Short Final: Keeping It Simple


New York airspace can be intimidating, and the controllers are not exactly known for having a slow, patient approach to communicating with incoming traffic. Years ago, I was eavesdropping on one of the many approach/departure frequencies one day as I was skirting underneath the Class B airspace in my V-tail Bonanza. A business jet crew arriving from the north seemed uncertain about the controller’s machine-gun-pace directions to follow the Hudson River southbound past Manhattan, then turn left for their arrival at JFK International.

Bizjet: “Uh. I’m not exactly sure which is the Hudson and which is the East River.”

ATC: (pause) OK. (speaking slowly) Do you see all the great big buildings out there in front of you? Keep those tall buildings to your left side until you get to the end. Then turn east.”

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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  1. The controller ASSUMED that every pilot is familiar with Manhattan (a common trait for a New Yorker–(smile). The controller came up with a way to convey the instructions in a simple manner that could be followed by the flight crew–INFINITELY BETTER than the often-heard but unhelpful “have you ever been to New York before?”

    THANK YOU to the helpful controller–I wouldn’t want to have to start carrying road and sectional charts in the cockpit to identify roads and rivers!

  2. Reminds me of a similar (non-NY) experience listening to a controller help another pilot to identify a reporting point. The tower controller cleared the pilot for a straight-in visual approach, and report passing the prison (located about 5 miles from the approach end of the runway). The pilot read back the clearance, and added that he was not familiar with the area, and didn’t know where the prison was. The helpful controller replied, “Oh, you can’t miss it. It will be a large gated community just off your left side.”

  3. Reminds me of my first time flying to Grand Cayman. After telling the tower I was not familiar with the area he asked if I saw the cruise ships docked off shore. When I replied yes he said to go toward the cruise ships then turn left (approaching from the north) and I will see the end of the runway, which I did! Cleared for the visual.

      • Grand Cayman doesn’t have cruise ship piers. They drop anchor a few miles off shore and use shuttle boats to load and offload passengers/tourists!