Barry Meek's Letters

August 2006

Flight in Controlled Air Space: Bear's Air

When Transport Canada saw fit to turn me loose with a commercial fixed wing pilot's license, most of my flying was done in the area covered by the Vancouver VTA. The flights were with instructors too, so the airspace itself was never really intimidating. Procedures were very carefully explained as the months of training went on. Nothing was shoved at me with the "sink or swim" explanation such as would be experienced by a pilot flying west of Chilliwack for the first time.

So it is that the ATIS, clearance delivery, ground control, inner and outer tower, terminal and center frequencies, transponder codes etc. are pretty much a matter of course for any flight. Here is an example of how busy it can be in that zone for even a private pilot. On the short flight from Victoria to Boundary Bay, which takes about 20 minutes in a 172, there are a total of 11 radio frequencies involved, not counting the transponder code selection. If you want the fuel truck after landing, that's another frequency.

At the COPA "rust remover" seminar held at Vernon in April, pilots attending were fortunate to have two controllers from the Kelowna tower give a talk about their airspace and procedures. Those responsible for establishing the routes and altitudes in that area, have done a fine job, considering the terrain problems unique to YLW. Although it is nowhere close to requiring it's own VTA, Kelowna has the largest control area in Canada. The Flight Supplement is a good source for information that's not on the VNC.

Pilots have no reason to be intimidated by controlled airspace. Like everything else on the road to obtaining our pilots license, flying in controlled areas can be learned, and with practice, become quite routine. Controlled space is necessary but certainly not a "necessary evil". Controllers can be your best friends, offering flight following, terminal area information, traffic advisories and separation. Sometimes, they're just a friendly voice, which we need at times for one reason or another.

Something really important to remember is that they are not there to hinder or harass us. They're available and seemingly always willing to help. For someone who's never flown into Kelowna or the Vancouver area, LET THE CONTROLLER KNOW it's your first time. Even if you've flown there before but are still a little unsure, let them know. Simply state you are unfamiliar with the airport, or the checkpoints or whatever it is you are confronted with. From experience, I can tell you they pay extra attention to us in that situation. If I get a bad time from a controller, and it has happened, it's only because I've not followed a procedure correctly or busted a clearance.

For pilots who were unable to attend that seminar in Vernon, I'll take this opportunity to pass on a couple of things from Don Edwards and Charly Stratton of the YLW ATC tower. First, and this surprised many of the fellows, Don pointed out that the telephone number for the tower listed in the Flight Supplement as EMERGENCY only, is available for any reason. Suggestion . prior to your initial flight into Kelowna, call for clarification re: transponder use and procedures listed in the Flight Supplement if you're not sure of them. Don says they would be happy to accommodate. You might be surprised at all the misinformation there is out there.

Second, be careful of the control area extension near Vernon. If you arrive there from Merritt, there's a good chance you'll fly right through that space, and would be in violation with no encoding transponder or prior permission. It's all pictured in the flight supplement.

They have an ATIS at YLW. It's a great tool, which takes some of the workload off the tower, if it is used by pilots. Listen in on 127.5 before takeoff from and prior to entering Kelowna airspace. Then advise that you have "information Alpha, Bravo, or whatever". That way, the tower knows if you have the most current info.

Charly Stratton offered some of the "dos" and "don'ts" that controllers would like us to observe. A big one to her is "Ask for clarification if you don't understand a clearance". After getting it again, and you still don't understand, "Ask again, and again . as many times as required until you do get it". Better to understand than be intercepted by an inbound Jazz Dash 8 flying right through your fuselage.

Please close flight plans with ground control. Don't ask the tower where to park, where to eat, or where the bathrooms are. Ground control is good for that. And one other thing Charly pointed out was that there are more than just two magic words in the English language. Of course "thank you" is always important, but to a controller, the real magic words are "traffic in sight". They stop worrying about you at that point.

Many times we've been entertained by controllers yelling at students, ourselves included if you are honest about it, but in reality, without these people, we simply couldn't run an air traffic system. I for one, feel much better when there's someone watching me on a radar screen and directing things around me to keep us all safe.

Charly Stratton [email protected]

Don Edwards [email protected]

Barry Meek at [email protected]

Back to main page