Instability: (n.) the condition of being likely to change, start or cease, especially unexpectedly.
Hello dear readers,
I hope this article finds you well.
This week, I would like to talk about a subject that remains very obscure for many, many pilots. The interruption of services by ATS. I see you getting ready for the dreaded word… strike!
But no, although strikes do happen more often than we would like to, I would like to bring up another subject, far more frequent, and less controversial. What happens when, through no fault of your own or technical problem in your aircraft, you lose radio contact with a ground station? Let’s find out.
One day, on a small local flight in the vicinity of his home airport, a weathered pilot was just leaving the CTR, and elected to contact Flight Information. As you may recall from our previous articles, being in contact with FIC is always a good idea, but on that particular day, the experience turned a little bit sour for our friend pilot.
Indeed, after a few miles flying southbound, the pilot was feeling glorious, the airplane was flying perfectly, maintaining 3000 feet, not a cloud in sight, and his decision to stay in radio contact with the ground seemed so far a brilliant idea: after an initial acknowledgement from the controller, he had been pretty much left in peace so far.
After a good 45 minutes of fun flying, it became time to return for landing, and as the pilot was approaching the CTR, he announced his intention of changing frequency to arrange for his entry clearance:
ACFT: “Scottish Information, G-ABCD changing to Edinburgh Tower on 118,7”
FIC: “G-ABCD, Scottish information, roger. Sir, did you not notice I have been trying to call you about ten times?”
ACFT: “Negative, sir.”
FIC: “G-ABCD, it is very serious, sir, if you contact me, you have to maintain a thorough listening watch, I was trying to warn you about airspace activation”
Okay, let’s take it from there. These are things that happen. When it happens with a Flight Information Center, it certainly is less dangerous than with an ATC sector, but still. The false feeling of safety that comes from being in contact with a ground station whilst you cannot hear them can quickly become problematic.
But then, what if the pilot really did not hear the controller calling? Technically, it is of course possible, but it is generally disregarded as people are quicker to assume that the source of a problem results in a mistake from someone rather than a technical fault. And yet, these technical issues do still happen.
After coming back to the flying club, the pilot, still under the bad feeling of having been more or less admonished by a controller, shares his story with his instructor and a few other fellow pilots. His instructor asked him almost immediately to confirm that it happened a dozen miles south of the CTR, around 3000 feet, and upon hearing the confirmation, reassured his former student:
FI: “Oh, yes, in that area, I have no idea why, but FIC is unreachable below 4500-5000 feet.”
The pilot, still taken aback, asked if there was anything he could do to avoid that, but the instructor and other pilots shrugged and told him to forget it and leave it alone. But our pilot was not one to leave unfinished business to rest, so he gave a quick telephone call to the tower.
Of course, the controllers were aware of what had happened. But the tower supervisor, on the phone, was very surprised to hear that pilots knew of a problem like that and nobody in the control tower knew!
Dear friends, if something like this happens to you, even if nobody scolds you, please do file a report. Either directly with the authorities in your country (look up the local AIP), or even easier, by going to http://www.aviationreporting.eu/.
Even if the problem was “just” that you could not reach a ground station by radio, it is worth to be reported. Nothing will happen to you, and the technical experts of the area will figure out what the problem is and how to solve it!
To finish the story, it is exactly what happened. The technicians at the airport were also very surprised to hear about the occurrence, but asked for a flight check to investigate. An aircraft came to test the radio coverage in the area, discovered the “gap” in coverage, and eventually, a supplementary transmitter was installed.
See? Filing a report only takes a few minutes, can have quite a big impact, and help everybody!
Have a nice week, my friends. Stay safe, wherever you are and until next week!