When to Not Respond to ATC (Really!)


See no ATC. Hear No ATC. Speak no ATC.

As pilots we are trained to respond to ATC each and every time ATC talks to us. Did you know there are times when you should not talk to ATC? It’s true. In this 40th edition of Radar Contact, you and I will cover those times when you had better keep your mouth shut and pretend ATC doesn’t exist.

Traffic Collision Avoidance System. Does your airplane have it? Even if you think yours doesn’t, your transponder still provides TCAS information. We’ll give TCAS it’s due and explain why it probably works better than ATC when you are seconds away from colliding with another aircraft.

As we approach the beginning of summer, why the hell would I talk about sub-zero air temperatures in this show? Maybe the spring heat has already fried my brain. Actually an airline instructor asked me how super-cold temperatures affect ATC procedures. Truth is, I didn’t know. I tapped some air traffic controllers and asked them. I’ll tell you what they told me.

The Aircraft Radio Simulator is kicking butt . . . kicking my butt now, your’s later. As work continues on the production version, the thing is taking on a life of its own. It will make you laugh, cry, and want to read the book. I’ll explain.

I’d say, let’s quit monkeying around and start the show, but that would be too obvious. If you pretend you didn’t just see or hear that, I’ll pretend I didn’t say it; but I will start the show.

Show Notes:

  1. There are times you should pretend ATC does not exist. Fly first, navigate second, communicate last.
  2. Radio communication with ATC is important but it is not as important as keeping your airplane within the margins of safety.
  3. There will be times when ATC can help you fix your problem. For example, if you are flying VFR and you find the weather is closing in around you, ATC may be able to help you fly towards better weather conditions.
  4. If a situation demands that you focus entirely on maintaining aircraft control, then forget about talking to ATC for the moment and fly the aircraft.
  5. TCAS stands for Traffic Collision Avoidance System.
  6. TCAS looks at the flight path and altitude of other traffic and predicts whether or not another aircraft might present a conflict with your flight path.
  7. TCAS not only points out traffic passing near you, it also provides verbal and visual instructions to direct you away from traffic that appear to be on a collision course with your aircraft.
  8. Even if you don’t have TCAS in your aircraft, your transponder can still cooperate with other aircraft that do have TCAS.
  9. If you ever receive collision avoidance instructions from ATC, the AIM cautions you to respond immediately to those instructions not by responding on the radio, but by immediately following those instructions with flight control inputs.
  10. Once you have begun your collision avoidance maneuver, acknowledge ATC instructions with your call sign and “Roger,” or “Wilco” or something similar that is very brief.
  11. You do not have to ask permission to leave tower’s frequency when leaving the controller’s airspace. That is true whether the airport lies within Class D, Class C, or even Class B airspace.
  12. If you don’t feel you can complete a safe landing, you may go-around and make a low approach without requesting permission from ATC.
  13. If you need to go-around for safety, do not delay your go around to communicate with tower.
  14. Cold air makes your altimeter read higher than the true altitude you are actually flying.
  15. ATC has no specific procedure or phraseology to help you adjust your altitude to compensate for very cold air. You are expected to make adjustments on your own.
  16. Altimeter error correction for cold air is discussed in the Aeronautical Information Manual, Chapter 7, section 2-3.
  17. Aircraft Radio Simulator Update: Work is complete on the Core unit, including microphone technique, saying numbers correctly, and call sign usage. Flying and communicating at uncontrolled airports is 50% complete. Still to go: Class D, C, and B operations plus emergencies and unusual situations.

Your Question of the Week:

“You are preparing to taxi at tower-controlled airport. You have contacted Ground Control for taxi instructions. The ground controller says, “Cessna 9130 Delta, Doryphore* Ground, Runway 28. Taxi via Alpha, then right on Delta, left on Bravo, hold short of Runway 3 on Bravo 1.”

Here’s your challenge: Give me a read back of these taxi instruction that includes only the items the AIM says are required in your readback.

When you think you know the answer to that challenge, go to atccomunication.com/answers. There you will find a complete answer along with a full explanation of how that answer was derived.

*doryphore (DOR-ee-for) — one who draws attention to the minor errors made by others, especially in a pestering manner.


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