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ATC Shouldn't Sit in the Left Seat

FAR 91.3 defines the responsibility and authority of the pilot in command as: "The pilot in command of an aircraft is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of that aircraft." That is quite clear to me. Yet, every year many planes break up after flying into thunderstorms, or run out of fuel a few miles from the runway because the pilot made several poor decisions in a row. In this article, I want to primarily focus on the pilot-controller…

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Tom Pera 26
comes down to clear, honest communication.. as a controller, I did everything I could to help out a pilot IF THEY WOULD JUST TELL ME WHAT THE HECK WAS GOING ON....
ATC dosn't want to be in the lft seat. We certainly don't know the performance characteristics for every airplane out there, and a big portion of us have never flown single-pilot IFR. Most of us aren't even pilots. At the same time, most pilots have absolutely no idea what is happening beyond their own airplane.

I could write an article called "Pilots Shouldn't Sit at the Scope" and tell stories about pilots demanding deviations that would put them in conflict with other airplanes. Or stories about the jet pilots who insist on departing in bad weather and want to be vectored all over sky because they couldn't wait for an hour for the weather to pass. Or demand to slow 30 miles from the airport (or just do it without asking), everyone behind them be damned.

Pilots rarely have the big picture, and controllers rarely know what is happening in the cockpit. Working as a team tends to produce the safest and most efficient results overall, even if you have to descend a little earlier than you want going into O'Hare.
preacher1 13
CRM is not only for the cockpit but should travel outside the cockpit as respect for others. As a young FE, I saw unmitigated arrogance, both to the cockpit crew and to ATC guys just trying to do their job, from a Captain that thought he was a god(this was the norm then) It was his way or the highway and he was not hesitant to drop a dime on an ATC guy if he did not get his way. He would follow their instruction, as he wasn't stupid, but then he would take it out on the flight crew the rest of the flight. Long before the days of CRM, I had already made my mind up that when I got promoted to Captain, my ship would not run that way. It wasn't and we never had any real problems. When CRM came along, we were already there.
Attempting to create a hostile relationship between pilot/controller is insanely irresponsible. As one remarked, there are good pilots/bad pilots - good controllers/bad controllers. They key is to inform and ask questions for clarity. The moment your arrogance keys the mic, you have just sacrificed the safety of everyone on frequency by distracting from your own 'mission' -- this obviously is general enough to apply to pilot and controller.
The 'system' only works when everyone works together. Period.
With no malice my friend Dan Lautrup, kindly see this write up in similar light as we may do as a youngster for being taught etiquettes for various occasions !
All are taught, good ones and bad ones, all across the board.
Systems work because there are more good guys than bad ones in all categories. And guidelines are repeated from time to time in the fond hope of conversion of the bad ones !
Falconus 10
There are times to challenge ATC on something, and you should never fly your aircraft into a bad situation, period. However, ATC is there to help, and you have a responsibility as PIC to work with ATC to try to ensure that things go as smoothly as possible both for you and for the rest of the aircraft in the sky. If you have an urgent situation ("uh-oh, I'm picking up ice real fast"), deal with it. But talk to ATC as much as possible to explain it and work with them to resolve it as much as possible.
ltcjra 6
I have a patch from a Navy flight class currently training at NAS Pensacola that reads "No matter what, sound cool on the radio."
N5827P 6
What a controversy this has started. In my flights around the country I tend to find that ATC attitudes vary by facility. Yes there are good and bad controllers in each facility, but generalities are apparent. Maybe management styles? Even in the least positive facilities, I usually find ATC to be professional and helpful. The author's point is well taken however. Cooperation is absolutely necessary, but the PIC is ultimately responsible and the word "unable" is sometimes called for.
That is true but as has been proffered here, an alternative needs to be given rather than just turning into it. If you are up in hard IMC, you could meet a 747 up there. i.e. is there something besides that 15 degree turn you can do to avoid that wx, in congested airspace?
I have always found controllers helpful. Some are more than helpful.

A DC-10 had come in a little hot and thus had an exceedingly long roll out after touching down. San Jose Tower noted: "American 751, make a hard right turn at the end of the runway, if you are able. If you are not able, take the Guadalupe exit off Highway 101, make a right at the lights and return to the airport."
Great comments in this thread, however some of the arguments have become circular. In the end, mutual respect between ATC and pilot is key. Both need to approach their jobs completely void of ego. Having a minimum amount of cross-disciplinary knowledge and training of each other's roles might provide the empathy required to ensure the respect required.
I can agree with this. It's terrible that we are no longer openly allowed to visit some of the ATC facilities around the country without special permission. I remember back in the day being able to tour some of the smaller towers, as well as FSS and ARTCC facilities. I think that really helped me see today exactly what the ATC operators on the other end are going through.
Who said you can't tour ATC facilities? I've been touring them since 2009 without any issues. All it takes is a phone call and a few dates and times. Occasionally you have to wait for public tours, but they happen fairly frequently at the Class Bs.
Agreed. SoCal Tracon does regular tours and will do private tours for groups. I think the fallout from 9/11 is long gone. I don't know about LA or other ARTCC facilities.
I see the ATC/Pilot relationship as a team. There is a job to be done and each has their role. As a pilot I have never considered ATC as the authority of what I must do, that is my call as PIC, but if I can safely execute their instructions then I know that the job will get done. The key word here is "safely" and so I always have that in mind.

I also know that if ATC requests me to do something then they expect it to happen, promptly and accurately and not to do so at best makes the job of the controller more difficult and at worst put safety at risk.

I don''t think this article tries to create a hostile relationship at all. Instead I think it highlights the fact that ATC is not the boss. As PIC you are the boss but not to do as ATC requests requires a very sound reason and we must communicate our intentions clearly if we cannot comply. I think this article makes those points and was well put.
Dear friend Paul Churchley well said. I will echo your view that the two HAVE to work as a team, in unison. If ATC has limitations like tight space the PIC is expected to adjust. And IF the PIC has some constraints like some kind of emergency, the ATC has to and will adjust. And the show goes on.
The aviators know it better. And rightly stated by you, there is no place or scope for any hostility or conflict between the two responsibilities. Both complement each other.
Good Morning!
That must've been one dire situation for that controller to tell you that. I can say proudly that we would never say some thing like no deviations if there wasn't a damn good reason for saying it. Before its asked, 34 years and counting as a controller in military and FAA with center, approach, and tower experience at ATC-12/GS-14 facilities. There's a fine line between being the PIC and thinking arrogance has a place in flying. Its best for the pilot to fly the airplane and let the controller do his job. As a pilot of 29 years as well, simply saying unable to a control instruction is not the way to go. Please if your going to go the unable route, suggest an alternative since the controller has a plan and every unable from a pilot interrupts that plan.
I wish I had known about saying the words unable during an IFR approach to a small Midwest Airport. I was stuck in a cloud layer abut 1,000 feet thick and was picking up ice on my trusty Cessna 172. I explained my icing situation to Center and asked for a 500 foot higher or lower path and I was declined. The controller kept asking if I was declaring an emergency but would not let me deviate. When I finally started the approach some ice stared coming off and when I landed )at full power) the rest of the ice came off. I have never been so scared in my life. I have rethought that approach many time and wish I had told the controller I was changing altitude in spite of his instructions. I was the only traffic at that airport.

On the other end of the scale, I was IFR from Fargo to Eau Claire at 11PM at night and my engine failed. I told the controller my engine had quit and wouldn't restart and, after asking my glide parameters and other pertinent questions, in was what seemed like seconds had six airports for me to glide to with airport conditions and stayed with me. We settled on one and with his assistance I had a nice safe landing.
We all can have bad days. Good comments and a few others... Should you encounter less than helpful service from a controller it is an appropriate warning to ask for "time and initials." This is a note to the controller that you may next ask for the appropriate supervisors name and phone number. If he's been having a bad day he may just change his tune once he knows that you know how to time stamp the recorded conversation for future reference.
I've never had a bad experience with ATC in 25 years of flying. On the contrary I've had over the top service at almost every encounter. No small help was the fact that my primary instructor was in fact an air traffic controller. I learned how to use the system to advantage and how to be professional in my understanding and expectations re level of service.
The two way street of ATC and pilot in command of the mic is all about communication.
First let be state a little of my background. I started flying in 1954 in the Air Force. I flew fighters (single seat), F-86, F102, F106. The worst case I ever had with ATC was trying to land at Suffolk County AFB in an F-102. I was south of NYC at about 30,000ft and needed to start down, NY center said no, I replied for them of vector me to the SE and tell me when I was 3 miles out, I was then out of controlled airspace so I cancelled my IFR, used my radar to let down to below controlled airspace and proceeded to the airport on my own. All of this was legal. I then flew for four yrs in general aviation before going to work for the FAA at Houston center. Here's the other side of the story. I came to work and was assigned to the sector NE of Houston, the weather was bad, the traffic was heavy and a new controller was working the position, He had a problem with an air carrier pilot and just as I plugged in the pilot stated "we might just as well let him go to lake charles and hold until we got the traffic cleared up" I took over, asked him to say again, he repeated the request, I asked him his alt and cleared him to Lake Charles via direct to maintain his altitude. I let him go for about 60 or 70 miles and asked if he was ready to go back to IAH, his reply "I guess we better". What I am trying to get across is that there is always two sides to a problem and they can be worked out. As a pilot I have had to declare an emergency to get what I needed, as an AT controller I have declared emergencies for aircraft that needed special help.
Talk is important. Let me explain, about 30 yrs ago I was working approach control at LIT, it was getting late in the day, the weather was bad when this lady called for the weather at LIT. We were IFR at the time and I asked for her position and alt, she responded and asked if there was another airport close by and I advised her the airport at North Little Rock was still VFR, I gave her a vector heading and she thanked me and left the frequency. She never made it. She ran out of fuel and crashed. To this day I remember that and I still believe that if she had told me she was low on fuel I could have gotten her down at LIT with no problem. So, talk, talk nicely but talk.
A very sad memory to live with, my friend Davis Rossbryan.
And rightly said, ' Talk, talk, and talk '. Comparable to discussing medical condition with your doctor !
Strangely but true, communications(physical like talking, conversing, discussing) are SO important in every sphere of life, family or social or professional and so on.
Yes it is ashame things aren't how they used to be. Pre 9/11 us controllers were also welcome in the cockpits of airliners. That changed too.
No we don't sit in the left seat. You have to remember that we are under a lot of stress during thunderstorms and bad wx. just like you are. There is not enought room for everyone to go to the same spot. Your radar might not be as good as you think it is especially when I just sent five aircraft through the same spot with reports of moderate rain and light chop. You are the one that wanted to be a pilot. Get off your easy bench and get in the game.
I laughed out loud at some of the things written in this article. I am not a controller, but I am a CFI who operates mainly in the midwest U.S. We have our fair share of busy airspace out here.

I have an awfully difficult time believing that a controller responded to your request for a deviation with "No deviations." The FAA ATC Order, the 7110.65, requires that controllers either approve deviations or suggest an alternative course of action (2-6-4). I'm not saying it's impossible for a controller to not abide by the order, but the likelihood of the scenario unfolding as you described seems highly improbable to me.

"Yet, somehow every summer we see fatal crashes from [controllers flying aircraft into dangerous situations] happening." This is quite a ridiculous statement, too. I have yet to talk to one controller who would purposefully vector or otherwise instruct an aircraft to enter an area of hazardous weather or to fly into an obstruction. A citation citing at least one example accident proving the contrary would have been a meaningful addition to this article.

While I find some of the points made to be valid ones, such as the need for pilots to exude confidence on the radio, I find most of this article to be filled with unsubstantiated claims about the ATC system which portray a negative light on the nation's entire controller workforce.
Admittedly, I don't fly much hard IFR, and for that matter, don't fly much at all compared to the guy/gal who does it for a living. Still, based in Cincinnati, I've experienced controllers from here to Massachusetts to Kansas City to Atlanta to Wash DC, and personally I, too, have a hard time believing one would 'fly you into a dangerous situation'. Heck, I even think they have mercy on my Harlan Co Ky appalachian accent! I believe I've detected guys in little airplanes who obviously never pick up a flying publication or even listen to radio chatter in order to somewhat prepare themselves for going out and flying in the system, and then can't figure out why a controller is so 'unhelpful'. And by the way, 'unable' is a great and powerful tool, but come on guys, if it ain't a real threat to your safety, at least try to help ATC out. If you're gonna be up there 'in the system' it's not a crutch designed to willy nilly help you out of a situation you ought to be able to handle.
Good morning.
ATC and the PIC must work together to accomplish a safe flight. I just have a fact to say about HOU CTR. Depating KSAT enroute to DEquincy LA, KSAT DEP clears me as file and FL 120, Eastbound on V198, Half way the trip HOT ARTCC vectors me to GVL. This translates to a 1.7 hour increase in flight time and forcing the aircraft to make an unschdule refuling stop. HOU ARTCC wants non RNAV aircraft to depart KSAT, southbound to THX then fly east to GLV then Dequincy, LA. This is ridiculous to me. Waste of time and money. We must fix this HOS ARTCC glitch. What are your recomendation on this ATC want to be in the left seat.

One last comment. 91.3 states that the PIC has the authority of the AC, but ATC can file and enforcement action against the PIC for pilot deviation. In which ATC always wins. So we have no leverage against goverment power.
Oh, and its doubtful at best that you'll get a supervisors name on the frequency.
Way out west where I live there are mountains that eat little airplanes in bad weather like cocktail weenies. Several years ago a Mooney M20J crashed in the Gannet peak area killing the pilot and his 3 children. The weather was crappy. The plane loaded to near or above it's weight limit. The pilot filed an IFR plan request that took him from KJAC north and then east toward his ultimate destination in Minnesota at modestly high but doable altitudes.

The clearance he was issued took him south from KJAC to an intersection then east across the most dangerous Mooney eaters in Wyoming at an altitude so low that it was not even in controlled airspace...and... completely off of the airway system. Public documents do not make clear who exactly issued this new clearance, but it was either ZSLC or KJAC tower.

He was a relatively new IFR pilot. He accepted the clearance without questioning it. Read about this tragedy here if you like:

The private contract operator of the KJAC tower just recently settled the lawsuit that resulted from this accident. A settlement is pending with the FAA for their part, according to local news media.

Remember boys and girls.....the controllers are sitting in chairs on the ground, they are human and make mistakes, and they go home when their shift is over. Pilots only get to go home when the flight is completed safely.

109 comments and a lot of them negative to him personally, yet not 1 iota of a response. His silence indicates the truth. IMHO
Like always, preacher1. Please help to understand. Who do you mean is the person ?
The controllers ?
Or the author Theodore Wright ?
The author, Mr. Wright
As an after thought my friend preacher1, do you believe that novelists and other authors MUST also write a critique of their own writings ?
My apologies for self praise. I was the one to make FIRST response. And that too in praise.
Yes, my half cent opinion may not be much of a contribution to the GDP of this forum.
As an experienced pilot (with no ATC experience), I will agree that sometimes ATC can be less than cooperative. However, as pertains to altitude or deviation requests, I also understand that they have restrictions or obstacles that I can't see in the cockpit. If you are a fledgling pilot reading this article, take from it that it is important to be assertive and to not fly into danger without raising your voice. However, the majority of this article is chest-thumping, ego-maniacal ranting about how the author dictates every portion of his flight. I have flown with guys like this and, believe me, you don't want to be in their cockpit. The entire ATC system is carefully constructed to maximize traffic flow and won't always fit your particular desires. A 100-mile reroute is not uncommon in the Northeast for flow reasons and I would love to see the author flex his muscle in that arena.
First, there is always a necessity for good coordination and collaborative decision making. ATC guys and gals are just as professional as we are and have a different metric as far as responsibility to their operating procedures.

FAR 91.3 leaves a lot to be desired in both para a and b. It's there if you need it. If you relinquish the authority when you need it, then it's your fault.
I agree with Fish/Flames :-)
What's up LameBrain?
Just a couple of quick thoughts from an ARTCC controller of 30 years.

"The controller simply replied with 'No deviations.' I told him that was unacceptable, and that I would be deviating 15 degrees to the right for the next 30 miles" The controller should have been more informative, but there are times when everyone wants to deviate and there are possibly constraints such as military airspace. I have had to say unable to a deviation on a couple of occassions, but with an explanation. And in turn I can do an awful lot if an emergency is declared or if you make it very clear that you cannot continue on course. I can move other aircraft, take airspace back or negotiate with the military. There is airspace that the military will never let me enter but in the right circumstances such as hazards to flight they wil say "traffic observed" which means they cannot actually approve entry, but it is safe and there will be no repercussions.

Which brings us to "Because I look at dealing with ATC as a constant negotiation" We are happy to help when we can and asking for a PD descent is fine, but hopefully you are listening to the workload, recognize how congested the airspace is or is not and realize that sometimes there is just no way and you really should not have even asked. We are here to help, but there are many areas with so much crossing traffic or routes that we cannot always help. If the negotiation becomes chipping away and not taking a no for an answer that is certainly not helpful nor appreciated. A phone call to the facility is much more helpful if you wonder why we said no vs. asking on the radio. Better yet, most facilities are happy to arrange a visit. It is great that we are allowed back in the cockpit, but it would also be very nice to see piolts in the facility also. We could learn a lot from you on a visit and vice versa.
Just a couple of quick thoughts from an ARTCC controller of 30 years.
Years ago there was a pilot of a Falcon business jet flying around, repeatedly getting into discussions with ATC.
Usually it was like that:
ATC: "XYZ descend FL230, 1500 or more."
Pilot: "what is the reason for the early descend?"
ATC: "airspace structure and handover procedures, you are approaching an intl AD, and you are not the only one"
Pilot: "negative, this profile fits not to my aircraft performance"
Tragically some little mountains in Greenland did also not fit in the Falcons flight profile,
so that pilot is history.
And descending would have gotten him OVER those mountains?
TXCAVU could one miss the mountain of Greenland?
But what would we be saying if that Falcon followed the controller's flight profile and their petrol tanks didn't meet that flight profile? Headwind, traffic holdings, delayed taxi, many things could have occurred that could have provoked the pilot to question the controller. I know that if I were in that situation I would have definitely questioned it. At the same time, if I were the controller I would have found it necessary to make it obvious that terrain is an issue.
Well said my friend Damien Gehler. Allow me to supplement by repeating what one of experienced members has stated, "Talk and talk and talk".
Talking means ' to discuss ' each others situation and NOT TO ARGUE .
If the ATC still makes the wrong decision, then both are history.
Though in different ways .
All know that the pilot can in no way force "entry".
Another sad story my friend Fingertrouble. I wonder what was the result of the inquiry as far as the ATC voice recording is concerned ?
Was the ATC found arrogant and unresponsive ? Or another case of inadequate communication ?
Any idea ?
As a long time pilot we should try to work together as Pilots/Controllers. We both have a job to do. But remember controllers are not the ones who die, pilots and passengers are the ones who die. Controllers are there to assist us pilots and they do a good job. But in the end you are PIC and it is up to you to get the plane safely to it's destination.
Though some may hate me for this, BUT my hats off to you my friend jtarkington2 for stating the actual and factual system involved not only in 'flying' but also 'flying safely'.
You are correct in your comments on the ATC vs. pilot relationship, but you sir, are full of yourself with some of your comments, particularly on descents at flight idle.
This is really sound advice. But, controllers are never on a power trip. They act as they think will best serve the pilots they support. Being assertive as a pilot can be in your best interests, but playing a team game with the controllers is the best solution for all concerned.
What is sort of surprising me is that this was posted yesterday and Mr. Wright has yet to jump in here and make any comment or rebut any of the negative stuff. Of course that has been his style in the past; to get the pot stirring and leave it. By his silence, he is tacitly in agreement with all that has been said. It may not have been a factor in past articles but this article is more personal in nature.
Isn't it his job to get the pot stirring, though? There is a lot of great discussion on this thread from a lot of highly experienced people. This is of tremendous benefit to aviation newbies like myself.
It is that. Problem in this case is that so much of what he has written is, to a degree, personal in nature, at least written from that standpoint, and is a reflection on himself. Consequently, some of the comments are directed at him personally and as being part of the problem. Written in generalities and these things happening would be one thing but he has put his own attitudes out there. Maybe it took that to stir the pot. idk. Just my opinion
Well said. Flightaware ought to insert "Opinion" into the title of these articles instead of having them come off as factual. This would eliminate the stigma that is left with new readers when they come across articles like this.
There's still a place for such articles here, as in most of the world's top newspapers, which have Op/Ed sections with opinion pieces and other articles by key individuals in current events/ industry/ politics/etc, by editorial staff and/or by columnists. But it's a good idea to label articles as necessary.
Yes exactly Dan thank you.
What a load of sanctimonious crap. The reason controllers exist is for your safety and the safety of those around you. While I agree that if you feel unsafe tell the controller and we will work something out, but don't just asert your actions because you don't have the full picture. The reason for no deviations may have been a valid one, traffic, airspace, etc. Be acomidating, don't be that jackwagon that gets all bent out of shape when things don't go your way, life will be a lot smoother.
I agree, although this author seems to hate everything that has to do with the FAA.
Tenarife happened because of an arrogant pilot that would not listen to ATC and bulled his way out of the lineup and by that time was too head strong to really listen to the controller on t/o.
Tom Pera 3
Tenarife happened because of comm failures... Dutch, Portuguese, PanAm etc all communicating in English
Controller "Hold for Takeoff" KLM pilot "Roger, on Takeoff"
That was the actual cause and the response was cluttered with heterodyne as well, but read the rest of the story and you'll see how much of a part pilot arrogance played. He heard what he wanted to and wanted the hell out of there. Tom, I know you are a retired controller and you know from whence I speak. The rest of the story didn't really start surfacing until after the fact. Oh Well.
Tom Pera 2
yeah yeah yeah, you're right, as intended sarcasm...
Tenerife happened because a Dutch pilot had thought the tower controller had cleared him for takeoff, not position and hold. This is the primary reason that controllers began to use specific dialogue for certain actions. Weather was also a factor, but my point is, Tenerife was caused by confusion between pilots and controllers, not some arrogant hot shot pilot.
That Dutch captain was headstrong. Barring language and poor vis., Tenerife could have been avoided if he just cooled his heels. He was the main reason for that collision!!!
Final admission by the Dutch government that their "Golden Boy" was in the wrong. Constant harangue of controllers to get out of the holding pen that the controllers got him out among the first. No CRM at all. FO thought there was a problem but either was afraid to tell the Captain or was disregarded. They guy was a "Poster Boy " and they never signed off on the report til 7-8 years later. Granted there was confusion and some procedures were change but arrogance contributed greatly. I was a young FE on a 707 at the time and under the same type arrogance in the cockpit. Bunch of folks dead, so to quote Hillary, "What difference does it make".

[This poster has been suspended.]

Ben Ryan 3
You can't make those types of statements though because it's just not always true. There are many times when pilots from all around the world make mistakes. It's normal. It's not because your Dutch, American, Canadian, Indian, or Senegalese for that matter. Humans will always be imperfect no matter what kind of aircraft you fly, whether you fly from Boston-New York every day, or from Los Angeles to Auckland once a week.
It wasn't meant to be "that kind of statement". But I know that when I fly internationally, especially between European countries, accents can be hard to understand. Add the fact that the Flemmish speaking and English speaking pilots were listining to a controller with a Spanish accent using his own verbage. Even more is that the language requirements were not quite as strict as they are now. Had the verbage and language requirments not have been placed, I am sure there would have been more incidents. On top of everything, they both had to be on the runway as the airport was heavily over capacity. Long story short, my point was that regardless of your nationality or native tongue, when placed under the stress of having to divert and overloading an airport, along with having to hear an accent and verbage that you are not used to, it makes an incident like this much more likely.
Ben Ryan 2
I was talking to Phil. I agree with you about Teneriefe but what Phil said was just wrong.
Well I hope he doesn't take offense to the fact that I'm Irish and I deem myself to be a quite talented pilot.
Continuing my previous comment, talented pilots can come from anywhere, and they do. I know American pilots that can fly brilliantly, but I also know some (names withheld) who have flown Piper Lancers down to a metre before being reminded by ATC (one situation where they should be in the cockpit) that their landing gear is retracted. The same goes with my friends from Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, everywhere, pilots develop skill on their own accord, not on their nation's.
".... pilots develop skill on their own accord, not on their nation's."

Golden words my friend Damien Gehler. The ratio of bad vs. good ones in a country can and will vary due to availability of facilities and opportunities to hone your professional skills. Be it USA, with max. opportunities, to India with little or limited, to some African states with none or negligible ! And accordingly the qualitative and quantitative details will vary.
This theory is universal, not limited to aviation.
There are those that walk into a cockpit with trembling and fear, hoping they can get by once more, and there are those that walk in, slide into the seat and become part of the airplane. Those are the ones I want to fly with; unfortunately they are becoming fewer in number.
He has them moments like that, but every now and them he does hit upon a gem. Set in his ways. Has his opinions and has been around enough that they won't change. If you are Non American and a member of management of anything, especially airline management, you are on his list.
I've always felt that 'Controller' is erroneous. 'Coordinator' better describes their position.
Mr. Lautrup’s comment says everything you don’t need to read this editorial.
Mr. Wright thinks we are so dumb and incompetent that he needed to lecture us on common sense Private Pilot knowledge!
I think ATC is doing a fabulous job. I try to get in contact with ATC ASAP when I fly because it's reassuring to know someone is out there looking after you. This article sounds like they are out to get us!
If you are flying scheduled passenger service you know ATC will work very hard not to get you into a situation where you have to say, "unable." Remember, not everyone flying out there has the most up-to-date glass panel showing where everyone else [you hope] is. ATC does. As soon as you get out of the flight levels remember, not everyone out there is even required to have an electrical system...and some of the old, slow stuff doesn't. They should be mindful of where you are likely to be, and Murphy is alive and well in aviation.
Sounds like a take take take relationship in your perspective; I'm sure the local controllers love you.
dmanuel 2
I don't see the ignorance. I could acknowledge dozens if accident reports where ATC caused or contributed to the accident. Many of the controllers do not grasp the concept if aircraft systems, complexity of single pilot IFR (especially in hard IMC) and a few only use some of the 7110.65 to control traffic. I recently saw a program on the NW airliner that over flew its destination. On the ICS recordings, not a single controller knew the IFR procedures an aircraft with lost comm should follow.
Let's face it there are marginal pilots and marginal controllers. However, the consequences are much more detrimental for pilots.
Having said that, flying in the system (primarily in the east/northeast) I have never had a bad experience with any controller working PIT approach/departure. I suspect that they are getting a better level of training and/or have greater insight to the business end of the aircraft. It is a shame the FAA does not use them as a template of all facilities, then instances quoted in the article would not be so common.
Excellent advice from experienced pilotos is unbeatable. Thanks guys.
The author of this article has some good points. The kind that I always use for primary student instruction to build confidence ( and in depth study for the ATC system). It is clear to me however he is building on shaky ground.
Quote "Jets burn several times as much fuel down low as they do up high. It is such that blindly accepting unfavorable ATC instruction; a jet pilot can run out of fuel short of the runway, or in the more common scenario, burn through precious reserve fuel and land on fumes."
Ignoring Pilot/controller responsibilities or any other rule of your choice is " Unacceptable". We all benefit by cooperating and helping each other, rather than looking for silly excuses to outsmart the system.
This topic helps me and my students :
Seems to be quite a bit of low fuel related comments here, in particular regard to the congested airspace of the Northeast. While not a regular visitor to that part of the world, knowing you are going into that mess, shouldn't you try and halfway prepare for it and accept it for what it is, in particular, having extra fuel on board, just to mention one thing.
True, but a crew from the area in which I trained a regional jet accidentally landed at the air base rather than the international airport due to low visibility and an incorrect ILS frequency, being generally local pilots, they should have known that the two runways are within five miles of one another, yet it just happened. The same relates to this. People may know, but it will still happen.
Another good story is when a NWA 727 ws flying MSP-JMS way back in the day. The pilots were a bit lax and MSP ARTCC didn't have radar coverage up by FAR and JMS yet. The 72 was cleared visual descent for JMS. It turned out that instead of the 5,500 foot runway, they were on final for a 3,200 foot runway 45 miles short of JMS. The aircraft executed a touch and go and were placed on "administrative leave". After a very short investigation it was found that the aircraft would have been unable to takeoff, and that in order to get it off the ground they would have taken off all the pax seats, the lav, the FE and FO's seats, and loaded it with 210 lbs of petrol. A dangerous situation, moral of the story, pilots should be pilots, but were all humans and we don't think as critically as we should sometimes. I think that we can all admit to at least one stupid mistake, myself included.
Unfortunately, you are probably correct. I haven't been up there in a while, but there used to be an AIRMAN'S WARNING up at TUL. At about a 90degree off one of the runways was Tulsa International Dragway and when you were on base for that particular runway, you would be looking down the centerline of the dragstrip. I remember looking at the warning one time in the book and then being on a Braniff BAC 111 as a pax. In pre 911 days, most cockpit doors stayed open and I remember breaking out of light IMC, and whoop dere it wuz. Now pilot went on around to the runway but it was easy to see how it could be mistaken.
Military pilots don't have this problem.
Pete...would you share the reasons why it is different in the military?
Interesting ! A retired Air Traffic Control Manager
lbjack 1
Some of the posts seem defensive in the extreme. OF COURSE a controller would not purposefully vector an aircraft into a hazardous situation, but they do, and sometimes it isn't their fault. For example, timidity in declaring a fuel emergency can be and has been a fatal mistake, even, as the author points out, amongst ATPs.

Once I was intercepting the Newhall ILS for landing at VNY. ATC vectored me past the beam for spacing. Fair enough, except it was IMC, and ATC had me headed into the surrounding mountains. Doubtless ATC was aware of my position vis-à-vis the mountains, but I judged that I was getting too close, and that was that. After a couple of minutes with no further instructions, I told ATC to "Get me out of here!" They immediately did so and vectored me back to the ILS.

The point is, the article is not at all criticizing ATC. If anything, the article is criticizing pilots for not observing the cardinal rule: Fly the plane! And that means, as the previous poster said, keeping ATC informed of what the heck is going on.
B314 1
To a member of the public or Self Loading Freight as you may want to label me that's a clear example of ' 'I'll damn well have things my way". Cooperation not confrontation is the key to achieving a good working relationship. You may be well be in charge of your aircraft but a controller however has more than one aircraft, yours, to be responsible for.
Fred Lee 1
Very good article.
Know where you are when flying and the approach procedures for that area.
I like the Mike Jones one ! God doesn't think he is a pilot..Look it up written about a day
I wish I had considered a terse "Unable" a few years ago. ATC vectored me several miles out over the Pacific Ocean while restricting me below 2000 feet, all on a CAVU day. I won't let that happen again.
My favorite weather related ATC went like this:
Me: Washington Ctr, 81T requests immediate 180 turn and land at(XXX)alternate.
Washington Ctr: 81T you are 35 out so proceed to destination.
Me: Washington, 81T requests current weather as I have a funnel cloud coming down at destination.
Washington Ctr: 81T turn IMMEDIATELY and proceed due West. Do NOT land at (XXX)alternate. It's headed that way!
UAL 123 (above me and inbound for GSO): "We've got it(tornado)insight. Deviating."
You could hear the frustration in the controllers voice as this surprise tornado just spiked his Adrenalin.
We all worked together and everything turned out fine.
My father was a United DC-8 pilot back in the day and I recall him sharing a story where while flying above some nasty weather he was ordered to descend into it when passed from one center to another. He responded negatively to which the controller took offense and stated "you WILL descend". My fathers reply was a classic example of the type of pilot he was (a pre-WW II Navy pilot that started in 247s and worked his way up) "Listen mister if your arms are long enough to reach up here and pull back the throttles I'm coming down, otherwise I'm staying here". He was eventually granted the altitude and for years repeated the story :-).
I've been flying for 41 years and "in the system" for about 39 years. I've certainly heard arrogant, uncooperative "controllers", and no particular facility has had a lock on them. I'd have to say, though, that I've heard even more arrogant, uncooperative pilots. There are bad apples on both sides of the mic. But for the most part, the system works very well when we all work together, and it begins to falter when we don't. The vast majority of controllers I've encountered do their jobs well, as do most of the pilots who fly "in the system".

I have had a controller deny my request to deviate, although most of the time it hasn't been a problem. When my request was denied, I was polite, but I said something like, "Sorry, but I must deviate within the next 5 miles," emphasizing "must". He changed his mind. I had a Chicago Center controller who was so extraordinarily helpful about 3 years ago that I felt compelled to write to the Center chief to pat him on the back. I have had a Denver Approach controller be so snotty and nasty, screaming into the mic loudly enough that his words were distorted, that his Chief got a completely different kind of letter.

The bottom line is still, though, that if the system breaks down because of anyone's actions, inactions, or improper actions, only the pilot and his/her passengers die or are injured. That means, as the article emphasized, that the pilot must remain PIC and not turn that job over, actually or impliedly, to the controller.
Well stated.
Bravo Ted, however that scenario can go out the window at very congested areas. And in Europe your FP must be cleared by Eurocontrol hours prior to your actual so your entire request is preplanned.
" ...controllers are on the ground because we are in the air, and not vice versa ..."
Opening lines of the last para. What can be more candid and factual? Historically and in reality.
Controversy arises not because of the content/intent in the write up, but in the minds of those who want it to metamorph into one !
Can we not read an opinion without reading what is NOT written ? Must bias be necessarily attached to every opinion ? Or even some one's predisposition about a subject ?
Whether right or wrong, this is an opinion forum and it will not change just because you want it to. You can offer your opinion as you have but do not judge someone for their outlook and speaking their mind. There are 47, now 49 comments on here, freely giving their opinion on the article, as written. I must also speak to your comment about "what is NOT written". By your own admission, you are a non aviator and some things that you are probably alluding to as NON written are second nature to others and may not be written out or explained but are understood by the aviators reading this column.
Wellllll, that's my opinion on this 'opinion forum', dear friend preacher1. I am no one who can impose my will on any one.
But my opinion, I am entitled to state like you did as a reaction to mine !
great article...
When dealing with Weather specifically, controllers don't always have a full picture and to assume they're routing you in consideration of that knowledge is just stupid.
Esp. if you are flying VFR. Don't let them send you into IMC :)
What is the difference between a god and a pilot?..........god doesn't think he/she is a pilot
"burn through precious reserve fuel and land on fumes"
The only reason such a thing can happen is that you lied about ( Fuel on board) on your Flight Plan...or some other irresponsible action by the PIC. Controllers cannot do that.
Dear friend, Theodore Wright, a wonderful and thought provoking write up in the times of plenty of safety concerns and conduct of pilots. Rights vis-a-vis duties.
How rightly mentioned that ATC is only a communicator to give and take information. From one flier to another about each other plus the 'ground' conditions ! Not to decide how your aircraft should fly. ATC is merely a facilitator for an aircraft not its manager .
A very well written and compact piece for mature reading !
Ok.....For all you controllers out there (especially the ones who work Washington Center). Next time I'm heading north on the east coast and you tell me to descend to FL240 400nm from my destination I should tell you unable due to fuel?......Really? I've tried that before and it doesn't work. You tell us that you have to layer traffic bases on destination.
My opinion, ya'll got yourselves in a nice easy routine and to do anything different is work.
I have worked the airspace next to Wash center for quite a while. Please don't lump all of us in with them. It is a whole different world over there.


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