Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Neither Fish nor Fowl

Next day report time is not until eight a.m. so I have studied all my departures before I get there. You're supposed to make a phone call to get a VFR transponder code within 30 minutes of your departure. Yesterday when I made that call I asked to confirm if I was supposed to squawk VFR once I left the zone. That's the default rule, but Vancouver seems to be special. The specialist said to keep the code, but that I would need a new code to get back in, but that seeing as I wasn't landing anywhere else I could get it by radio.

It's easier to call flight services on the radio than by phone, so I decide I'll do that. The specialist says sorry, he's not allowed to give out any codes by radio. It's a new rule. So I call the same guy back on the phone and get a code. Not sure what that accomplished. Maybe he gets a cut from my cellphone company.

I listen to the ATIS. It's a long recitation of runways and approaches in use, along with the mandatory cautions about SIRO and SPIA--I may have made up the latter abbreviation, but that's what I write down when I copy the ATIS and they are advertising Simultaneous Intersecting Runway Operations and Simultaneous Parallel Instrument Approaches in use. The former means that you might be asked to land and hold short of a crossing runway, or you might be cleared to use a runway that crosses another runway that someone is landing on. One of the pilots has to acknowledge a "hold short" instruction for each such instance. The latter means that you had better not fly through the localizer because there may be another airplane on approach beside you. It's like turning left at an intersection where there are two left turn lanes: you have to stay in your lane and watch for people who aren't.

I call Clearance Delivery, and he assigns me a Metrotown departure at 2000'. I find that on the chart. It's in the opposite direction as the active runway, so that's kind of confusing, but if the takeoff clearance doesn't assign me a routing to it, then I'll ask. I copy my departure squawk code and switch to Ground.

I tell the ground controller my position on the apron and assigned departure, and request taxi clearance. He says Metrotown is not available and gives me a different departure. Now I'm paranoid. Was the clearance delivery guy messing with me in retaliation for asking for a less efficient departure route yesterday? Then the ground controller says, "I presume you'll be wanting a runway again today?" Hey, it's the same guy who mistook me for a helicopter, and he remembers me. Cool.

But then the paranoia cuts back in. Maybe I'm supposed to specify the runway I want in my taxi request. It's not standard, but this wouldn't be the first (nor second, third or fourth airport) I've encountered with its own unique way of doing things. Or have I been away from flying for long enough to have forgotten how to make simple radio calls? I almost freak myself into believing that until I realize that while I've been on frequency I've heard a lot of calls as simple as "Air Canada, taxi." So that's not it. I read back my taxi clearance and follow it to the runway.

I don't remember what we took pictures of that flight. I think we were finishing up lines from a previous flight. I hope nobody blinked. I think I explained the improvements I wanted to the pilot guidance screen, beginning with colours and numbers I can actually see while working and working all the way to my demands for an opportunity to score points by flying well, and a high score list. And the dots should sparkle more, like in Bejeweled. Yes, I think I already blogged about this, because I remember the internal conflict it sets up for me, having to spell "bejewelled" incorrectly for my country, because it's the name of a product.

Back into Vancouver, this time with a straight in clearance that seems to take forever. I keep feeling as if I'm going to be run over by a landing B747, but then I realize that they do all the heavy landings on the north runway and the takeoffs on the south one, so a light airplane coming in for the south one isn't holding anyone up unless we're slow clearing the runway. I scramble off at the first available taxiway and call ground for taxi in.

The next flight has an interesting complication, because we will be flying above 12,500', in class B airspace. VFR traffic is not permitted in class B airspace in Canada, but there's a loophole where you can file "controlled VFR" to follow IFR rules on what is essentially a VFR flight. The CVFR clearance is further complicated by the fact that we are flying photo blocks. I've heard of "flying photo blocks" lots of times, but always assumed it was just jargon for flying around taking pictures in a grid. No, it turns out that there is a specific thing called a photo block that we photo-taking pilots have to know about. I'll explain it another day. Let it suffice for now to say that I filed an IFR-type flight plan and then started up and called for clearance "for a local Controlled VFR flight." I notice pilots here say "round robin flight" instead of "local flight" to indicate that their destination and departure airport are the same, but I stick to the phraseology I first learned. To me "round robin" implies that you are landing at other airports before returning.

The controller says he only has an IFR strip on me. I've been warned about this: there is no separate procedure at ATC units for CVFR: a strip can be either IFR or VFR and CVFR gets an IFR strip. I try to explain that I'm CVFR, departing VFR and then climbing above 12,500' but he says he doesn't have the capability to accept composite flight plans, and basically puts me on hold while a long line of people with more normal requests get their clearances. I can't even get a word in edgewise to say I can accept an IFR departure. Finally the controller gets back to me and assigns me an IFR departure. I look for it in the CAP, hoping it isn't too complex. It's trivial, easier than the VFR departure routes. It tells me to take off, climb straight ahead, and wait for further instructions. I call ground "for taxi two six left" and take off when cleared to do so. The clearance specified to contact departure airborne, so I do that as soon as my gear is up and climb power set, and they radar identify me and immediately give me another frequency to contact. The next controller is baffled by my strip, because I'm an IFR departure but he can't vector me to an airway and be done with me. He wants to know if I'm cancelling IFR. Uh, sure, I can't be CVFR and IFR both at once. I say it, "Cancelling IFR" because they need me to be clear about it. He transfers me to a different terminal controller and we have to go through this all over again, because I still have an IFR strip. Eventually I'm cleared to the photo area. Oxygen on through ten thousand and then I fly in straight lines while the operator takes pictures. We're over Bowen Island and the Gulf Islands, taking pictures of the shoreline. This job can only be done during the two hours of low tide, so every time I mess up, by not being quite straight enough, or having a wing down what seems like just a tiny bit, were it not for the glaring red dot, it costs more than the fuel to turn around and go get it. In just the couple of hours we've been out here there is a huge difference in how much is rocks and how much is water. There are some clouds over the islands, but they are over the middles of the islands, not the shorelines, so we keep snapping. We don't quite finish the work in the time allotted, but there is another, non-tide-sensitive job we work on to round out our mission.

After all that I'm not sure whether we are on a VFR flight plan or an IFR one, so I call flight services to close it, just in case.


Cedarglen said...

She's flying! I can hear it in the engines. -C.

Anonymous said...

Yeah she's flying but no one knows what kind of freakin' flight plan she's on! Really, what kind of separation standards are the controllers providing on a CVFR at 12'5? 1000' and 3 miles? 500' and target resolution (targets don't breed)? That seems very...... Canadian (nothing personal). I'd, and some other US controllers, would be interested in learning more. With your experience of flying in different countries which do you find a) more comfortable (my guess is the home country, you learned there) b) more user friendly (is everyone getting to use the airspace as they please, when they please) and c) the most effective system (atc) you've worked with. Sorry, I know, I just got home from the tower......
Good night.

DataPilot said...

Whether you realize it or not, you're actually flying IFR.

I mean, you're following Instrument Flight Rules of a sort -- although they do seem to be quite different from the Rules that most pilots understand. Instead of having localizer and glideslope indicators to center, you have a little green dot that turns red whenever you lose concentration for a second. And when that happens, you "miss the approach" and have to fly the line again.

So you are IFR. It's just that your Instruments and Rules are different from anything I've ever seen. It's no wonder the controllers are so confused.

Aviatrix said...

The controllers have only two sorts of strips: IFR and VFR. CVFR goes on an IFR strip, so if the controller just looks at the type, they assume IFR. The point of CVFR is that I receive IFR separation and control standards while operating visually, but as DataPilot points out I'm barely visual anyway. Probably a lot of the pilots on IFR flight plans have more opportunity to look out the window than I do. Mistaking CVFR traffic for IFR leads only to controllers offering me clearances I can't use, not reduced separation standards for anyone. I'm operating in reserved altitude blocks, anyway.

LT: ATC varies as much from jurisdiction to jurisdiction within a country as it does from country to country, and at least you can look up and study the international differences. I like it when controllers follow the published rules closely and do not have too many local procedures. No one notices how many of those exist like a transient aircraft doing unusual things. I could pick and choose from the rules I like best from the US and Canada, and sometimes the FAA and TC do that too. Canada is starting on the US-style multiple landing clearances, and the US just went to Canadian-style explicit taxi clearances. Although I got a "Taxi runway 08" from a controller the other day. It was a straight shot from where I was, but as the airport was unfamiliar I would have liked a hint. Efficiency I more often notice as a measure of a particular controller or shift, than of a whole system, but I'd say Edmonton is much better integrated from tower to terminal to centre than Vancouver is, with Winnipeg intermediate between the two. That kind of efficiency varies similarly across the US, too. Anchorage was amazing, but that may have been a measure of familiarity to me: many large Canadian airports have to integrate northern VFR traffic with IFR airline traffic the way PANC does. Jacksonville, FL didn't seem to have a system to transfer information on airplanes like us from shift to shift, and even lost track of which frequency they had assigned us, so couldn't call us! The Canadian controllers are generally better at accommodating the expectations of US pilots, even switching to their vocabulary sometimes when they have difficulty than the US controllers are at 'speaking Canadian.' I think Canadian controllers in the path of the Alaskan migration even get training specifically geared to 'November season'. And I imagine Florida controllers are great at handling minimum-fuel, minimum-English flights coming from various Caribbean islands.

There are so many factors of training, experience, environment, administrative structure and individual controllers that they hardly compare. Are there any US controllers with their own fan pages?

Sarah said...

This could be an interesting international topic for CC.

I am getting used to "line up and wait", but didn't know there are still differences in terms. For instance, in the US we use LAHSO (written), for land-and-hold-short-operations rather than SIRO.

In my limited experience, Center procedures are pretty well standardized, with local differences being what routes and arrivals they'll give you.

The real wild cards are tower/ground, apparently that's so in Canada too. In the US, some towers are federally staffed, some are contract - and local procedures vary quite a bit.

By "fan page" I assume you mean blog.
A good but somewhat less aviation centered one is Don Brown's.

I like this one, a current Boston center controller's blog.

Aviatrix said...

LAHSO and SIRO aren't quite the same. You can have SIRO without LAHSO.

And no, by fan page I mean pilots who are fans of the controller and got together and made a Facebook fan page for "the guy who says 'Rog'." He is so efficient they all love him.

Anonymous said...

No fan clubs here, just tower groupie chicks hang out and wait for the balding, slightly over weight, middle aged dudes to roll out of the tower. No really, I have meet with pilots (not only my current tower but from the past 5) and usually they do ask about that one or two controllers. It's funny, they want to know who the guy is that helped the lance remember his gear before the sparks started or the guy who ignores they VFR pilots so they can't enter controlled airspace, one extreme or the other. I guess that is to be expected. Anyway, I've thought about your answer and I can see that "local procedures" can be confusing. I need to take a trip up to W-peg tower and see what goes on up there, it would be a good learning experience, it's only an 8 hour drive. Stay safe and keep up the great writing.

ps, the lance pilot brought me a bucket of KY fry (fried chicken) and a 12 pack of beer to the tower!

Aviatrix said...

Anonymous: the guy who ignores they VFR pilots so they can't enter controlled airspace

Yeah! Him! That is an experience bizarrely unique to US airspace. The first time it happened to me I thought I had a comm failure. I have never had a Canadian controller just refuse to talk to me. They may say, "Unable transit clearance at this time, remain clear of class C airspace," or some other variation of "Negative, Ghostrider, the pattern is full," but I've never been dumped on indefinite hold the way the US controllers do when they don't want to deal with me.

I'm trying to decide what a Canadian would have brought you to go with the beer. Doughnuts doesn't seem like enough, but fried chicken isn't quite our style.