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An evening with ATC: you get a crowd at an FAA seminar when you hold it in a pub. Turns out, the beer wasn't the only thing that was worth coming for.

I admit it. The main reason I went to the event in the first place was its being held at a brewery. The Red Hook Brewery in Portsmouth, N.H., to be specific. Maybe I could sit through an evening of local controllers talking about the system if I had a cold one in my hand.

In fact, it would have been a good evening even without the beer. It was worth it for two reasons: The controllers were in good humor and the content of their presentations was, believe it or not, actually useful stuff.

We're Sorry

The first controller up was a Portland Tower and Approach controller named Cheryl Readio--yes, she's a controller and her last name is pronounced "radio." Her first order of business was an apology about TFRs.

We have Prohibited Area 67 over the Bush family summer cottage down in Kennebunkport. When W comes to town, a 30-mile TFR clamps down and reaches all the way up to Portland. This TFR has been coming and going for years now and all the local pilots know where it starts and where it stops.

Except that for a recent wedding, the TSA decided that it needed to be moved 12 miles east. Portland Tower got the notice that the new TFR was going active at the same time as the public. They realized, however, it was moved from where everyone thought it was. To make matters worse, they also saw that flight service sent out a notification of the TFR to local FBOs, but it didn't mention the changed location.

Don't think ATC works for you off the scopes? Portland controllers were calling the TSA and alphabet groups like AOPA to try and get the location moved back before it went into effect. It didn't work and a bunch of pilots got dinged for violations.

FSS made an error on the timing of the TFR, too. A Citation pilot who was flying out of Sanford got a 60-day suspension after he was told the TFR wasn't in effect at the time of his departure. It was. Oh, and guess who was on board the Citation? That would be the Bush family coming back from the wedding.

The interesting part here was seeing how poorly coordinated the TFRs are even within the system and how ATC is notified on the same schedule as the public. It was also heartening to see how much they put into trying to make it work for pilots. Of course, some of them are pilots, too.

Readio asked the crowd, "How many of you have filed a NASA form? I have." She pointed out that the TSA wants every violator prosecuted. ATC's hands are tied on tattling.

She did mention the FAA's PilotWeb web site (; that's a secure site, so note the "hops"). This is actually the site Portland Tower uses to check NOTAMs and TFRs.


There's been a recent change with taxi into position and hold (TIPH) procedures, and the audience got the skinny. There are a whole mess of new restrictions and it means a lot more holding short.

TIPH is no longer possible when an aircraft has been cleared to land. Procedurally, we were told this means we should no longer expect landing clearance 10 miles out. Three-mile final would be the new norm. "If you haven't gotten a clearance by short final, you should ask," Readio told us, "but don't be surprised if we just tell you to 'continue' until right before landing." This leaves them free to fire off a couple more departures.

Other changes were that there was no more "lock and load" with one aircraft TIPH full-length and a second waiting at an intersection. No TIPH at intersections at night or in low visibility, and no intersection departures from sunset to sunrise. Also the controller can only be doing a local control position to do TIPH. They can't simultaneously be training another controller, handling ground, or acting as Controller in Charge, for example.

Short Flight Plans

Next up was Andy Applegate from Manchester Approach. Manchester is actually co-housed with Boston Approach (see "It's Not Boca Raton," April 2006 IFR). Applegate talked about flight plans and told us something I never knew: When you file a flight plan with FSS, it gets passed on to the ATC computers, but not all of it. ATC actually only sees blocks 2-8 and block 11.

This means you can let go of the argument about whether your estimated time en route should be to the IAF or the airport. ATC doesn't care. The ETE is for search and rescue purposes after you disappear from the scope and don't phone in from an airport. The ATC computers use your TAS and your filed route to estimate your time of arrival. That's why that TAS block (number 4) matters.

This also means ATC has no clue what your alternate airport was. If you're shooting an approach to an airport without a tower and you go lost comm after switching to the CTAF, you'd think you could proceed to your alternate and the folks there would know you were coming. Think again. After you've been quiet for 30 minutes, ATC will close the airport to any incoming IFR traffic and then call Flight Service to see where you might be heading next.

Of course, you maybe at that alternate airport by then. When you pop out of the clouds it's likely to be a complete surprise to the tower--and possibly to the King Air that was on the approach at the same time and broke out right behind you.

Knowing they only have some of the flight plan blocks makes pop-ups a bit easier, too. All ATC can enter is the information for those eight blocks, so that's all you need to give them. Now they may ask for everything, but it's not because they can use it right away. The unused info will get recorded, though, and they can go back and get it in an emergency. Incidentally, that's partly why ATC asks for fuel and souls on board in an emergency. They don't have that information from your flight plan.

Applegate also clarified a point about flight plans and IFR flight training. Instructors and students often file "round robin" flight plans where the departure and destination airports are the same, with a bunch of waypoints in between where they'll do approaches. That's fine if all the airports are in the same controlling agency's airspace.

If your path will take you across an airspace boundary, though, this is a problem. The ATC computer just uses your route and TAS to determine your time of arrival. It doesn't know you'll be shooting approaches at all the airports along the way and can't read your remarks. This means your ETA to get back home is much earlier than the ETE you may have put in your flight plan and it screws things up for the controllers.

The better way is to file separate flight plans for each leg, or add a delay message in the route if you're using something like DUATS. The delay would look like "MHT/ D1+30" if you wanted to add a 30-minute delay at Manchester, N.H., (KMHT)

There was more from Applegate and from Boston Approach controller and our FSDO safety officer. All in all, it was a good evening. If you want to get on the e-mail list for events like this near you, check out and get on the mailing list.

If you're good, maybe your FSDO will hold it in a brewery, too.

Hear a bit more of the evening with ATC by logging onto our sister publication,, and click the Podcast button, then Podcast Index. This month's feature includes selected bits of the evening with ATC and commentary by the author, Je. Van West. Hear more about ATC procedures, the FAA Safety Program Airman Notification System, and a potential regulatory trap of pop-up IFR flight plans. Beer not included.

Jeff Van West is Editor of IFR.
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Title Annotation:SYSTEM NOTES; Air Traffic Control; Federal Aviation Administration
Author:Van West, Jeff
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2007
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