May 3, 2018

Improving VFR Communications Inbound


by Michel Pomerleau

 In this article, I will digress a little and deal not only with communications but enroute and approach planning. 

Proper VFR flight planning is taught during training. However, this aspect tends to suffer with the widespread use of GPS and tablets. Planning cross-country flights on these devices makes the preparation of flight logs very easy, accurate and comprehensive. But, route study is more difficult as the entire stretch can be displayed on a 10 or 7 inch screen. Therefore, the use of paper charts is highly recommended when planning long flights over unfamiliar territory to better scrutinize the planned route, destination and alternate airdromes, hazardous and restricted areas.

Planning the arrival is also important, and much more so approaching destination. As a general rule, airline and commercial pilots start planning their arrival thirty minutes or more before their ETA on account of their long descent and approach procedure from high altitude. They obtain ATIS, contact their Flight Ops or FBO, study STAR and approach charts, brief passengers, etc. Over unfamiliar country, VFR pilots should perform this function as early as possible and certainly before commencing descent. At 120 knots, a descent from 9500 feet at 500 fpm to an airport at 500’MSL will take 18 minutes and cover 36 miles. Well prepared, the pilot can fully concentrate on flying the aircraft, radio work, watching for traffic and joining the circuit. 

As for communications x-country and approaching, the AIM with reference to CAR  602.101 and 103, directs for flights through an MF, to: ‘Report before entering the MF or ATF area and, where circumstances permit, shall do so at least five minutes before entering the area, giving the aircraft’s position and altitude and the pilot-in-command’s intentions; and, when clear of the MF or ATF area’. When approaching destination, the pilot-in-command must: ‘Report before entering the MF or ATF area and, shall do so at least five minutes before entering the area, giving aircraft’s position, altitude, the estimated time of landing, and the pilot’s arrival procedure intentions. Another report is required ‘when joining the aerodrome traffic pattern, giving the aircraft’s position’, and so on. Good airmanship suggests complying with this requirement at all aerodromes.

As stated before, radio transmissions should be clear and concise. Typical examples:

‘Charlo Radio, Piper Foxtrot X-Ray Yankee Zulu, 16 miles Southwest 3500 feet VFR, inbound for landing in 9 minutes, with the numbers, will join downwind runway 30’

‘Charlo Radio, FXYZ , joining mid-downwind runway 30’

‘Charlo Radio, FXYZ, on final runway 30 for landing’. 

Note the use of the single word ‘landing’ used to describe the intentions on final, an aeronautical term which will be discussed in the next article.