in their clutches.

I was always nervous at this point -- particularly on days when there was a strong headwind and the airplane appeared to be moving slowly over those trees. On days like this, I was tempted to add power and come in too fast, floating down the length of the airstrip.

"I just feel soooo slow coming in over those trees," I once quipped.

"That's because we've got the headwind," Justin replied. "Don't worry about your groundspeed. Your airspeed is what is important."

But invariably I would glide over the trees and come down beyond them, landing just past the white cones of the airstrip's threshold. I'd try to add just a little bit of power just before the wheels would touch down on the grass.

The rough feeling of the grassy strip just rushing by under the wheels was so alien to a student pilot like me, who was so used to the smooth concrete of runways at controlled airports.

But I thoroughly enjoyed applying full back pressure to the yoke as I held the nose up and gently pumped the throttle so as not to lose momentum before turning the plane around near the end of the grass strip. Using no brakes, to avoid getting stuck in the grass, I'd taxi back to the threshold, set the flaps at 10 degrees and take off again.

We did this over and over again, in all types of winds, lesson after lesson. Because I was determined. I wanted to get my soft field landings down perfectly. I had a goal. I had a checkride. And I wasn't going to let anything distract me.

But one evening was different.

It was June 16 of 2018. It was sometime around 7 o'clock in the evening, and Justin and I were once again returning to Lee Bottom Airport to do some soft field landings. It was supposed to be a short lesson, and after one or two landings, we were going to fly back to the flight school and head for home.

But as we were gliding down on final, something caught our eye. A small plane was parked midway down the field, off to the side of the airstrip. We couldn't tell what it was. As we drifted closer, we could begin to make it out.

"It's a Pietenpol!" Justin said.

As we touched down on the grass strip and rolled passed the airplane, it grabbed my attention.Pitenpol

"You wanna stop?" I asked.

"You wanna?" Justin replied.

Thankfully, no one else was scheduled to rent the plane after us that evening, so there was no need to get back to the flight school right away. Sure, I had a lesson, but we could get back to that later. Right now, I wanted to check out the classic plane. After landing, we pulled our plane over into the grass on the side of the strip and climbed out.

The kind owner of the aircraft -- I don't recall his name, unfortunately -- had flown in from the north that afternoon and was more than happy to show us his plane. It was bright yellow taildragger with an open-air cockpit, with two big front wheels that reminded me of oversized wheels that came from a child's wagon.

On the side of the aircraft was mounted a device we could tell was the pilot’s pride and joy. It was labeled the "Bacon Savor" -- a simple pointer that warned the pilot when he was about to exceed the critical angle of attack and stall out.

On the ground next to the airplane was a simple blue mat. The pilot had actually flown in and planned to camp out that night under the stars – perhaps making use of the fire pit near the airfield to cook some grub.

It seemed like the perfect life.

Of course, we had to get going. I had a lesson to finish -- more stuff to learn -- I had to get ready for that checkride. But just as we were about to head back to our plane, we spotted another aircraft about to land on the field.

It turned out it was Elijah -- another pilot who flew out of our flight school. Cheerfully, he landed and taxied over to where we stood.
Quickly joining the conversation, the four of us found ourselves laughing about the things pilots and student pilots often joke about: Eccentric flight instructors, strange airplanes, predicaments we shouldn't have gotten ourselves into but did anyway, upcoming checkrides, stupid oral exam questions, etc.

Before we knew it, two more hours had elapsed.

By the time Justin and I climbed back into the plane and took off, the sun was setting -- and we were way later than we planned. As we flew west, we followed the Ohio River with the burning horizon in front of us. Behind us in his airplane, Elijah tried to race us back. He lost, but to be fair, we had a pretty big head start.

So much for avoiding distractions. Truth be told, I wasn’t very focused that night. We didn’t spend a whole lot of time practicing landings or doing maneuvers like I originally planned.

But we did have a whole lot of fun. And in the final analysis, I guess those are the lessons you remember most.

Travis K. Kircher is a private pilot based out of Louisville, Kentucky.

 

End of content

No more pages to load