Airports Aviation Articles

Three Tips for Avoiding Runway Confusion

Have you ever had runway confusion? This confusion could come from runway numbers closely aligned or even complex airport layouts. From one pilot to another, we’ve all had some confusion during one stage of training or another. Here are a few tips to equip you with better runway familiarity and ridding the chance of possible confusion.

Three major ways to avoid possible risks associated with runway confusion include:

I) Always remember ATC is there to help you, especially at unfamiliar airports. Make sure to request progressive taxi instructions. Progressive taxiing is essentially asking for step-by-step, turn-by-turn instructions to your destination runway or airport destination.

 

Current Airport Diagram

 II) Always carry a current airport diagram, trace or highlight your taxi route to the departure runway prior to leaving the ramp. This also applies to when you are in the air. If you are a distance out from the runway environment and are unsure how you will enter the pattern, draw out your aircrafts heading and position on your airport diagram to the runway of intended landing. Be sure to listen to the airport ATIS to anticipate the runway in use before ATC tells you. Stay ahead of the aircraft if you can!

 

PIT Airport Diagram

 

III) If departing on Runway 36, ensure that you set your aircraft heading “bug” to 360°, and align your aircraft to the runway heading to avoid departing from the incorrect runway.

Before adding power on the runway currently aligned, make one last instrument scan to ensure the aircraft heading and runway heading are centered.

 

Runway and Pressure Gauge

 

Airport Information

It is important to review the current data for your airport or airports of use. Make sure you have these three common sources to obtain airport information.

I) Aeronautical Charts

  • Map designated to assess navigation of aircraft. Make sure your charts are current!

Aeronautical Chart

II) Chart Supplement U.S. (formerly Airport/Facility Directory)

  • Contains information on airports, heliports, and seaplane bases that are open to the public.

FAA Chart Supplement

III) Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs) 

  • NOTAMs are time-critical aeronautical information that include such information as taxiway and runway closures, construction, communications, changes in the status of navigational aids, and other information essential to planned en route, terminal, or landing operations.
  • Types include FDC, SAA, FICON, Pointer, D, and military. 
  • NOTAMs are super important to understand the condition of the airport environment around you and how it can affect your awareness/routing.

These are a few very useful tips to help you familiarize yourself with unfamiliar airports and reduce confusion. Do you have any other useful tips to avoid runway confusion? Leave a comment below! 

 

To B, or not to B -- The Basics of Class B Airspace in VFR Operations

VFR Mapping

You’re planning a route on a VFR sectional and come across an airport surrounded by class B’s solid blue circles. You know that class B is known for being the busiest and one of the most restrictive controlled airspaces. So what do you need to know about this airspace to navigate with confidence? Good question, here’s what you need to know.

Requirements/Limitations

  • ATC clearance (Ex. Skyhawk 099SP, cleared to enter the CLE Bravo)
  • Establish and maintain two-way communication prior to entering
  • Mode C transponder (within 30 nm, up to 10,000 msl)
  • Weather minimums
    • Visibility: Three statute miles
    • Cloud clearance: Clear of clouds
  • At least a private pilot certificate
  • Student pilot operations restricted
  • Speed restriction:
    • Inside the bravo: 250KIAS
    • Underneath the bravo: 200KIAS 

Your Level of Certification Matters!

According to FAR 61.95 if you are a student pilot you must have received both ground and flight training from an authorized flight instructor at that specific Class B airspace area in which you intend on operating within. You must also have received a logbook endorsed by your flight instructor who gave you the flight training, and the endorsement must be dated within the 90-day period preceding the date of the flight in that Class B airspace.

Remember! A major thing to keep in mind is that every Class B is tailored differently and may have different requirements. This being said, as a student pilot there are some Class B airspaces that regardless of FAR 61.95 do not permit operation due to high volume operations. These are:

  • Andrews Air Force Base, MD
  • (The William B. Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport)Atlanta, GA
  • (General Edward Lawrence Logan International Airport)Boston, MA
  • (Chicago-O'Hare International Airport)Chicago, IL
  • (Dallas/Fort Worth Regional Airport)Dallas, TX
  • (Los Angeles International Airport)Los Angeles, CA
  • (Miami International Airport)Miami, FL
  • (Newark International Airport) Newark, NJ
  • (John F. Kennedy International Airport)New York, NY
  • (LaGuardia Airport)New York, NY
  • (San Francisco International Airport) San Francisco, CA
  • (Washington National Airport)Washington, D.C.

Special Area, Special Training!

Some class B airspaces require more than just standard training. A very restrictive Class B I want to point out is DCA or Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. This airport requires all pilots to partake in special awareness training before operations under VFR within 60 nm of the DCA VOR/DME. This is due to close proximity to prohibit areas, restricted areas, and the capital building. If you’re interested in taking the training for free, visit www.faasafety.gov. The training takes approximately 40 to 45 minutes to complete. 

 

VFR Routes

This is one topic that is less known amongst pilots. There are published VFR routes for transitioning around airspaces such as class B that have been established by the FAA and industry initiatives. These routes are not used or intended to discourage VFR pilots from requesting clearance from ATC to operate within class B. They are simply designed to assist pilots in planning their flights into, out of, and around complex terminals and class B airspaces. The following routes established are VFR flyway, VFR Corridor, and class B Airspace VFR transition route. All pilots must continue to adhere to VFR rules and continue to see and avoid other traffic.

Figure 1: VFR Flyways (Depicted by blue arrows with designated altitudes to surface. An ATC clearance is NOT required to fly them. These routes will be depicted on TAC (Terminal Area Charts) if offered. Eventually, all TAC‘s will include a VFR flyway planning chart. The ground references are a guide to improve visual navigation.)



Figure 2: VFR Corridors (It does not extend down to the surface like a flyway but consists of a defined lateral and vertical limit, it’s a ‘hole’. Exercise extreme caution to avoid other VFR traffic using the corridor. Communication nor clearance is required with ATC.)

Figure 3: VFR Transition Routes (These routes are special flight courses depicted on a TAC that assists transitioning a class B airspace. These routes are designed to show pilots where to position their aircraft outside of or clear of the class B Airspace where they can expect an ATC clearance with minimal or no delay. ATC clearance and contact are required.) 

Many general aviation pilots find class B airspace intimidating and would prefer to avoid it completely. However, knowledge is power and I believe with the proper training, a pilot can learn to operate safely and competently within class B airspace. Even in the event of using a VFR route, understanding your options in and around a class B airspace permits and promotes safer operation. Once you get the hang of it, class B airspace isn’t too challenging but it does require your full attention and a bit of practice. 

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

AirTrafficControl

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.

ATC Light Gun Signals

  • 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. 

Terminal Radar Approach Control

  • 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. 

Departure Chart

Talk to us: If you 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.

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