Unicom

November 2001 Issue




Rude Awakening

Controllers lack the spirit of cooperation in combating runway incursions

There has been an attempt to increase pilot awareness of the dangers of runway incursions, and I have been trying to follow some of the published suggestions put forward by AOPA, namely: Do not taxi onto or across a runway unless you are certain the ground controller has given you clearance to do so. If there is the slightest doubt, ask.

Unfortunately these have backfired on two occasions.

Recently I was departing Islip, N.Y., and was told by Clearance to expect to depart from runway 24. The taxi instructions given to me by Ground included instructions to taxi onto runway 6 because there was a lot of work being done on the taxiways. As I was about to turn onto runway 6 I felt a little nervous since I would be taxiing on the active runway in the opposite direction of other traffic. I felt unsure that I heard the taxi instructions correctly and felt it wise to be cautious and to take the advice given by AOPA expressed above. I asked Ground, “Please confirm that I should taxi onto Runway 6.” The response I got from the controller was curt and insulting. He replied “You should clarify your taxi instructions before you start taxiing.” What was there for me to say?

I had a similar experience at Norwood, Mass. After landing on runway 28 I told Tower I was unfamiliar and was instructed to go to the end of the runway and “make a left turn on runway 17.” When I got to the end of the runway I noted that there was a taxiway just beyond the intersection with 17 and wondered whether the instructions might not have been to “make a left turn onto the taxiway after crossing runway 17.”

Once again I doubted that I heard correctly and to be cautious I decided to ask. I said, “For safety can you confirm the left turn onto runway 17.” The reply I got was downright nasty: “For safety you should follow the ATC’s instructions.” Again I felt a bit outraged and did not know how to best reply and so said nothing.

My question is twofold: Why aren’t the controllers being made aware of these new recommendations? What recourse do I as a pilot have to complain about this kind of rude and inappropriate behavior on the part of the controllers?

-Larry Reinstein
Via e-mail


Controllers aren’t always aware of recommendations made to pilots because most of them are not pilots. With the airport and legal environment such as they are, you have every right to confirm instructions if you aren’t sure if you heard it right or just plumb forgot.

We have found that a polite “Ground, confirm 4AC is cleared to cross 13” is usually greeted with a professional response. You might also take notes of the clearances, if you don’t already, and buy a book of instrument approach plates to get the runway diagrams. That way, you can familiarize yourself with the airport layout ahead of time – although there’s nothing wrong with asking for progressive taxi instructions if you’re not sure.

When it comes to complaining about controllers, remember two rules. They are people too and have bad moods just like the rest of us. Take it in stride and pick your battles. This may not be much of one in the overall scheme of things. But if you do decide to have a pissing match, don’t do it on frequency. Wait till you land, call the tower and ask to speak to the supervisor.

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Mastering Runaway Trim
In “This Song’s No Fun” [Learning Experiences, September], the Twin Comanche pilot with the runaway trim failed to take the common-sense approach to his emergency.

Once he found out what the problem was – runaway trim – he should have just turned it off.

If you can’t reach the breaker or don’t know where it is, turn off the master switch and fly the airplane. Then, after things have settled down a little, you can go about finding the circuit breaker and turning the electrical system back on.

What is perplexing is that even while writing this article for Learning Experiences, he apparently still had not recognized that the appropriate response should have been to kill the master switch. That’s something that should be part of every lesson on emergency procedures, from student pilot on up.

This incident reminds me of the 15,000-hour Beech Baron pilot who had an electrical fire caused by a door seal and crashed because he never turned off the master switch [Accident Probe, July 2000].

-Curt Sarratt
Annapolis, Md.

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Looking for a New Fix
I read your piece on fixed-gear cruisers [Aircraft Analysis, September], and I have to say I’m a bit surprised at the findings.

I am somewhat surprised at the high number of runway loss of control accidents. None of these airplanes are hot handlers or pose other tricky landing scenarios, with the possible exception of the castering-nosewheel Tiger. Yet its loss of control rate is less than the Cessnas.

I also would have expected more VFR into IMC mishaps, given the fact that many of these airplanes are flown by low-time pilots who may not have instrument ratings.

I’ve flown everything on your list except the Cardinal, and the Tiger and Archer are the best of the bunch from a pilot’s point of view, too.

Your caveats regarding the statistical accuracy are well noted, but I must say I’m hooked. Do you plan to extend this analysis to other types of airplanes?

-Jules Archer
Via e-mail


As we mentioned in the article, we think the analysis bears up better as a “things to watch” list than as a statistical comparison between the different models. Having said that, however, we also think this is an important analysis or we wouldn’t bother with the time-consuming research. We will continue our efforts with a segment on four-seat retracts shortly and may expand upon that in the near future.