‘Unable, Say Intentions’


How many times have you heard ATC say something like the above? What was your response? I bet the first reaction to such a statement was disbelief, followed by a tinge of anger and, finally, acceptance as you worked to come up with a Plan B. Somewhere in that mix of emotions and reactions, there may also have been thoughts unprintable in a journal like this one. Welcome to the wonderful world of aviation.

So it was a few months ago when a friend and I found ourselves out over the Gulf of Mexico in a single. We had planned our flight to and from Key West to remain within easy gliding distance of land, either the Florida Peninsula or one of a series of small islands we could at least land close to and wade the rest of the way. The route chosen was one I’d flown numerous times and is even published as a preferred one in the Chart Supplement for the departure and destination airports.

Instead, after our flight plan was accepted and we were cleared as filed, we were re-routed direct to a fix further up Florida’s west coast, putting us far out of gliding distance to land. When we initially got the routing change, we accepted it and plugged it into the nav system. Soon, however, it became apparent this wasn’t what we signed up for, so I asked ATC to let us continue along Plan A. “No can do,” was the controller’s basic response, which he blamed on a facility up the road from us. We dutifully turned to the new fix and motored away from land for 20 minutes or so until progressing far enough along that we once again were within gliding distance of land.

“Unable, say intentions” often is uttered by ATC when their own workload or factors unknown to us—like an in-progress emergency elsewhere—truly makes our request untenable. Then there are other occasions when it’s clear there’s little going on requiring ATC to deny a request for our Plan A, perhaps other than some non-public agreement between ATC facilities, often expressed as a memorandum of understanding. So it seems in this instance. I reached out for clarification to one of the facilities in question, but met with little success. I’ve since escalated the inquiry to a Freedom of Information Act request. We’ll see if it bears fruit. I’ll keep you posted.

— Jeb Burnside


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