Short Final: Crossing The Sierras


I was crossing the Sierras on my way to Las Vegas at 15,000 feet in my DA40 NG, which has a maximum operating altitude of 16,400 feet, when Oakland Center came on and told me to climb to 17,000 feet. I responded “unable.”

After a significant pause, the controller came back and said, “I don’t know what to tell you.”

I’m pretty sure that’s not in pilot‑controller glossary. A couple minutes later he handed me off to the next controller who gave me a five‑degree turn and 16,000 feet.

Russ Irwin

Healdsburg, California

Other AVwebflash Articles


  1. That’s all there is to the story? More important than what the controller said is why he said it, especially considering where you were. So, why the request for you to climb to 17,000? How much clearance had you planned over the highest terrain?

  2. I’m curious, too. There are 14000+ foot mountains and airways with MEAs of 15300 between Northern California and Las Vegas. Seems like 17000 is about the lowest workable eastbound altitude. Can you elaborate on the route and filed altitude?

  3. Does the DA40 really have a maximum operating altitude of 16,400? Or is that just the published service ceiling? If it is the service ceiling, then it’s not a limitation and on a colder than standard day (or loaded to less than maximum weight) getting to 17K shouldn’t be a problem.