January 11, 2010
This is Normal
Sometimes I'm glad I just sit in a dark room and talk to airplanes over the radio because there are times when my restraint would go by the wayside and I just want to reach over and smack the pilot up-side the head, but I'd get in trouble if I did that....so.....
I'll just tell you about it.
I was sitting at Albany radar, and it was slow. Saturday evenings tend to be that way. There were a few lingering European arrivals coming into Newark, and we had 15 miles in trail that we had to give to New York Approach. The first plane calls himself Mystral zero zero three, although where Mystral comes from is nothing but a Mystery to me. Since I don't have any traffic, I just descend him to 16000 without a restriction at ALB; they'll probably cross it anyways out of habit. He is assigned Mach .81 since a Continental jet is close behind assigned Mach .78.
I ask the Mystral what his "Normal" speed would be (if you didn't have a speed assigned, how fast would you fly on your own?) He responds, "uh, we go 290 knots, but can go faster if you'd like, sir". I love polite foreign pilots. "Rgr, standby."
"Continental 55, what speed would you transition to normally?"
"Uh, we can do whatever you need, what would you like?"
"Continental 55, that wasn't what I asked, if I deleted your speed restriction, what speed will you transition (from mach number to indicated knots) to normally"
I'm a compromising kind of guy. Mystral said he'd go faster, so if COA WANTS to speed up to 310 or something, I'll give them both 300 knots. If COA is currently assigned faster than he would normally be flying, I'll just let them both fly how they'd like and the spacing will work out on its own.
"We'll do whatever you need us to do, center, Continental 55"
At this point, I just want a number. Anything. Lie to me. I don't care. Whatever, I'll just turn this guy out and get my spacing that way.
"Mystral 003 maintain two niner zero knots or greater, thank you."
Continental comes back and responds that "normal is 290 as well". "Roger, upon leaving FL230, resume normal speed." Sigh. Once below FL230, the COA55 is in my airspace and I turn him right to a 270 heading to get my 15 miles. My D-side gives me some crap about wasting transmissions and I re-clear the COA55 on course.
This has happened before. I recall a similar instance a few months back during the early morning rush at DNY/HNK sector.
We needed 20 miles in trail for LGA props, and, as always, the ROC and SYR departures were mostly tied up. I won't name names because, frankly, this is a little embarrassing. They are both Dash 8-200s (see picture above), and the first plane is flying along at about the same speed as the other, if not a few knots faster, so I plan on assigned that speed or greater to make sure he doesn't slow down without telling me. I'll vector the second one to get the 20 miles I need and then assign the same speed or less to keep the spacing. Both planes are the same type, so I'm pretty sure if the first one can fly a speed, the second one can do that too...
"callsign, you're number one to LGA today, say speed." Pilots feel special when you tell them they're first!
"Roger that, Center, we'll give you anything, what do you need?" Seriously.
My D-side and I both exchange the "answer the question without asking another question" look. My first thought is to answer his question with ultra-sarcasm, like Mach 1, or something. My second thought is how tough would it be to make this guy number 2...I tone it down a little...
"callsign, roger, maintain 290 knots or greater, advise if unable". Nothing but professionalism at all times. I know they can't go that fast (the 'advise if unable' is the hint not to accept the clearance), but you said you could give me anything I needed, buddy, and 290 knots sure would help my spacing!
"Roger, 290 or greater."
My D-side exchange another look, this one almost comical. He SOOOO didn't just take that clearance, did he!?
Then another voice, most likely the captain, keys up with a "uh, we can't do that, how about 220 knots?" That's more like it.
"Roger, maintain 220 knots or greater."
Till next time....