Last month we had a meeting in our office at which the subject of pre-planning and communication came up. Aside from aviation-related subjects we have situations in our everyday lives that also require pre-planning and communication. For instance:
Our grandson's birthday was last month. Two days before the big day he decided that he would like to have a party. My spouse went to the trouble to get a space at a shelter in a local park. It was too close to the occasion to get a proper cake and no one had yet been invited to the party. The grandson called a few friends and on such short notice about five said that they would come. As it turned out only two attended. Disappointment? Of course. A lesson? certainly. We can use this lesson when it comes to aviation.
Suppose that an IFR-rated pilot arrives at a Flight Service Station for the purpose of taking a trip. The pilot asks the Flight Service Station weather briefer for weather along the general route the flight will travel over. The weather briefer, needing to be a little more specific, asks for the route of flight. The pilot has not looked over the charts, which are outdated, and asks the briefer the best way to go. The briefer, not being able to second guess the pilot, states that it is up to the pilot to make routing decisions.
The briefer is beginning to be concerned that the pilot, who is asking for IFR routing, may not be current or qualified to make an IFR trip. However, the briefer gives the best weather briefing possible under the circumstance. After much questioning of the pilot, the briefer ferrets out the requested routing for the flight plan.
Having stumbled through the briefing and flight plan, the pilot proceeds to the airplane and, after a short pre-flight, sets out to launch into IFR weather. So far, not so good.
The pilot taxis out to the run up area and calls the tower for clearance. Fumbling around for a paper and pencil to copy the clearance, the pilot misses the clearance altogether. Rather than ask for the clearance to be repeated, the pilot acknowledges the clearance with the airplane call sign and the fact that the clearance was understood. (It is not necessary to repeat the whole clearance, but a good idea nonetheless.)
The route of flight being somewhat straight forward, once it was decided upon, is flown by the pilot without much difficulty. The flight was to a non-towered field some distance away. Arriving at altitude the pilot makes a call to center. The pilot is told that they see the aircraft east of the airway by a few miles. The pilot corrects to the airway but does not acknowledge the center transmission. Another call from center regarding the off-course call is received by the pilot who begrudgingly acknowledges the call. Arriving at the initial approach fix the final approach instructions are given by approach control. The pilot switches to the Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF) for the airport, with no acknowledgment to approach control.
Things get busy when a single pilot in a single engine airplane arrives at the final approach fix inbound for landing. Hearing no one on the radio our pilot proceeds inbound on course and doesn't report the final approach fix inbound. (Although reporting the final approach fix is not mandatory at this time, it is common courtesy.) In fact our pilot didn't talk to much of anybody the whole flight, not even CTAF. To the pilot's chagrin as his airplane descended through the cloud layer, another plane appeared crossing directly in front of the pilot. Whoa! What a shock. If it weren't for the quick reactions on the part of the crossing airplane, it could have been an aviation disaster.
This pilot's pre-planning was poor at best. Piloting skills where IFR flying was concerned were lacking. Communications were inaccurate, incomplete or forgotten altogether.
When we are going on an instrument flight, or any flight for that matter, our first action is pre-planning. Then determine the routing and get a weather briefing from Flight Service. The pre-planning being done, we file a flight plan and pre-flight the airplane. OK, so now we are on our way after having gotten our IFR (Instrument Flight Rule) clearance. The flight goes along as planned. We have arrived at our final approach fix at the expected time and are handed over to CTAF or a tower for clearance to land. Simple enough. We have explored what happens when the planning is less than complete.
Nobody comes to our party unless we communicate. With a little planning we can have our cake and eat it too.
Patricia Mattison is the safety program manager for the Juneau Flight Standards district office of the Federal Aviation Administration.