Saturday, August 17, 2013


In my last post, I described a bit of a kerfuffle that resulted when the system misplaced my authorization to land at my home airfield, KVKX, lying as it does within the DC Flight Restricted Zone (FRZ). This required that I divert to an alternate airfield outside of the FRZ and I chose Easton, MD (KESN) as my safe harbor. In a comment to the post describing all of this, my friend Comrade Misfit asked, "Why Easton? Wouldn't it have been rather inconvenient to get home from the Eastern Shore if you couldn't have gotten the mess ironed out?"

I saw Miss Fit's comment a few hours ago and since, I've been reflecting on that decision. Why KESN, indeed? I think that the decision involved both conscious and sub-conscious factors that were focused, in the end, on ensuring that the pilot (i.e., me) did not wind up well behind the airplane.

N631S and I have been flying to and fro between the DC area and Connecticut for about five years. In that time, I've diverted at the south end to Manassas (KHEF) twice that I recall, and once to Easton (KESN). At the north end I've had two diversions to Bradley International (KBDL), one to Hartford-Brainerd (KHFD), two to Waterbury-Oxford (KOXC) and one to New Haven (KHVN). In every one of these cases, the diversion was due to weather. Each time I had at least 45 minutes, often an hour or more, to think over what was going to happen. Sure, I flew the ILS Runway 6 at KBDR, but I knew that the probability of making a landing was low, and I had 'Plan B' ready. Last Friday was a wholly different kettle of fish.

Friday afternoon, I was presented with a situation ("We're not going to be able to let you into the FRZ") that required a very short term resolution ("Say intentions"). There was no opportunity for an extended period of reflection and evaluation. It was all about, "OK, Frank, where are you gonna put the airplane?"

The first criterion was to divert to a field outside the FRZ that I was very familiar with. That reduced down to Manassas, Gaithersburg and Easton. Perhaps I could have made Freeway work, but I've never landed there and I'd have only minutes to familiarize myself with it's location and characteristics.

Of the fields I was familiar with, I immediately felt that Easton was the most attractive. From present position, just south of Baltimore, Easton was less than 15 minutes away. I was confident that the problem was some sort of foul-up in getting the right "secret code" in the remarks field of my flight plan, and a new flight plan would resolve the issue. If that was the case the diversion, with the need to file a new flight plan, would cost me an hour. Manassas was, on the other hand, a good 30 minutes away and probably represented at least a 90 minute delay. Gaithersburg would be worse.

What if the problem was something completely different? What if the system had "forgotten" me, and there was no way I was going to fly into the FRZ on this evening? Well, I knew I could rent a car at either Easton or Manassas. The FBO's at both fields are superbly helpful. The drive home to Alexandria from Manassas would be a bit over an hour. From Easton, about an hour and a half. I knew...I've done both.

Given my confidence that a new flight plan entered into the system would resolve the issue, and given that the drive from KESN was only a little longer than the drive from KHEF (if that proved necessary)...then KESN was the right choice for the divert. And that's what I told Potomac Approach I wanted to do.

All of that decision making occurred in about two minutes. Some of it happened at a sub-conscious level. I never really thought about any field that I was not already familiar with. Freeway (W00) and it's ilk were rejected without conscious reflection. I thought of KGAI and quickly passed on it. Manassas (KHEF) got 30 seconds of attention, and didn't compare well with Easton. And that was the end of the story. Easton it would be.

When I told the PCT controller that I wanted to divert to Easton, he was ready immediately with a vector. The GPS told me that N631S and I would arrive at KESN in about 12 minutes. But before half of that time had elapsed, I got the welcome news that the problem had been resolved and I could proceed into the FRZ and on to KVKX.

After I landed and put N631S away in the hangar, and talked to Potomac Approach, I felt fairly good about the whole exercise. I'd had to deal with an unexpected diversion, sort out the options and select a diversion field, prepare for an arrival at an unplanned destination, and then switch back to the originally planned terminus – all in a compressed time-frame. Throughout, I had good help from ATC, but I felt pretty good about my ability to keep all of the balls in the air.


Victoria said...

Very interesting! I haven't encountered not being allowed into the FRZ area before when a flight plan was filed, it's not cool when they won't let you into your own airport! Happy to hear that it all got sorted out. Nice quick thinking :)

Frank Van Haste said...

I guess, Victoria, that if you go into and out of the FRZ long enough, sooner or later you will deal with one of these.

It's like the adage about folks who regularly fly retractables: "There's them that has, and them that will."

Thanks for stopping by.


Stephanie Belser said...

Good headwork, Frank. Keeping your cool when things throw a screwball is a vital trait.

Frank Van Haste said...

Thank you, Steph.

Gary said...

Great choice.

Tower on the field, I always like that and enough time to settle down and review your potential approaches or avionics if needed. Of course you can't go wrong when an 'alternate' has plenty of good eats to go along with a car rental.