March 2008 Issue

Dark Corner

Too often, pilots do too much to please ATC. Just say no to requests to operate at the envelope’s corners.

Air traffic controllers have an unenviable job, at least as far as pilots are concerned. Even though they’re well-paid and do their work inside, there’s too much stress, the consequences of being wrong can be too high and they have the FAA for a boss. Trying to fit a 200-knot airplane in behind one doing only 100 knots is just one of the challenges many controllers face daily; for the most part, pilots can be oblivious to what’s happening on the other end of the frequency. But pilots sometimes need to be more assertive, especially when ATC asks them to do something with which they’re not comfortable. Part of the problem pilots face when deciding whether to comply with ATC instructions and requests is the controller’s presumed ability to write up a violation. Too, the very concept of a "controller" can be intimidating. Finally, most pilots understand the system and their role in it; in turn, they’ll often try extremely hard to help out a controller, on the theory they’ll get helped out next time.

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