NTSB presents: Air Traffic Control - Trust but Verify


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NTSB Air Traffic Control Specialist, Scott Durham, talks about how general aviation pilots should deal with air traffic control.

This presentation is part of the release of the NTSB General Aviation Safety Series at the FAA Safety forums during Sun 'N Fun 2012 in Lakeland FL

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NTSB presents: Air Traffic Control - Trust but Verify

  1. 1. Office of Aviation SafetyAir Traffic ControlTrust, But Verify!
  2. 2. 2Trust ATC…• …but never forget who’s in theplane!• Overall, controllers do a great job• They (and you) are still subject to allthe normal human failings inmemory, communication, attention,fatigue, skill, etc, etc…
  3. 3. 3…but verify!• Be prepared for your flight– Skills where they should be– Thorough flight planning• Route• Weather• Alternatives• Update as needed• Ask yourself: does this seem right?
  4. 4. 4Accident Scenario• N304PA – Controlled flight intoterrain near San Diego, California• Night VMC, IFR flight plan• Aircraft flown by commercial students• Controller – almost 30 years of ATC
  5. 5. 5Accident Scenario• N304PA had just been handed off toSoCal TRACON by Los AngelesCenter sector 9.• The aircraft had not yet left sector 9’sarea of responsibility• Both the center and TRACONcontrollers were required to monitorthe flight until it entered the TRACON
  6. 6. 6Location
  7. 7. 7
  8. 8. 8Accident Scenario (cont.)• Listen for communications errors• Watch for altitude warnings– Los Angeles Center MSAW– SoCal TRACON MSAW
  9. 9. 9Accident Scenario• Radar Replay
  10. 10. 10ATC Issues• Communications problems– Numerous callsign errors– Procedural deviations– Controller missed incorrect readback• Awareness of aircraft status– Pilot ATIS report: off altitude?• Non-compliance with safety alertrequirements
  11. 11. 11Duty Priority• Give first priority toseparating aircraftand issuing safetyalerts as required inthis order. Good judgment must beused in prioritizing all other provisionsof this order based on therequirements of the situation at hand.
  12. 12. 12Duty Priority (cont.)• …When more than one action isrequired, controllers must exercisetheir best judgment based on thefacts and circumstances known tothem. That action which is mostcritical from a safety standpoint isperformed first.
  13. 13. 13Safety Alerts• Issue a safety alert to an aircraft ifyou are aware the aircraft is in aposition/altitude which, in yourjudgment, places it in unsafeproximity to terrain, obstructions, orother aircraft.
  14. 14. 14Safety Alerts (cont.)• Do not assume that becausesomeone else has responsibility forthe aircraft that the unsafe situationhas been observed and the safetyalert issued; inform the appropriatecontroller.
  15. 15. 15Safety Alerts (cont.)• The issuance of a safety alert is afirst priority once the controllerobserves and recognizes a situationof unsafe aircraft proximity toterrain, obstacles, or other aircraft.
  16. 16. 16Safety Alerts (cont.)• While a controller cannot seeimmediately the development ofevery situation where a safety alertmust be issued, the controller mustremain vigilant for such situationsand issue a safety alert when thesituation is recognized.
  17. 17. 17ATC Warning Systems• Recognition of situationsof unsafe proximity mayresult from MinimumSafe Altitude Warning,automatic altitudereadouts, Conflict / ModeC Intruder Alert,observations on a PARscope, or pilot reports.
  18. 18. 18Terrain / Obstruction Alert• Immediately issue/initiate an alert toan aircraft if you are aware theaircraft is at an altitude which, inyour judgment, places it in unsafeproximity to terrain/obstructions.
  19. 19. 19Safety Alerts (cont.)• LOW ALTITUDE ALERT (call sign),CHECK YOUR ALTITUDEIMMEDIATELY.
  20. 20. 20Similar-Sounding Callsigns• 2-4-20. AIRCRAFT IDENTIFICATION– Use the full identification in reply to aircraftwith similar sounding identifications.
  21. 21. 21Similar-Sounding Callsigns• 2-4-9. ABBREVIATED TRANSMISSIONS– Transmissions may be abbreviated asfollows:• a. Use the identification prefix and thelast 3 digits or letters of the aircraftidentification after communications have beenestablished. Do not abbreviate similarsounding aircraft identifications or theidentification of an air carrier or other civilaircraft having an FAA authorized call sign.
  22. 22. 22Similar-Sounding Callsigns• 2-4-15. EMPHASIS FOR CLARITY– Emphasize appropriate digits, letters, or similarsounding words to aid in distinguishing betweensimilar sounding aircraft identifications.Additionally:– Notify each pilot concerned when communicatingwith aircraft having similar soundingidentifications.– EXAMPLE: "United Thirty-one United, MiamiCenter, U.S. Air Thirty-one is also on thisfrequency, acknowledge.”
  23. 23. 23Pilot Issues• Low total experience• Low IFR experience• Situational awareness / area familiarity• Assertiveness• N434PA caught the ATC mistake!
  24. 24. 24Location
  25. 25. 25Location
  26. 26. 26Probable Cause• The incorrect use of an abbreviated callsign by theTRACON sector radar controller to issue a descentclearance to N434PA and the sector controller’s failureto detect that the clearance had been read back with thefull callsign by the pilot of N304PA. Also causal wasthe pilot’s failure to question a clearance that descendedthem below the published Minimum En route Altitude(MEA). Contributing to the accident was the failure ofboth the Center and TRACON controllers to properlyrespond to the aural and visual Minimum Safe AltitudeWarning (MSAW) alert.
  27. 27. 27Self-Defense• Controllers are human – we allmake mistakes• Think about what’s happening – if itdoesn’t make sense, ask!• Flight planning still matters– Weather conditions– Lighting– Terrain awareness – use VFR charts!
  28. 28. 28Self-Defense (cont)• Information shifting to the cockpit– Synthetic vision– Terrain awareness and warning– Display of traffic information– Electronic flight bags• Safety is a team effort, but part ofthe team has a lot more to losewhen things don’t go right.
  29. 29. 29N53589 – Weather Encounter• IFR instructional / business flightfrom Tamiami to Sarasota• Line of severe weather west ofTamiami extending well to the north• Flight planned route was to flyaround it, not through it.• ATC and pilots (sort of) agreed tomore direct routing
  30. 30. 30ATC Weather Services• 2-6-4. WEATHER AND CHAFFSERVICES• a. Issue pertinent information onobserved/reported weather andchaff areas. When requested by thepilot, provide radar navigationalguidance and/or approve deviationsaround weather or chaff areas.
  31. 31. 31ATC Weather Description• PHRASEOLOGY -• AREA OF (Intensity)PRECIPITATION BETWEEN(number) OCLOCK AND (number)OCLOCK, (number) MILES,MOVING (direction) AT (number)KNOTS, TOPS (altitude). AREA IS(number) MILES IN DIAMETER.
  32. 32. 32Example:• "Area of extreme precipitationbetween eleven oclock and oneoclock, one zero miles moving eastat two zero knots, tops flight levelthree niner zero."
  33. 33. 33Center Weather DepictionModerateHeavyExtreme
  34. 34. 34You Need to Ask for Help!• In areas of significant weather, planahead and be prepared to suggest,upon pilot request, the use ofalternative routes/altitudes.
  35. 35. 35What’s “Significant Weather?”• Weather significant to the safety ofaircraft includes such conditions asfunnel cloud activity, lines ofthunderstorms, embeddedthunderstorms, large hail, windshear, microbursts, moderate toextreme turbulence (including CAT),and light to severe icing.
  36. 36. 36Duty Priority• Providing weather information is an“additional service”, meaning that itis required – but only if higherpriority workload permits.• IFR separation and safety alerts arefirst, everything else is second.
  37. 37. 37Overview of Flight
  38. 38. 381405Z – A Bad Experience Awaits1405: Pilot and PBI controllerhave discussion about directSarasota, controller states no wayto get to Sarasota without goingthrough weather, pilot asks forhelp with cells, controller statesnot displaying any weatherbecause it’s outside his airspace.
  39. 39. 391406Z – Turning Toward WXBetween 1406 and1410, N53589 isissued headings of290, 320, 300, and270.
  40. 40. 401414Z – Down the Garden Path1414: PBI and Miami ARTCCdiscuss turning another aircraft(N59T) toward a hole WNW ofPahokee. At 1415, PBI advisesN53589, “…apparently at yourone o’clock and about 35 milesthere’s a hole the center’sworking… we got to keep youwestbound for now expect aturn that way here shortly.”
  41. 41. 411422Z: Toward that Hole?
  42. 42. 421425Z: To Miami Center1425: N53589switched toMiami Center.
  43. 43. 431428Z: Miscommunication!1428: Miami Centerclears N53589 “…afterdeviations permittingproceed direct Sarasotaand advise. Pilotresponds, “Roger –proceed direct Sarasotaand we’ll advise ondeviations.”
  44. 44. 441434Z – Better Late Than Never1434: N53589 asks MiamiCenter, “How’s the weatherlook in front of us?” Centerreplies, “…I’m showing aline of precipitation thatextends five miles alongyour route of flight…” Pilotdeclares emergency at1437.1434Z
  45. 45. 451437Z: Not Good…1437Z
  46. 46. 461442Z: Still Not Good…1442Z
  47. 47. 47It’s Really Windy In Here
  48. 48. 48
  49. 49. 49
  50. 50. 50
  51. 51. 51
  52. 52. 52Self-Defense, Part II• Avoid complete dependence onATC for severe weather avoidance.– Weather info is NOT their first priority– Controllers don’t know you, yourequipment, or your flight conditions• Ask a lot of questions…and getcomplete information!
  53. 53. 53