Radio Communication and ATC – Scenario 1 (Part 2 of 3)

Now that we know how to talk on the
radio, let’s look at how pilots use the radio to interact with ATC. We’ll be
following two different flights: Ernie, in a Cessna 172 Skyhawk, on his way to
a fly-in breakfast at St. Augustine, Florida, and Riddle Air, a major airline
flying one of their normal passenger routes to Memphis Tennessee. Along the
way, these two flights will use some very different services from Air Traffic
Control, but share the same goal: a safe and organized arrival at their
destination. Ernie starts his flight before he even gets to the airport from
the comfort of his home office he makes a phone call to the Flight Service
Station, or FSS, to talk to a Weather Briefer about the meteorological
conditions along his route of flight. A Flight Service Station, as the name
implies, has a variety of resources available to the pilot, in the air or on
the ground, at certain airports. In addition to getting his weather briefing
for his flight, Ernie also files something called a
Flight Plan. The purpose of filing a Flight Plan is to tell the Flight
Service Station what time you are leaving, what route you’ll be taking to
your destination, and how long it should take you to get there. After the pilot
takes off, they will call Flight Service to open (or activate) their flight plan.
After they land at their destination, they’ll call Flight Service again to
close their flight plan. If something should happen to the aircraft during the
flight, and they did not land (or close) their flight plan on time, Flight Service
will dispatch search and rescue operations. Because of that, it’s very
important that pilots remember to close their flight plan at the conclusion of
their flight, or they may receive a hefty bill in the mail. Now that Ernie has
received his briefing and filed his flight plan, he heads to the airport. Here
at the DeLand Airport, there is no control tower. Like many airports across
the country, there is enough traffic to warrant the construction of a tower. As
we’ve covered in previous lessons, all the pilots flying into and out of the
airport will communicate with each other on a common traffic advisory frequency,
or CTAF. Once his pre-flight is complete and the engine started, Ernie listens to
the automated weather observing station, or AWOS, to determine where the wind is
coming from. Since the wind is calm
Ernie decides to use runway five and announces on the CTAF that he is
taxiing. You’ll notice that Ernie says the name of the airport both at the beginning
and the end of each radio call. This is because many non-towered airports can
share common traffic advisory frequencies, and this helps ensure that
the airport name is heard. He listens to the other traffic at the airport and
visually checks to determine when it is safe to take off. Once it’s his turn, he
makes a radio call and begins his takeoff roll after getting a few miles
between himself and the airport he makes After getting a few miles between himself and the airport, he makes one last radio call on the CTAF to
announce that he’s clear of the airport area. After leaving the local DeLand area Ernie will then be in Class Echo
airspace. In class echo airspace, there is no need to talk to ATC. What should he do
then? First things first. So that Ernie can
head towards his destination, he turns to the heading he planned for. After that’s
set, he can open up his VFR flight plan. In order to get in touch with Flight
Service, Ernie needs to find the appropriate frequency. Looking on his
sectional chart, he finds the nearest FSS frequency and tunes it into his
radio. He can then call the flight service station and ask to open his
flight plan, advising them of what time he took off. With the flight plan opened,
Ernie has time to settle into the flight. He doesn’t have to talk to ATC
just yet, so instead, he’ll listen to, or monitor, the guard frequency. This special
frequency of 121.5 MHz is set aside specifically for aircraft in
distress, or experiencing an emergency. Everything is just fine in Ernie’s world
right now, but if another aircraft has something go wrong, there’s a chance he
could provide assistance. Today though, everything’s going well, and the guard
frequency is quiet. Along the route you’d figure Ernie would encounter other
aircraft, right? Of course! But sometimes planes can be hard to spot, which is why
Ernie has installed a system called ADS-B, which stands for automatic dependent
surveillance broadcast. This technology allows him to locate other aircraft long
before he’ll be able to spot them with his own two eyes.
Not every aircraft will be visible on Ernie’s display, but as more and more
aircraft utilize this technology, the chances of him becoming dangerously-close to
another plane are diminished, and that’s a good thing. Some time goes by, and now Ernie is about halfway to his destination. Thinking
ahead, he knows that he’ll be arriving at the airport at the same time as many
other pilots. Since this translates to increased risk of traffic conflicts, he
tunes the radio to the nearest Air Traffic Control facility, which, in this
case, is the Jacksonville air route traffic control center, or Jax Center
for short. Centers deal primarily with traffic in the enroute stage of their
flights. Here at Jax Center, all the different sections of the
space are divided amongst separate controller stations. Each station has two
specialists. On the left is the radar specialist. They decide where each flight
goes and at what altitude. They’re the ones that communicate with the pilots
and make sure there’s enough space, or separation, between planes. On their
screen, they can see all the radar targets representing each aircraft. Each
target has a data tag attached to it, which includes all the information that
the specialist needs to work the aircraft. This includes the aircraft’s
callsign, altitude, destination, and groundspeed. To the right of the radar
specialist is the radar associate position. They assist the radar
specialist by coordinating traffic movements between other parts of the
center in addition to other control facilities. Ernie informs Center of his position and asks for something called Flight Following. In this exchange, Jax Center and Ernie have shared some important setup
information to start Flight Following. Jax Center gave Ernie a code to enter
into his transponder, and Ernie told Jax Center where
to look on his radar scope. for the transponder code. Once the
controller locates Ernie’s target, he says The controller has officially informed Ernie that his aircraft is located on the radar. Now flight following begins. What is flight
following anyway? In the most literal sense, think of a controller following an
aircraft on the radar scope. When they do this advisories on nearby traffic and
directions to an airport can be provided, amongst other things. Ernie looks out the
window ahead into his right, spots the other aircraft, and reports to ATC that
he has it in sight. With flight following, Ernie has the added advantage of another
set of eyes on the lookout, so to speak. However, even though these services are
beneficial, Ernie must still vigilantly look for nearby aircraft that could pose
a hazard. Ernie is still on his own when it comes
to navigating to the airport, however, if he should become disoriented or lost he
could simply ask ATC for directions, since he’s already talking to them. Some more
time passes and Ernie is ready to start his descent into Saint Augustine. He
tells Jax Center his intention and he gets the okay to start descending. Ever
closer to the destination, Ernie tunes another radio to the automated terminal
information service. known as the ATIS, at st. Augustine. This looping recording of
current weather and important airport information gives Ernie the details he
needs to stay ahead of the airplane, and anticipate which runway he’ll be landing
on, and if there’s anything out of the ordinary about his arrival. The weather sounds good and there’s
nothing noteworthy about the airport conditions today, so Ernie plans to make
a normal arrival and landing on runway 1 3. Since St. Augustine is a Class
Delta towered Airport, Ernie will need to talk to the control tower before
entering their airspace. Jax Center gives him an instruction to change to
the tower’s frequency before he enters the tower’s airspace.
The first call to the tower sounds similar to the one to Center. The controller in the tower will look out
the window to the Southwest to try and locate Ernie’s plane. The Jax Center
controller had to locate the plane using a radar scope, but the tower controller
only has windows to look out of. That’s okay though because the tower is only
responsible for aircraft that are within the five miles or so the airport. Jax
Center, on the other hand, works traffic over thousands of square miles. Ernie reads back the instruction and
alters his course slightly. When he is parallel to the runway,
the tower issues him the clearance he needs to land. He responds, Having safely arrived at the airport,
Ernie’s not quite finished with ATC yet. In addition to the airspace around the
airport being controlled, the taxiways are controlled as well. For that, he makes
another frequency change and talks to a different person in the tower, Ground
Control. The ground controller will issue him some taxi instructions to get him to
his preferred parking spot. Ernie writes down then reads back the instruction, consults his
airport diagram to figure out where he’s going, and then starts to taxi. He arrives at the FBO and ties down the aircraft. Even though the flight is over,
Ernie still has one last task to complete. He heads inside and gives
Flight Service a call to close his flight plan. The flight we just saw is
representative of a lot of General Aviation traffic. The pilot elected to
use ATC services as he saw fit. He could have been talking to our traffic control
the entire flight or just the last few miles. A healthy balance based on the
needs of the mission is the goal.

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