April 1, 2013
By Dan Namowitz
Whether your airport has a control tower, a contract control tower, or a tower that’s scheduled to close, aviation has entered a unique phase. Instrument pilots must stay informed about developments, especially between now and May 5. That’s the end date of the three-phase closing of 149 control towers under sequester legislation originally intended not to cut the budget, but as an incentive for policymakers to cooperate and find a better way to make cuts.
That didn’t happen, and here we are.
All that may remain remote and uninteresting to folks who don’t know a common traffic advisory frequency from a continuing budget resolution. But pilots arriving at destinations on instrument flight plans should be able to distinguish between instructions to “contact Boire Tower on 133.2” and what may soon be heard instead: “Change to advisory frequency approved.”
That shouldn’t be unfamiliar material; if you didn’t train for your instrument rating from a nontowered airport, you likely practiced approaches at some. Presumably you have not forgotten how to join the traffic flow at nontowered airports—where traffic patterns can be abuzz in marginal weather.
Shortcut the arrival process at your peril. Doubters are referred to “IFR Fix: The unexpected situation,” which described a near-collision that arose after a pilot arriving under IFR opted for a six-mile straight-in approach, “since I was already on that heading.”
Arriving at the destination, you can choose the instrument approach to fly. But if it brings you in from the opposite direction of the runway in use, remember that landing against the grain is frowned upon. Making the recommended “expeditious change” to the CTAF after “Change to advisory frequency is approved,” should avoid a conflict.
Reminiscent of your old VFR cross-countries, you’ll need a way to close your IFR flight plan. Review destination communications options, and please avoid temptation to cancel aloft in dubious weather.
Departing again under IFR may require an obstacle-clearance departure or other specialized procedure. Don’t make air-filing or picking up the clearance after departure your first choice.
Suggested further readings include checking charts and plates for available clearance-delivery frequencies and remote communications outlets. Review how clearance-void times work. Review Aeronautical Information Manual section 4-1-9 “Traffic Advisory Practices at Airports Without Operating Control Towers.”
Read the news. Someone may step forward to keep your tower operating. Stranger things have happened.
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.
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