IFR Fix: Gap in the message

October 26, 2012

Where have all the whistlers gone?

They once populated crowds at pro tennis tournaments. When a linesperson made a questionable call, a chorus of shrill whistles rained down from the stands—sometimes accompanied by a temper tantrum on court.

Those whistles were rough on the ears, but part of the game. Then technology arrived, providing instant appeals for the aggrieved party. Questioned calls were replayed digitally on a big screen, disposing of disputes. Tennis whistlers now border on extinction.

Does the technology ever blow the call? There’s no whistling at the screens. The trusted systems have become indispensable.

For pilots, it has always been chancy to let faith in a support system graduate to dependence. But those who have may still whistle when the call gets blown.

After Election Day, pilots will give out a collective sigh of relief, knowing that there’s less chance of VIP temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) popping up along most routes. There have been well-publicized incursions, and numerous violations of other TFRs still occur.

In one, a twin Cessna pilot circling a relative’s house 1,000 feet above a TFR’s ceiling learned belatedly that the TFR (associated with a forest fire) altitude had been raised 1,000 feet. The information was not updated by his satellite service, or depicted on a device, the pilot said in an Aviation Safety Reporting System report. That report demonstrated two ways a TFR can get you, and was one of many reports pilots used to blame blunders on a box.

“Cessna pilot reports inadvertently entering a TFR after requesting the notam on his iPhone, but not seeing the complete description due to gaps in the text message,” said another synopsis.

“C172 pilot discovers that his new iPad moving-map application does not include TFRs, after the fact,” said another.

An instrument flight instructor listed reasons for an incursion including trusting a customer’s Internet briefing (and not calling flight service), seeing no TFR displayed on an integrated avionics system, and not reaching under the seat for a tablet with an uploaded information service.

Back in the age of whistlers, “app” was a typo, and “real time” was a redundancy. Few sources of usable briefing information existed. Speed was dubious; accuracy less so.

Have those poles reversed?

Information still needs to be managed by the pilot using it, before the whistling starts.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz | Aviation Writer

Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.