Editor's Log

December 2005 Issue




Editor’s Log: 12/05

So, there I was droning happily along at 11,000 feet. My airplane was covering ground at the rate of 170 nm per hour, the weather was good and the ride was smooth. I had little to do on this fine Friday afternoon but monitor the autopilot and engine instruments, look for traffic and think ahead to my arrival in Lynchburg, Va. (LYH), to pick up my son.

I had been aloft and on an IFR flight plan for some three hours after launching from Florida’s west coast and was creeping up on the Charlotte, N.C., area on a direct leg from the Savannah, Ga., Vortac to LYH. Another hour or so and I would be on the ground at LYH.

About this time, the Jacksonville Center controller who had been working me gave me a frequency for Charlotte Approach. I thanked him, dialed in the numbers, punched the “swap” button and announced my presence and altitude on the new frequency. I was greeted with a new squawk code, a vector and a question: Was I landing at the Charlotte/Douglas International Airport (CLT)?

After responding with my destination, I asked, “Don’t you have a strip on me?” That question was never answered. Instead, I was asked to talk to another controller on another frequency. As I checked in with the new controller, I added that I had a question. I explained the changed squawk and Charlotte’s apparent lack of knowledge regarding who I was, where I was and where I was going. My basic questions: What’s going on? Did the system “lose” me? Why? How?

The very helpful controller explained that my route of flight basically had me entering what I’ll call a “zone of confusion” involving several overlapping ATC facilities, including the Jacksonville, Atlanta and Washington Centers, plus the Florence (S.C.) and Charlotte Tracons. What she essentially told me was that no one among those ATC facilities really knew who had responsibility for me and my Debonair as I flew out of Jacksonville’s airspace and that Charlotte had drawn the short straw.

Last time I checked, it’s the year 2005: The ATC system as we know it has been around for more than 50 years. In all that time, I can’t have been the first pilot to fly into the CLT area from the southeast. After all this time, this kind of issue still occurs?

I can maybe understand it if I had asked for a pop-up IFR clearance, or if I had been receiving flight following and no one had generated a strip on me. But I had been on an IFR clearance for three hours—you’d think the ATC system’s computers would know by then what to do with my data tag. And all of this was on a good-weather day. What would have happened if everybody on the east coast was diverting around a series of thunderstorms?

The moral to all this is something we’ve tried to hammer home for our readers time and time again: The safe, successful outcome of your flight is in your hands. You must expect the unexpected and you can’t count on ATC to even know who you are and where you’re going.


—Jeb Burnside