March 11, 2009

Its never too late to get your IFR clearance...

I had a very different sort of busy session last Saturday afternoon. After it happened, I immediately decided that I would write this post, but I've been partially distracted from all sides of my life. I will preface this by saying I'm not including every detail of this, just the important parts. I hope to one day procure the audio from this and post it on here somehow. Here goes...

Saturdays are usually pretty slow. This winter, the weather seems to have been especially crappy on my days off in the middle of the week, although this has enabled me to avoid some of the worst work-related weather headaches. So, against the grain, the weather on Saturday started VFR (nice and sunny) and IFR conditions(cloudy and rainy) quickly moved in from the southwest. I don't know if it moved in faster than forecast, if it was forecast at all, or if pilots just don't call Flight Service for their briefings anymore. I suspect the latter.

I've been at DNY/HNK radar position all day it seems, but the weather has been nice, no one has complained about chop or icing or anything, and it has been a typical slow Saturday. The assorted blue/cyan pixels, indicating precipitation, have been ever-so-raggedly inching closer to my sector. At the time this session is underway, the weather has reached Binghamton, NY (BGM) just on the southern boundary of my sector. Inside my sector, I have the handoff on 2 VFR aircraft, 2 ALB arrivals, 1 BOS arrival, 2 Newark prop arrivals, 2 LGA jet arrivals, and a Toronto prop going the opposite direction. I own anywhere from the surface around N66 (Oneonta, NY) to FL270 depending on the exact spot. I will avoid using the callsigns of the private aircraft in case they don't want their experiences directly shared with the world. This may make it more confusing though.

My D-side gets a call from the Stewart sector (to our southeast) that they can't get a hold of a VFR approaching from their sector inbound to Hamilton, NY (VGC) at 6500ft. No biggie, he's just VFR. Another VFR, a C172 Skyhawk, heading southwestbound at 4500, advises he'd like to climb to 6500 to stay clear of clouds.

"Rgr, maintain VFR, climb to 6500 not recommended due to VFR traffic 11 o'clock, 12 miles northwest bound, bonanza 6500."
"rgr, descending to 3500."
"rgr, maintain VFR".

The bonanza at 6500 (the one we're not talking to) starts turning a little northeast of course, and we figure that's to avoid the oncoming clouds from the southwest. I don't like where this is going. I'm about to pipe up to the VFR descending to 3500 if maybe he wants to pick up his IFR before he descends below my Minimum IFR altitude of 4000. I'm interrupted with a "hold all your Newark props, don't know for how long". I give one of my ALB arrivals descent to FL210 (the Toronto prop is at FL200). I switch my first LGA arrival to the next frequency and then advise my first EWR prop to set up for holding at KODEY intersection so they can tune that into thier FMS. That interaction is stepped on by the bonanza checking in at 6500, requesting IFR to Hamilton. Excellent, I guess he needs to talk to us after all.

"Cleared to Hamilton via direct, maintain 6000, Syracuse altimeter 2983". My D-side hops on the line and points him out to Griffiss Approach.

During that time, I issue holding for my first EWR prop at FL230 over KODEY. I try to give the hold to the second one, but New York hasn't switched him to my frequency yet. My D-side, cranking it into 3rd gear, goes and gets him for me.

My ALB arrival is passing the Toronto prop... "Cross 30 miles west of ALB at 11000, advise if unable, ALB altimeter 2985"

I'm still worried about that VFR Skyhawk at 3500. I pull up the BGM weather and its Overcast at 2100 with rain. Great. The second EWR prop checks in requesting a shortcut. "unable, cleared to HNK, hold northwest on the HNK 313 radial, left turns, maintain 13000, expect further clearance 1945".

Someone checks on frequency, but I didn't take a handoff...Oh, some guy just departed N66 wanting his IFR to BGM. Excellent timing, yet again.

My D-side was on the line, and says I need to slow my second LGA down, they're holding next sector. "Calling Boston off N66, standby, maintain VFR"

I slow the LGA to 250knots, switch my ALB arrival to approach, and then realize the first EWR prop at Fl230 is turning the wrong way in the holding pattern. The pilot caught it as I did and asked to verify the turns. "All turns to the LEFT please" I get on the line and point him out to NY since the holding pattern is 5 miles from the boundary. The pilot responds that he's correcting, and just in time too.

"Aircraft calling off N66 go ahead"
"(PA28 Warrior) we're off N66, 3500, request IFR to BGM"
"Can you maintain terrain and obstruction avoidance to 4000?"
"rgr, radar contact, cleared to BGM via as filed, mainatin 4000, BGM altimeter 2979"

This guy is like 6 miles north of my VFR Skyhawk at 3500, and I'm pretty concerned he's gonna want an IFR clearance too, but now I won't have the separation to do it since the N66 departure has some speed on the Skyhawk. Before this gets out of hand....I put the N66 departure on a 270 heading. Yes, I am anticipating the need to keep 5 miles here.

To the VFR Skyhawk at 3500: "Be advised, weather at BGM reported ceiling 2100 overcast, 4 mile visibility with rain, are you requesting IFR clearance?"
"Can you maintain terrain and obstruction avoidance to 4000?"
"uh.... maybe, not sure"
"I need a negative or affirmative, sir, unable IFR without it"
"rgr, maintain VFR"
My D-side reports that we're out of the hold for EWR.
"copy, maintianing VFR, reversing course"
"traffic 6 oclock 5 miles PA28 southwest bound 4000"
"uh, rgr"

I can sense trouble, can you?

I call BGM approach and ask if they have a lower minimum vectoring altitude at that location, which, luckily, was 3500. I let them know they're gonna get this guy VFR, with their control to issue an IFR clearance.

"contact BGM approach 118.6, they'll get you an IFR at 3500, their minimum altitude is lower then mine, good day."

Hey, try that Hamilton bonanza again for SYR approach. "contact SYR approach 126.12" "Good day" Whoops.

The second ALB arrival is given the same restriction as the first. I switch my Boston arrival to ATHENS sector, and then check my dueling 4000s.

The Skyhawks' course to his destination diverges from BGM airport, but I don't like the angle between him and the N66-BGM flight that is still on a 270 heading. I just leave him on that and tell him it'll be a few more miles before I have direct.

The first EWR prop is at FL230 heading away from the airport on his outbound holding leg, the second prop is just about to enter the hold at HNK, so he just became number 1. "Cleared to EWR via after HNK as previously cleared" He reads it back. Then I clear the now second EWR via a right turn to HNK as previously cleared and descend him.

A few minutes pass. I switch the ALB arrival to ALB approach, the two EWRs to Stewart sector, and my N66-BGM guy to BGM approach. What? Yeah, I'll take a break.

Till next time....



Dan in ALB said...

nice post. I enjoy hearing what goes on beyond what you hear over the air. Thanks for sharing!

Jaygriffiss said...

man that sounds intense.. thanks for mentioning griffiss

Keith Smith said...

Great post. How do you compare the workload of dealing with guys departing VFR and "cold calling" you in the air for the their IFR versus someone calling on the ground for the IFR.

As a pilot, I always assumed that is was making the controller's life easier by calling from the ground (notwithstanding one-in, one-out issues).

deltamike172 said...

I'd say calling in the air for your IFR is OK around my parts about 80 percent of the time. The key is being able to safely maintain VFR for a while if we're having a busy session. Obviously, you're last on my list of priorities. I know its a pain getting through to flight service these days, and then you're at the whim of nav-aid use limitations, but in theory, that is the correct way to do things. If its a nice day out, go for it, if not, don't rely on us getting you an IFR in a timely fashion, we get busy with planes already in the system.

We combine high/low sectors together alot, so tuning in the low frequency on the charts might not give you the whole story of what you're taking off into. You may not hear the controllers transmit, which means you'd only hear readbacks from planes on the low frequency. There may be more planes on the high frequency that you don't know about.

Moral: We don't really mind if you depart long as you can STAY VFR. We get worried if you get yourself into trouble when you could have just called on the ground.