Say Again? #67: The Book and Beyond

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Say Again?

I spend a lot of time talking about "the book." I use the phrase as a catchall for FAA publications. My favorite "book," by far, is the AIM -- The Aeronautical Information Manual. Some might consider that strange in that I'm not a pilot. I'm a controller. You might expect me to spend most of my time perusing the FAA's Order 7110.65 -- Air Traffic Control. After all, it is known as the "controller's bible."

Be that as it may, the AIM is simply ... well ... simple. At least compared to other publications. Speaking of which, if you don't bookmark any other link in this column, bookmark this one: Air Traffic Publications. Not only can you find the AIM from that page but also the 7110.65, the 7110.10 (Flight Services), the Pilot/Controller Glossary and a host of other publications. This vast array of aeronautical knowledge helps explain why I like the AIM so much. It's easier to find what I'm looking for in the AIM. Let me give you an example.

Listening In

We had a little mini-fuss the other day at work. A controller got hot-and-bothered about holding for Atlanta and made some comment about all the irritating reports pilots made entering the holding pattern. Anyway, this led to a discussion in my Area about whether pilots should or shouldn't report entering a holding pattern.

I tend to enjoy listening to these conversations. I find it interesting to hear controllers voice their viewpoints and detail the rationales behind those viewpoints. Most of the people I work with are so used to me ignoring all their other conversations that they just assume I'm ignoring this one, too. It's almost like I'm not there. Football, the stock market and the latest personality in the public spotlight all bore me. Air traffic control doesn't.

I let the conversation run it's course until it reached the, "Well, this is what I tell pilots to do ..." stage and that advice didn't agree with the book. Not being blessed with an overabundance of social graces, I'm always looking for a good way to tell people they're just plain wrong. I'm still searching. In this particular instance, I asked one of the controller trainees/A-side to grab the AIM for me.

By-The-Book Training

He, being a trainee, doesn't know where we keep the AIM (of course) and I advised him to ask the supervisor to show him where it is. This was a learning experience for the trainee. He was not only learning where we keep the AIM but he's learning why we have supervisors. He was also learning that, instead of having the information on a computer in front of the controllers (where it would be useful), we keep it hidden in a file cabinet around the corner, where no one will ever bother looking at it.

Back to the story. The trainee (with book in hand) sat behind me in the aisle and I guided him through the AIM, in between talking to airplanes. I directed him to the index and he, being a college graduate, didn't need any guidance to accomplish this task. I directed his attention to Chapters 4 and 5. This is what I'm talking about when I say the AIM is simple. There are only two chapters on Air Traffic Control: Chapter 4 -- Air Traffic Control, and Chapter 5 -- Air Traffic Procedures. By comparison, the 7110.65 has 13 chapters about Air Traffic Control.

In that I've searched through the AIM once or twice before, I knew I was looking for (or, more precisely, the trainee was looking for) "Additional Reports." I took a stab that it would be in Chapter 5 -- Air Traffic Procedures. So I told the trainee to check the index in Chapter 5 and look for "Additional Reports." He found it under Section 3 -- En Route Procedures, and I asked him to read it aloud.

AIM Chapter 5, Section 3. En Route Procedures

5-3-3. Additional Reports

a. The following reports should be made to ATC or FSS facilities without a specific ATC request:

1. At all times.

(f) The time and altitude or flight level upon reaching a holding fix or point to which cleared.

This effectively killed the conversation. Once again it seems as if I won the battle but lost the war. I helped educate a trainee and hopefully prevented another controller from offering erroneous on-air advice. But I killed the give-and-take that keeps a conversation going and the guys went back to talking football. I really do ponder these things. How is a conversation that starts out with, "What do you think about Chapter 5, Section 3-3-3 (a)(1)(f) of the AIM?" supposed to compete with, "How 'bout them Dawgs?"

Perhaps you can do better than I in handling these conversations. I know many of you do converse about these things, even if it is a cyber-conversation on a message board. The next time you find yourself engaged in a conversation such as this, be the first one to grab "the book" and see what it says.

You Just Never Know

I promise it will be a rewarding experience. At first, it may be a little difficult but that is where the reward comes in. You see, in becoming familiar with "the book" -- in searching for answers -- you run across all sorts of information. Information that answers questions you've had in the past and information you can use today.

Here are a couple of instances. In doing my research to write this article, I've already run across a couple of interesting things. The first one was an accident report from the NTSB.

Have you ever heard your pilot friends complain about an IFR flight plan getting lost in the system? I know I have.

"... the briefing specialist inadvertently inputted the departure time as 1130 UTC instead of 1530 UTC (1130 local)."

There's one reason it might happen right there. In that many pilots are entering their own flight plans via DUATS these days, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to find out pilots do the same thing on a regular basis.

It's hard to believe that something this insignificant started a chain of events that ended in a mid-air collision. But it did.

Who, Where, What?

The other instance is something I've written about at least a half-dozen times: Your initial call to an ATC facility. Despite all my other writings on the subject, I've never read this particular paragraph before:

2. State the following information in the initial call-up to the facility when no change has been made to the filed flight plan: Aircraft call sign, location, type operation (IFR) and the name of the airport (or fix) to which you expect clearance.

To fully understand that sentence, you'll have to read it in context, I suppose:

AIM -- Section 2. Departure Procedures

5-2-4. Abbreviated IFR Departure Clearance (Cleared ... as Filed) Procedures

h. To ensure success of the program, pilots should:

2. State the following information in the initial call-up to the facility when no change has been made to the filed flight plan: Aircraft call sign, location, type operation (IFR) and the name of the airport (or fix) to which you expect clearance.

EXAMPLE-

"Washington clearance delivery (or ground control if appropriate) American Seventy Six at gate one, IFR Los Angeles."

Some of you might be asking why a Center controller is wandering around in the Departure Procedures section of the AIM. If you had just scrolled down a little further from that link I just gave you, you would have seen this:

5. When requesting clearance for the IFR portion of a VFR/IFR flight, request such clearance prior to the fix where IFR operation is proposed to commence in sufficient time to avoid delay. Use the following phraseology:

EXAMPLE-

"Los Angeles Center, Apache Six One Papa, VFR estimating Paso Robles VOR at three two, one thousand five hundred, request IFR to Bakersfield."

Departure procedures -- they're not just for Towers.

Seek and Ye Shall Find

As I alluded to earlier, the AIM is just a starting point. There is a wealth of information on the FAA's Air Traffic Publications page that I showed you earlier. But there are so many other sources of information. As I look back on it all, I really wonder how we ever survived without the Internet.

If you want to check out a particular accident, take a look at the NTSB's accident database query page. They do an excellent job of keeping it up-to-date. The query page is pretty straightforward, but it can take some searching to find a particular accident. I tend to remember accidents by geographical information -- mostly the departure and destination airports. The location of the report I quoted earlier was listed as Robbins, N.C. I knew it was near the Sandhills VOR but that didn't equate to Robbins, N.C., for me. Sometimes you just have to slog through a few reports before you find the one you're looking for.

FAR Away

I try to stay away from the FARs (Federal Air Regulations) in my writings but that doesn't mean I never look at them. I use the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations site. You'll probably choose another site if you're just interested in the "Air" regulation portion. You see, this site has all the Federal Regulations. To find the FARs, you'd need to select "Title 14 -- Aeronautics and Space" from the drop-down menu on that page. Me (being a government employee), I'm occasionally interested in what "Title 5 -- Administrative Personnel" has to say.

Do you see what I mean about searching for knowledge? You just never know where it might lead you and what you might learn. Who knew that the National Transportation Board was listed in "Title 49 - Transportation"? Much less that Section 801 of Title 49 dealt with "Public Availability of Records"?

Secret Message

Just in case you think there is some hidden message in all this, you can stop wondering about it. There isn't. I'm not a big fan of secrets. And as I've said before, secrets and safety don't mix.

What I'd like for you to see is how our world -- even the little corner that aviation occupies -- has been revolutionized by the Internet. As little as 20 years ago the only way you would have been able to read this column would have been to pay somebody to mail it to you in the form of a paper magazine. There is more information available to you now -- for free -- than we ever dreamed of 20 years ago.

I remember (about 20 years ago, as a matter of fact) asking around at work about the Facility Orders. I had to wade through about five people to find out just where they were kept. And folks were real sensitive about letting me look at them. It was a real pain to keep them up-to-date and they didn't want anybody shuffling the pages -- or even worse -- losing them. Now, all you have to do is get on the Internet and click your mouse a couple of times.

Now, you might be sitting there wondering why you should care about the operation and administration of an Air Traffic Control facility. Well, how does this grab you?

FAA Order 7210.3 Facility Operation and Administration

Section 2. User Coordination/Conferences/Publicity

4-2-2. PILOT EDUCATION

Air traffic facilities should maintain an aggressive pilot education program whereby facility personnel provide briefings and conduct seminars for pilot groups. In addition to briefings on local airspace and procedures, information on national programs should be provided. Emphasis should be placed on operations within Class B and Class C airspace and on the FSS Modernization Program. The following are examples of the type of voluntary programs that may be offered:

a. Operation Rain Check.

REFERENCE - FAAO 7230.16, Pilot Education Program - Operation Rain Check.

b. Operation Takeoff.

REFERENCE- FAAO 7230.17, Pilot Education Program - Operation Takeoff.

c. Facility sponsored pilot/controller forums.

d. FSDO accident prevention safety meetings.

And in the spirit of this article, did you catch the next item down the page? It's the first time I've ever read it:

4-2-3. PUBLISHED ITEMS

Items of publicity, either commendable or critical of FAA facilities, should be forwarded to the Service Area office. This includes newspaper clippings, magazine articles, photographs, or copies of letters.

I wonder who's in charge of sending in my columns? Pardon me, but I see an opportunity while we're here ...

I commend the FAA for getting so much information on the internet. I'm critical of the FAA for not doing a better job of following its own orders. Operation Raincheck can be (and should be) a great program. Somebody needs to get "aggressive" about it.

There. That ought to do the trick.

Google-Eyed

Last, but certainly not least, there are the search engines on the Web. It's simply overwhelming how much information is at your disposal. I use Google but there are many, many other search engines.

Because there is so much information on the Web, the trick now becomes finding exactly what you want. Take the time to learn how to use whatever search engine you choose. At Google, click on the Advanced Search Tips and learn even more. It will be worth your time. You'll spend less time searching and more time learning.

To What End?

About now, I suspect some of you are wondering, "What's the point? What do you want me to do?" I want you to be curious. Every time you come back from using the National Airspace System, I want you to remember at least one question you asked yourself and see if you can't find the answer. Even if you don't find the answer, you'll learn something new just by looking.

I know because I've been doing it for years. Yes, I've been to seminars and conferences. I've pestered some people for years to answer various questions I couldn't answer on my own. But nothing has been as rewarding or as enlightening as the answers I've sought out and found on my own.

So spend some extra time searching through "the book." It made me a better controller and I think it will make you a better pilot. Let the random bits and pieces of knowledge you come across in your search inspire you to search out even more. Dig deeper. Look longer. Go around one more bend in the road just to see what it there. It's worked for me. It can work for you too.

By the way, I turned in my retirement paperwork yesterday, so my days as a controller are all but over. Whether I continue to write these columns for the next three months, three years or three decades, they will -- sooner or later -- come to an end. But hopefully these columns will live on a bit longer on the Web, waiting for the next generation to find.

Have a safe flight.

Don Brown
Safety Representative
National Air Traffic Controllers Association


Want to read more from air traffic controller Don Brown? Check out the rest of his columns.