Friday, September 13, 2013

Was that you, Sarah?

We (meaning N631S and I) had to deal with some weather on departure from Bridgeport (KBDR) this afternoon – which all went pretty well with the help of New York Approach. Thereafter the trip was routine, until we were south of Baltimore (KBWI). We were direct to Nottingham VOR (OTT), having been given a "heads-up" to depart OTT on a 250 heading and expect the visual approach at home plate (KVKX). We'd even been descended to 4,000 feet. Normal stuff.

That's when the nice controller said, "November 631 Sierra, descend and maintain 2,000, turn right to heading 240." It did sound a bit like my friend Sarah, but I didn't get a cheery, "Hi, Frank" so I don't know.

But at any rate, I smiled. From present position that 240 heading would take me right over Joint Base Andrews (KADW) and onto final for runway 24 at Potomac Field (KVKX). (See the plot at left, courtesy of FlightAware.com.) The wind was fairly strong from the west and 24 was going to be favored, so the shortcut across Andrews easily saved me 10 to 15 minutes. How nice is that? I keyed the mike and said, "31 Sierra hopes you'll pass my thanks along to the folks at Andrews." And that got the response, "We will!"

Visibility was fine, and from over the arrival ends of KADW's runways 1R and 1L I could see KVKX clearly. I reported that, and was cleared for the visual approach and invited to cancel IFR if I chose – which I did. The landing was uneventful.

So...an example of "safe, orderly and expeditious" handling on the part of Air Traffic Control (ATC). Just think, though, about what ATC had to do to save me those 15 minutes. The controller had to "have the flick" to the extent that she recognized, while handling the ongoing flow of air carrier aircraft into Washington National (KDCA), that little N631S would need to wind up on runway 24 at KVKX. She took the time to coordinate with Andrews so that I could be cleared to cross the south end of their airspace. And all of that was entirely on the controller's initiative. She could have just followed the path of least resistance by letting me continue to OTT, turn me southwest for a while and then head me in toward KVKX with a quick, "Report the field in sight." But that's not how she works.

I've heard General Aviation pilots complain about getting second-class service relative to the airlines. In my experience it's just not the case. If you bring your "A" game, and show the controller that you can respond competently, you and your "FLIB" will get professional service. Every time.


Cedarglen said...

Nice. Sounds like you and the ATC folks have each other well trained. -C

Frank Van Haste said...

Hi, Craig! Don't know if "trained" is exactly the right word. I do suspect that many of the PCT Mt. Vernon sector controllers have some familiarity with N631S and trust me to do what they ask me to, more or less when they ask. I guess that counts for something.

Thanks for reading and commenting,


Cedarglen said...

Hi again, Frank,
As a life-long left coastie and passing though your region +/- only in airports, I'm not all that familiar with your local geography. Just for fun, I did a maps search for the route between your home field and your office. Holy Crap, Bat Man! I now understand why you fly the route so often. The predicted driving time is ~5 hours and in practice that means 6+. When you fly 631S, what is your typical door-to-door time? Zipping along at 5% over typical highway speed won't save you much, but when you can scoot along in your own private lane and at 2x-3x highway speed, 631S is a real winner. I enjoy you blog. Regards, -C.

Frank Van Haste said...

Craig, I'm fortunate to be close to the airfield at both ends. So, for example, my door-to-door time from my office in Bridgeport to my home in Alexandria was, this week, just about 3 hrs + 30 min. The runway-to-runway flight time was a quick 2 hrs + 15 min, thanks to cooperative ATC. The southwest-bound trip is often 10 to 20 minutes longer due to winds and wx; the northeast-bound trip on Monday mornings can be 10 or 15 minutes shorter.

In the winter when icing conditions make me use the Amtrak option, the door-to-door time is just about 7 hrs, either way. The out-of-pocket cost of flying vs. taking the train is a coin flip. And flying is a bunch more fun!


Cedarglen said...

Thanks Frank. It all computes here just fine. With , I agree that you cannot put a price tag on the 'fun' factor. What a great way to start/end your business week. Regards, Craig

Sarah said...

Hi Frank!! It wasn't me this time (though I always keep an eye out for you on Friday afternoons), but I'm pretty sure I know who it was and I'll pass along your thanks. And believe me, we definitely appreciate competent pilots...I can't speak for every controller, but I know that I'm more willing to do extra work for someone who I know can do what I need them to when asked. Glad to hear your flight ended well - Friday looked like a great day to fly!! :)

Frank Van Haste said...

Thanks, Sarah, for conveying my appreciation to your colleague who took the trouble to coordinate the shortcut for me on Friday. It was most definitely appreciated! Hope all is well with you.