Short Final: I’ll Call You Back


Several years ago while training for my instrument rating, I was flying with my instructor in dark-night rainy weather. My instructor was a big fan of realistic training and I was receiving a double dose of it on this evening. Our destination was KPIM (Pine Mountain, GA). We were planning to have dinner with my mom and aunt.

As I entered Atlanta’s airspace, my first contact with the busy controller went reasonably well. It was just a simple check in. As we continued to our destination and after I had picked up the weather, I called the controller back and requested the approach into Pine Mountain. The controller came back with a full approach clearance and asked that I report crossing the IAF.

To my overwhelmed brain, this was simply too much. I was saturated. After what felt like two minutes and in reality only being seconds, I called the controller back with these words “I’ll call you back when I get where I am supposed to be.” To his credit, the controller, who knew I was on a training flight, quickly replied with “Well, you do that.”

Shortly thereafter and with a good bit of discussion with my instructor, I called the controller back with a proper clearance and the flight ended successfully … except for the incessant ribbing by my instructor.

Adam Creel

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  1. An approach clearance has a lot of information given all at once. It’s easily overwhelming the first several times. You did a great thing by telling the controller to standby.

    • My student was an applicant for his instrument rating. The examiner was in the right seat. They were in an older C-182. The aircraft was on the ILS for RW 26 and had just passed the outer marker. The controller issued a request to the aircraft: “Roger” (to the marker report), then, “report two mile final.” Remember, the applicant was busy flying the aircraft, which doesn’t excuse the pilot! However, the examiner keyed the mike and said: N number, Roger.

      As it turns out the pilot never heard the request, or if he did he didn’t have time to acknowledge the request since the examiner was “to fast on the mike”.
      The two mile report was never made.

      The conflict!

      There was another aircraft in the pattern doing touch and goes on RW 30. The time was late afternoon, approaching dusk. I do not know the altitude of the IFR A/C, but at some point close to DH, the examiner looked up and at a very close range saw the other aircraft. It was also on its’ descent and on base. The actual distance between both aircraft is unknown. Just to say all were justifiably ‘shaken’.

      An Aside: The tower controller was relatively new to this tower. He didn’t follow up on the positions of either A/C like he should have.
      The tower manager made a “telephone” request to my student. They made that call and the discussion ensued. The tower manager and I are personal friends. In our discussion I asked her this question: “Was the examiner at fault? Could the examiner have been violated? She said: “certainly”.

      Further discussion ensued and she said, “you know, if at all possible I like to handle these in house. To go through the process of making a formal violation often creates a host of paperwork and unbelievable investigations. I’ve found over the years that resolving such an event between all concerned achieves the end result. That’s just my approach as a Tower Manager.”

      Having known her for years that just shows what a reasonable person should do when possible. Trust me, I doubt that sort of interaction by the examiner will never happen again. Isn’t that the goal?

  2. Adam, if and when you start flying internationally you’ll find that the single most uttered phrase outside of the North and South American continents in international ATC English is, “Stand By I call you back”, just when you need the information you needed the most. You just paid it forward.

  3. Reminds me of a flight out of Anchorage to Palmer VFR. Palmer is on the other side of the USAF base and not far in a fast airplane. I had arrived IFR and this was my first time into ANC. It was a sunny summer day and there was a lot of traffic. As soon as I was passed to departure I checked in and was given a routing which was a blur of landmarks of which I had no idea of the location.

    I fessed up as unfamiliar and looking for help. The reply

    “Don’t you worry none you just fly heading XXX and I will have you over to Palmer in a jiffy “

  4. I had a similar situation on a flight which was the first time I flew to Grand Cayman from Miami. After I called the island in sight the controllers asked if I had the airport in sight. I told him I did not as I was new to the islands. He replied no problem do you see the cruise ships off shore. I replied those in sight, so he told me just fly to the cruise ships and turn left, you’ll be on final for the runway.