What Was That Tower Controller Thinking?

Flight Training Magazine
My article, “Walk the Talk” is in the March issue of Flight Training magazine.

Pilot (calling Tower): “Cessna 9130 Delta, request left closed traffic.”

Tower: “Cessna 9130 Delta, make right closed traffic. Report a midfield right downwind.”

Pilot: “Cessna 9130 Delta, right closed traffic. We’ll report a midfield right downwind.” Then, talking to himself, “What’s wrong with a left downwind? There is no one in the traffic pattern. What was Tower thinking?”

Excellent question! Let’s answer it in today’s show. Also in this show, a new rule was just announced by the FAA that requires tower controllers to delay the takeoff of aircraft in certain situations. We’ll cover that in detail so you’ll know what’s going on if you ever face the situation when you fly.

I’ll also give you a heads up about an article I wrote for Flight Training magazine that’s all about how to practice communication with a tower controller.

After we explore the inner workings of a tower controller’s brain, we are going to dig into your neocortex with a multi-question quiz. I’ve brought my pickaxe and shovel for this dig and I’m expecting to strike gold. Have a seat. Try to relax. This won’t hurt a bit . . . he said.

Show Notes:

  1. Sometimes, a tower controller will tell you do something that does not seem to make sense from your point of view.
  2. Air traffic controllers have the big picture. As a pilot, you don’t always have all of the resources required to have the big picture.
  3. You can build the best picture of what is happening in the airport traffic pattern by keeping your eyes and ears open. Even then, you cannot expect to see and hear everything that is going on around your airplane.
  4. Try to be patient when flying in an airport pattern. Eventually, the big picture will begin to develop.
  5. If there is ever any doubt about what the controller is trying to do with your airplane, speak up and ask the controller.
  6. The March issue of Flight Training magazine contains an article I wrote called “Walk the Talk.” The article has a practice-at-home exercise that helps you train yourself to communicate with a tower controller as you learn to fly.
  7. If you don’t subscribe to Flight Training magazine, you can find the same exercise in my book Radio Mastery for VFR Pilots, available at Amazon.com.
  8. I am putting out Radar Contact shows on a sporadic schedule because the top priority is completing the Aircraft Radio Simulator.
  9. The new Aircraft Radio Simulator will have crystal clear graphics, smooth animation, and artificial intelligence. Simulated ATC will give you instructions and monitor your flight path. If you deviate from instructions, the simulated controller will intervene.
  10. The FAA just announced tower controllers at the country’s biggest airports will be required to delay the takeoff of aircraft under certain conditions.
  11. If another airplane is landing on a converging runway, ATC must not clear another airplane to take off until there is no possibility of conflicting flight paths between the landing airplane and the departing airplane.
  12. A converging runway is one that is oriented so the flight path of landing or departing airplanes crosses over another runway. See the illustration below.
  13. convergingRunways

    Converging runways.

  14. While the FAA’s new rule only affects the nation’s biggest airports, it may eventually affect airports you use. The FAA order says, come July, the rule will apply to “all affected airports.” You can take a look at the change yourself using this link: Non-Intersecting Converging Runways J.O. 7110.652.

Your Question of the Week (presented as a quiz this week):

The point of the following quiz is to help you think about how you fit into the big picture of air traffic flow at an airport. It is not designed to teach you to be an air traffic controller.

Refer to the airport diagram of the fictitious Town and Country Airport below. Town and Country Airport is a tower-controlled airport with 2 runways as depicted. The current weather for the airport is sky clear, visibility more than 7 miles, surface winds 270-degrees at 10 knots, altimeter 30.01. Town and Country is landing and departing Runways 26 and 29. There are no NOTAM’s for the airport.

In this quiz, you will be presented with different traffic situations that you might face as a tower controller on duty at Town and Country. Use your best judgement to keep airplanes separated.

Clicking the “Done” button at the end of the quiz sends your de-identified answers to a general data pool. I look at that de-identified data to help me determine what topics need more emphasis in future editions of Radar Contact. Clicking “Done” will not give you the correct answers to the quiz. For the correct answers, along with complete explanations, go to ATCcommunication.com/answers.



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