The Power of GPS Confidence

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Flying with the family from NYC to visit the grandparents in Maryland yesterday, we popped out of Republic Airport (KFRG) and swung northwest to pick up the Hudson River corridor from north to south and get a view of the City on a beautiful late morning. We'd just spent two days cruising museums, parks and hot-dog vendors in Manhattan and I was now showing the boys (six and eight years old) and my wife the close, aerial perspective. I was flying from the right so both shorter passengers could sit on the left for a better view.

Having done this run in the past, I've learned that a good strategy is to try and get clearance into the Class B to fly the route at 1500 feet, rather than ducking down to 1100 with all the helicopters and other random VFR traffic. NYC controllers are some of the best anywhere, and, so long as you're on your game, they'll accommodate your requests if it's at all possible. I've only ever done it from south to north before, however, and it turns out there's a confusing bit if you go the other way.

We got handed off to La Guardia Tower, who approved us through at 1500 feet. Next we were handed off to Newark Tower who even let us tuck just west of Lady Liberty for a perfect view. But slightly southwest of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, I got this call from Newark Tower:

"Four Bravo Charlie, I was unable to coordinate a handoff to New York Approach southbound. Squawk VFR and remain clear of the Class Bravo airspace. Frequency change approved."

There was one small problem: I was still 500 feet inside the Class Bravo and would be for about eight more miles. I knew this beyond any doubt because it was painted clearly on the G1000 map in front of me (really in front of me, since I was flying on the right). My plan was following the shoreline of Staten Island to just east of Perth Amboy before crossing the water. About the last thing I wanted to do just then was drop 500 feet and lose traffic advisories.

In the take-no-prisoners pace of New York, you don't want to be tardy on a radio reply. Had I not known for sure I was still in the Class B, I might have said, "Uh, OK," figuring I must not be where I thought I was. Then I would have had to drop down lower to make sure I was clear and threaded my way VFR without any traffic warnings. I probably would have filled out an NASA ASRS form after landing too, worried that I had violated a reg about staying in radio contact while in Class B airspace. (It's FAR 91.131, which references 91.129 for those of you keeping score at home.)

But I did know, without any doubt, that he was dropping me eight miles too soon. The quickest polite thing I could come up with was, "Newark Tower, Four Bravo Charlie, Do you show me clear of the Class Bravo?"

That turned out to be the right thing to say. "Uh, Four Bravo Charlie Uh, hang on a minute let me see if you can just stay with me. Maintain 2000 for now."

Compressing time a bit here, I got to stay at 2000 until starting to cross the water. He still dumped me about a mile before the ceiling really rose to 3000 feet, but I felt OK about that and climbed to 2800 to cross the rest of the water when I knew, beyond any doubt, I was under the 3000-foot shelf. I got back into the fold with McGuire Approach several miles later and motored on to Maryland.

What I find most interesting here, though, is that it wasn't so much knowing where I was via GPS that mattered so much -- I'm one of those guys who follows along on the chart anyway -- it was the level of confidence I had in my position that got me to reply quickly rather than doubt myself and back down. Frankly, this was better for everybody because had I gotten into trouble for suddenly being a 1200 squawk in the Class B I would have asked for those tapes and shown that ATC told me to do exactly that. I don't think it would have looked faultless for the Tower controller.

This is far from the first time I've worked out something with ATC based on confidence in my position due to GPS. Some I might have done without GPS, but it would have been more of a nail-biter. Some wouldn't have been possible at all.

I'm curious how many readers out there have similar experiences. Maybe we should send 'em all to AOPA as fodder for talks on NextGen.

Or maybe we should keep it quiet so we don't get stuck paying user fees and performing do-it-yourself air traffic control.

Comments (1)

I have had several situations similar with both Bravo and restricted areas. At Columbus GA one day when I questioned the controller he came back and said "Wow that little box of yours (MX200 coupled to a CNX80) is really accurate, resume own navigation." The comfort level flying around with GPS in busy airspace is immeasurable.

Posted by: Stuart Baxter | May 20, 2009 7:24 AM    Report this comment

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