dissection: (n.) the process of examining or considering something in detail, or a piece of work that is the result of doing this.

Hello dear friends,

Today we are going to look at a very common, very typical situation, in spite of the fact that most people know in theory how to handle such a case.

I will ask you for a little bit of imagination: picture yourself flying towards a controlled aerodrome, and you are about 5 minutes prior to entering the control zone (CTR). You call the tower, in a hope to ask for the entry clearance and landing instructions, but the only response you get from the controller is “stand by”. What should you do? Call again? In how long?  Enter the CTR or not?

On a Saturday afternoon, I was taking a break whilst my colleagues were working. Minding my own business in the rest area, I couldn’t help but overhear the following conversation on the tower frequency:

ACFT: “Tower, good afternoon, this is D-IEMA, I am all alone in my Bellanca and I am flying from Neuhausen ob Eck in Germany to Duxford in England, and I am maintaining 4000 feet at the moment, and I am requesting to cross your TMA at present altitude, but after I would like to descend to 1400 feet to avoid the class C airspace but also to maintain the present track, and after I will turn left direct to Dover but I would like again to climb to 4000 feet, over.”

Holy moly. That’s some initial call.

My colleague who was in charge of the sector was not too busy, but, as fate would have it, had two other urgent calls to place: one to a light turboprop on short final who needed a landing clearance, and the second to an airliner who was on base abeam 12NM final, and in need of a turn onto the interception heading.

So, as any controller would do, in order to prioritize his calls efficiently, my colleague goes back to the Bellanca pilot with:

TWR: “D-IEMA, tower, stand-by”, assuming that would give him time to place his more urgent transmissions. Behold the reaction of the pilot:

ACFT: “ Roger, Tower, this is D-IEMA, I am all alone in my Bellanca and I am flying from Neuhausen ob Eck in Germany to Duxford in England, and I am maintaining 4000 feet at the moment, and I am requesting to cross your TMA at present altitude, but after I would like to descend to 1400 feet to avoid the class C airspace but also to maintain the present track, and after I will turn left direct to Dover but I would like again to climb to 4000 feet, over.”

By the time the old-timer pilot had finished singing his song a second time, the turboprop had gone around, and the airliner was crossing the localizer, requiring the controller to re-think his sequence, issue extra headings and, of course, give extra miles and therefore delay to 189 passengers.

No fun, right?

Let’s take a look together at a few things:

  1. Probably the least problematic thing (in fact not problematic at all), the pilot ended his calls with “over”. ICAO tells us that by using that word, the pilot meant: “My transmission is ended and I expect a response from you.” Well, yes, for sure, he seemed pretty insistent about it. But to be honest, the use of “over” is actually very quaint on VHF and if I heard it 5 times (including these 2) in my 20-year career as an air traffic controller, that was a lot. So, to avoid being mistaken for a flying legend, please do not use it.
  2. A “cold call”, or unsolicited call, like for example, when you place an initial call to a controller when coming from class G airspace, should never contain more than:
  • The callsign of the unit you are calling
  • Your callsign
  • A short greeting, if deemed appropriate

By passing any extra information, you are actually giving the controller less time to find out who you are, if you have a flight plan or not, and if not, to create one. Please keep in mind that controllers are human beings too, and that by delivering messages without considering that, you are in fact overloading the frequency, and a repetition will most likely be necessary to achieve your goals.

  1. Most importantly, when a controller asks you to “stand by”, it effectively means: “Wait and I call you”. So, what you have to do is in fact quite simple: Wait, and the controller will indeed call you!

Now, there is something very important here. While you wait, you may not assume that you have received any clearance. Just because the controller has replied to you does not mean that you may enter controlled airspace. You must wait outside until you have received explicit clearance to do so, and please, if a controller tells you “Stand by”, do not even reply, acknowledge nor read back. Stay silent, and wait.

Of course if the controller does not call you for another 5 or 7 minutes (these are not exact values, more a general idea), I am not saying to stay put and silent until you exhaust your fuel, you may remind the controller of your presence, for example if you hear a longer silence on the frequency. But if you are being told to stand by, it means that more urgent communications have to be placed before you are attended to.

So, all in all, be patient, fly safe, and have a nice week!

See you next Sunday

A Bellanca 14-9

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