March 1, 2013
By Dan Namowitz
It doesn’t matter whether your political needle deflects left or right or is centered. Unless something gives soon in the seat of government, it is time for instrument pilots to be proactive and address the effects on their flying of a newly coined aeronautical term: “the sequester.”
Don’t confuse sequester (the sudden and indefinite interruption of services, airspace classifications, and other considerations critical to flight planning) with familiar terms like “sequence” (as when a tower controller assigns you a heading and says, “Vector for the sequence”).
There is no vector to the sequester. Restating that, during the sequester, sometimes there may be no vectors.
Let officials and pundits debate whether sequester—the mandatory reduction of federal spending effective March 1—is dire or a distraction. The aviation community knows that no instrument pilot can be pleased about the uncertainty it introduces into his or her flight planning.
Here’s a possible positive: Sequester should cause you to review aeronautical subjects that are running a knowledge deficit in your usual flying.
Sequester-induced uncertainty will tax skills like checking notams on such details as whether your destination’s control tower is out of business starting in April—was it on this list provided by the FAA?—and whether navaids you’ll need for getting down and landing remain in service.
Tower’s closing? Good time to review the airspace classes, as likely your airspace must revert to a “lower” class. That also means staying extra cautious about any local VFR traffic that won’t be pointed out over the radio.
Airspace reversion—how does that work? Back when sequesters were bad news for juries, airports such as Maine’s Portland International Jetport (in Class C airspace) long has run a less than 24/7 tower. The airport/facility directory explains the nightly airspace switch: “Airspace Class C svc (1045–0500Z‡) ctc APP CON other times Class E.”
For now, sequester’s strongest signal is its uncertainty. Not so bad until you remind yourself how hard pilots work to dispose of the other uncertainties about IFR flying. What’s the weather doing up ahead? Where’s a turbulence-free ride? Is that really ice on the leading edge?
This may be optimistic, but let’s hope that by the time you can click on this, the foregoing will be moot. If so, consider this a still-usable set of review items for your next proficiency ride.
Or just sequester it somewhere.
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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