Differentiation: (n., U.) the process of showing or finding a difference between one thing and another.

Hello dear friends,

It has been a very busy week at AVIAtest, so I am happy to come back to you to catch a breath of fresh air and give myself a little time out by writing down this piece.

I hope you are all well and that you are able to take advantage of this late Spring to fly. As a matter of fact, I wanted to write an article about a very beautiful flight that I had the chance to make a few years ago.

If you also follow our web TV channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCqA-7XtzuPWuv410OriiCOQ, you probably saw our webinar about flying VFR abroad, and how important it is to prepare your flight thoroughly, and you probably know by now it a subject that I seem to be particularly fond of, but I think it cannot be overemphasized.

On a very beautiful trip that took us from Belgium to Germany, Czech Republic and Slovakia, after our small brush with bad weather in Gelnhausen, Germany (See The Diversion Catalyst), we were very happy to be in the air again, continuing our trip to the charming airport of Trenčín, Slovakia, with a technical stop in Czech Republic for refueling. Now, as I was saying repeatedly in our series of webinars, filing a flight plan for just about any flight is always a very good idea, as it helps controllers by reducing the number of transmissions, and it actually also serves you, as it permits all the controllers and flight information service officers along your route to provide you with alerting service, and make sure you stay safe all through your journey.

We were finally on our last leg of the day, flying in to our final stop in Slovakia, and anxious to meet our friends there, so, as the day drew to a close, we prepared to leave the flight information service frequency in Bratislava and switch to the self-information channel of Trenčín, when we received a question from the controller that startled us.

FIC:” Do you want to close your flight plan before leaving the frequency?”

We were indeed surprised as, we thought, the whole idea behind having a flight plan and closing it after landing was that alerting service can be provided until everybody is certain that the flight and its occupants are safe, and closing while still in flight sort of defeats the purpose. What would happen if we were to have an accident between the moment we leave the FIS frequency with a closed flight plan, and the moment we land? Who would come looking for a wreckage if we do not have a flight plan anymore?

Well, that thought dictated our answer to the FIS controller, naturally. We agreed to decline the offer, and opted to call the ATS Reporting Office over the telephone, after landing, as we had been taught in Belgium. Now, that is a procedure that seems to make sense. Calling the ARO after landing ensures everybody of a safe landing, and that nobody will end up wrecked in a tree in the middle of a forest. And anyway, we had 30 minutes after landing to do so, no big deal.

Or that is what we thought.

As we were finishing our flight peacefully, flying a circuit and landing, it was of course a happy moment, thinking of the friends waiting for us at the bar, and it was only when we disembarked, and as I was starting up my cell phone to place that call to ARO, that a friend of ours, managing the local flying school, walked up to the aircraft to greet us, and said immediately:

“Why didn’t you close your flight plan with FIC? They are looking for you!”

Now, this couldn’t be. We had left their frequency not 15 minutes ago, had literally just landed and they were already on the brink of sending search and rescue for us? What was happening?

Now, fortunately, our host was quick to stop the local Rescue Coordination Center in their effort to “rescue” us, but as an air traffic controller and an experienced pilot, we were not going to let this go without an explanation.

At the first occasion, I dived into the local AIP and found this, to my complete disbelief. In GEN 1.7, under “Differences from ICAO Standards, Recommended Practices and Procedures”, it was indeed specified that a flight plan should be closed with 10 minutes of its Estimated Time of Arrival, instead of the internationally-accepted 30 minutes.

Well, my friends, we learned quite a bit on that day. Not in terms of quantity, but in importance. If we had done a proper flight preparation, which, to be honest, we thought we had done, this whole story wouldn’t have happened.  And of course, one could question the wisdom behind such a difference in standards, as this rule is, to the best of my knowledge, still in force as I am writing these lines, but the bottom line is, whether a regulation makes sense or not, if it exists, then by all means, it should be followed.

Stay safe, my friends, have nice and interesting flights, either around your home patch of grass or across countries, and enjoy yourselves!

The somewhat peculiar Follow-me car at Trenčín airport, a Trabant 501 better known as Sudružík!