July 2019 Safety Corner
Experienced pilots are, for the most part, a pretty confident group. They believe their flying skills, judgment, enthusiasm, and professional attitude toward aviation will always carry them safely to a positive outcome on every flight. However, even experienced pilots have made plenty of mistakes – luckily without major consequences.
What about air traffic controllers? We’ve all heard the sensational media reports of controller’s falling asleep on the job or being so overstressed and overworked that safety is routinely compromised. Those situations are very
few and far between. In my experience, I’ve found that the vast majority of air traffic controllers can be your best friend in the sky. They are well-trained professionals, very competent, have safety as their top priority, and
can be very helpful when you are in a pinch. Too many of us think of ATC as the FAA’s “Big Brother” waiting to pounce on any mistake and violate us at the drop of a hat. I’ve found the exact opposite to be true. Whether
it’s weather issues, mechanical issues, or poor judgment issues, air traffic controllers can a true ally in the air. Controllers have saved many a VFR pilot blundering into instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) by guiding them to safety, or being a voice of calm when a pilot is experiencing mechanical issues. Controllers help steer us ‘little guys’ away from and around bad weather and give us priority when situations get really serious. Many controllers are pilots themselves and are uniquely qualified to assist you when facing difficult situations in the air. They frequently give ‘suggestions’ that turn out to be lifesavers.
As a CFII, the biggest “fear” I’ve seen in pilots has nothing to do with weather, crosswinds, mechanical issues, etc. It is the fear of talking to controllers. They would rather not go to the ‘big’ airports like Eppley or Lincoln, or they would rather go out to the west practice area to work on skills without communicating to anyone. That’s such a huge mistake. I encourage all of our Skyhawk club members to contact Omaha Approach – either on the ground or in the air after takeoff from MLE – and be under their watchful eye, even if you are just going out to the west practice area. If you’re going on a short cross-country, consider getting ‘flight following’ from center controllers. Obviously, VFR flying is about see and avoid and the controllers realistically are charged with just separating IFR traffic from you. However, the controllers we work with in the Omaha and Lincoln area are happy to give traffic reports to VFR aircraft and give situational awareness reports regarding terrain and obstacles. Are all these things your responsibility? Sure, but it’s nice to know they have your back. As long as
you are acting responsibly, following FARs, and have good situational awareness of your surroundings, “big brother” watching you can be a good thing.
Expand your flying opportunities by getting into the ‘system’ and exploring the ‘big’ airports. Go to Lincoln a few times to gain some experience in talking to both enroute and tower controllers. Let them know you are a
relatively inexperienced pilot when it comes to communications. Trust me, they will be very helpful. Then you can work your way to Eppley and beyond.
One last thing . . . . . if you don’t have an instrument rating, consider starting it. Talking to controllers as an IFR-rated pilot will be like talking to your friends on a telephone after a while . . . . . with no fear, that is . . .
HAPPY FLYING AND BE SAFE!!!
Kevin Broderick, ATP, CFII, & Skyhawk Safety Officer