I’d like to add one more suggestion to Thomas Turner’s article on “Handling In-Close Approach Changes” (January 2020). Using ForeFlight on a tablet, I have found the pilot can switch from one approach plate to another in literally a couple of seconds rather than the several minutes it takes to thumb through a booklet looking for the appropriate paper approach plate.
David Shepherd – Via email
Thanks! Yes, that’s a must-have feature for any electronic flight bag. But unless the EFB also loads the approach and configures the panel for us, Tom’s concerns and suggestions are still good ones.
FLYING IN SNOW
Another factor to consider while flying VFR in snow (“Dealing With Snow,” January 2020), or rain for that matter, is the risk of a mid-air collision. In remote areas with limited or no navigational aids and mountainous terrain, the only reliable guide might be a road or railway track.
My closest call occurred following the Alaska Highway in western Yukon and suddenly encountering another aircraft at the same low altitude traveling in the opposite direction. In the vast expanse of the sparsely inhabited Yukon, each of us was hugging opposite sides of the highway, with a lateral separation of perhaps a hundred feet or so on passing. East/west separation altitudes weren’t really feasible in these circumstances.
One could argue that neither of us should have been flying in these conditions, but on long legs with few in-between options and a couple of hundred miles between weather reporting stations, you really can’t predict when and where you might run into snow.
Morton Duran – Fairmont, British Columbia
Thanks, Morton! Please also see Bob Wright’s additional response to your letter published in our March issue, below.
NORTH TO ALASKA, CONT’D
(Editor’s note: The following is an additional response by Robert Wright to Morton Duran’s letter to us regarding his July 2019 article, “North To Alaska.” Mr. Duran’s letter appeared in this space in last month’s issue.
Thank you for your thoughtful letter to the editor in the March 2020 issue of Aviation Safety regarding my article on flying to Alaska in the July 2019 issue. I am always pleased to receive feedback from readers.
Your input brought back good memories as my wife and I reconstructed that segment of our Alaska journey. On that day in July 1999, we carefully analyzed the current and forecast weather for our route and final destination, which was Homer, Alaska. We then decided the risks were low and decided to launch. Initially, it was CAVU in Skagway and we started out under VFR following the coastal route. We eventually became “on top” of a scattered layer and proceeded at 10,500 feet. The scattered turned to broken at Yakutat, where we called for an IFR clearance to Cordova.
The coastal airway we followed was largely over a coastal plain that abutted the mountains, which we could clearly see on top. I had a primitive moving map which showed the coastal outline and I was confident that I could descend to the coast and VMC underneath after an engine failure. The ceilings underneath were between 1000-2000 feet, which I judged to be too risky if we had elected to proceed underneath in a “scud running” scenario.
We continued under IFR and after Yakataga, the cloud deck below was rising, so we descended to the MEA of 6000 and later shot an ILS at Cordova, breaking out at about 1200 feet. The weather cleared within a couple of hours, as forecast, and we were able to continue to Valdez, for fuel, and then on to Homer under good VMC.
At the time, I believed my risk analysis for this flight was sound. However, that was more than two decades ago. Even though my own risk management outlook has evolved, I probably would still have made the flight from Skagway to Cordova. Nevertheless, my current risk management outlook probably would keep me from getting to Skagway at all. That is, I believe the coastal route from Victoria, B.C., where I started for Alaska, to Skagway is too risky for a single-engine piston aircraft. Using a risk management matrix, I would classify that risk as “serious” (yellow). I probably would have chosen another route option or transferred the risk to the airlines.
Thank you again for your input!
GRAPHICAL MOS FORECASTS
On page 22 of your February 2020 issue, you noted that NWS had discontinued their graphical MOS forecasts. This was very disappointing to me, because they provided easy-to-interpret estimates of forecast ceilings and visibilities, including trends over time, out 60 hours into the future.
The replacement you noted, the Graphical Area Forecast (GFA), only goes out 18 hours, and you have to read the embedded text to see the cloud bases rather than being able to intuitively understand ceilings from colored shading as was true on the MOS graphical ceiling forecasts.
However, our colleagues at AOPA alerted me to a more optimal substitute for the graphical MOS forecast: the NWS Meteorological Development Laboratory’s Experimental Products pages available at www.weather.gov/mdl/nbm_home and especially sats.nws.noaa.gov/~nbm/nbm_graphics. The graphical ceiling height and visibility forecast products go out 70-80 hours, which really beats the GFA with regard to longer-range flight planning.
Geof Swain – Via email
Thanks for the tip! We miss the graphical MOS forecasts also.
“Caution: wake turbulence” is nothing more than a way for ATC to transfer liability to a GA pilot when the NTSB comes around. Virtually every departure from some airports (e.g., KSQL) passes under heavy jet traffic and comes with this warning.
The ATC warning is not protecting anyone because the GA pilot does not know the path of the heavy aircraft while sitting on the runway, or while approaching the airport. If the FAA wants to get serious about wake turbulence, they need to get real about keeping GA aircraft out of wake turbulence and providing safe separation, even to VFR aircraft.
Tower controllers don’t send VFR aircraft into IMC. They won’t even let VFR aircraft land if the airport is IFR or low IFR. Why is it permissible for ATC to send light aircraft into known wake turbulence?
Russ Irwin – Via email
Is the difference between marginal VFR (MVFR) and Special VFR (SVFR) that ATC gives you an SVFR clearance, while MVFR is your call?
Sy Blechman – Via email
Sort of. Marginal VFR generally refers to conditions between VFR’s minimum 1000-foot ceiling and three miles of visibility, and maybe 3000 feet and five or six miles. Marginal VFR is considered at least as good as VFR minimums, but…marginal. Anything better than 3000 and five miles usually is simply referred to as “VFR.” Special VFR is a different set of minimums—one mile of visibility and clear of clouds—a pilot must request from ATC. As such, it is only available in (some) Class B airspace, Classes C and D airspace, and in Class E surface areas. It allows operation in less than VFR, as opposed to MVFR, for which a particular clearance is not needed. Yes, MVFR is your call. With a clearance, so is SVFR.