Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Levels of Incompetence

I land at a busy northern airport. It's a resource town, so lots of money, lots of workers and lots of airplanes getting them in here. The ground controller says "taxi in" when I tell him my destination on the field and as I approach it I realize there's an opposite direction jet on the same taxiway. While I'm thinking "Uhhh ..." I realize that it's under tow, so that makes it a motor vehicle not an airplane, giving me the right-of-way. At least I think that's how it works. It's also being pushed backwards away from me. It's opposite facing but in actuality same direction. So not really a conflict. I turn my attention to the FBO.

Sometimes a pilot just turns off the taxiway and parks in front of the FBO, alerting personnel after shutdown to the fact that she would like to buy fuel. Sometimes as I manoeuvre for a likely spot I see someone in an orange vest running and gesticulating with the "place yourself opposite me" gesture. I always taxi slowly on an apron, so I indicate I have seen them, give them time to set themselves up and park as directed unless there is an obstruction or pavement condition that prevents me. I am always very aware that the fueller is a soft squishy human being who in a moment of inattention could run into one of my propellers.

Today there is a small army of people in orange vests, and one is marshalling me. "Place yourself opposite me," then "move nose this way" then a signal I can't remember ever receiving before, "proceed to next marshaller." A chain of vested human beings marshals me one to the next around another aircraft until we are finally given the crossed arms signal to stop there. we're laughing at how many there are. I've never been directed from one to another before and I just went through a chain of five. There are easily twelve on the ramp. I'll tell you quickly than none of them ends up anywhere near the propeller. The title of the post refers to pilot incompetence, especially mine, not any rampee error.

I think their numbers are attributable to a combination of a shift change and training, so every new guy is shadowing an experienced rampee and there are two shifts here at once during the whatever hour this is rush. One of them takes my fuel order and I go inside. There's a bucket under the sink in the women's washroom because the sink u-bend leaks. Internet works. The GFAs forecast everything to be lovely and clear until bedtime. I get NOTAMs and fuel and start up again.

"We are very late," I hear a Jazz pilot explain as she reports an increased mach number to ATC.

A controller calls a foreign airplane, "November eight thousand and echo." Presumably that's N8000E, but I could make a case for N800E. Either way the pilot knows who he is, just as I do when American controllers say "zero" instead of "oscar" for an O in my call sign, or otherwise mangle what to them is alphabet soup. It's quite odd for folks both side of the border to cope with call signs that don't match the standard pattern.

I call for my clearance and accidentally call the controller by the wrong airport name. She's about as offended as if I'd called her by the wrong name in bed, and it doesn't get any better when I discover that I filed my actual flight plan as if I were departing from same wrong aerodrome. It's things like this that make me wonder if I've reached my Peter Principle position of incompetence as opposed to my delusion that I've settled just below it. We sort that out and while I guess I'm not getting another date with that controller, I have a clearance.

I feel slightly better about my incompetence as I hear two airliners in a row asking for clearance direct airports that are not their destinations, each gently corrected by the handling controllers, with reference to their filed flight plans. Chances are high that dispatchers, not the pilots filed the flight plans, so the pilots may know where they took off from, but aren't clear on where they are going.

Another N-registered airplane, not eight thousand and echo, gets a rerouting, from ATC. He copies down one fix and says, "I need another letter, that's just two." It's an NDB, it only has two letters in its identifier. In the south, especially in the US, NDB airways are uncommon. They're always defined by VORs. Up here NDBs are more common. Canada and Australia are I think the only countries that do much with NDB airways. Hands up if you had Cambridge Bay in the navigation section of your Canadian commercial written exam.

An airline pilot is told by ATC that the ILS at his destination is NOTAMed out. You can tell from his response that this is unexpected news. I wonder if it went down since his departure, or his company dispatch fell down in informing him. Or he didn't read his briefing package because it was such a nice day. A bit later I hear him say, "It's overcast. We're going to head for the NDB." We're working not far from there. The overcast is high. He'll break out soon.

Just one of those days, I guess.


rw2 said...

"I call for my clearance and accidentally call the controller by the wrong airport name. She's about as offended as if I'd called her by the wrong name in bed"

Thank you for this! I've never had that reaction, but every single time I make a radio call on a new frequency I have this brief flash of "holy crap, did I get that station right?" syndrome.

I suppose I'm glad to hear that my fears are well placed. :-)

LocalFlightEast said...

CYTZ get uppity if you call Ground "Tower" and vice versa, even if you are on the correct frequency
and then really confuse the hell out of you by having the same person doing both!

A squared said...

@ The worlds most anxious person:

I used to fly a late night scheduled flight into an airport which wasn't very busy at that time and had the approach controller clear me for a visual approach, clear me to land, and clear me to taxi to parking, all in the same transmission.

DataPilot said...

Pilots aren't the only ones who have trouble keeping airport names straight. I've heard more than one FSS specialist get their remote sites mixed up. I don't recall any pilots being offended by the mistake -- but confused, yes.

A squared said...

It's an NDB, it only has two letters in its identifier.

In the US, NDB's all have 3 letter identifiers.

I don't believe that you will find any L/MF airways in the lower 48, the last one was someplace in North Carolina, and I believe that it's been deleted. We still have some in Alaska, although they are disappearing as NDB's are decommissioned. You will find plenty of NDB airways in Africa, Asia, South America and the Caribbean.

A Squared said...

It turns out that L/MF airways are not completely gone from the Lower 48. A fragment of G13 still exists in North Carolina. It runs from the Manteo NDB to the ZOLMN intersection, a total of 21 NM.

Sarah said...

That's a good find, A^2. G13 there at ZOLMN joins a Tango airway, only navigable with GPS. Kind of an old-meets-new situation. Appropriate. It's just south of KFFA, Kill Devil Hill.