Training Tip: What's the call?

September 2, 2013

It’s your third trip around the traffic pattern at the tower-controlled airport. You are established downwind, ready to run your pre-landing checks. On your two first circuits you did a nice job—especially handling a slight crosswind component—but on this next landing you think you can do even better. That’s what practice is all about, and it pleases you to realize that your skill has advanced to the point where you can focus on finesse.

A business jet departs, and another is cleared for takeoff. Then an aircraft with the word "heavy" in its call sign checks in from several miles out on final. The tower informs the heavy that it is number two to land, following "a Cessna single that is about to turn base." (Surprise: That’s you.)

Next, the Tower calls your number and instructs, "Make a short approach, cleared for the option."

If you fly regularly from a tower-controlled airport, especially during busy periods, scenarios like this will soon become familiar. One lesson they teach is to develop the good habit of monitoring all the frequency’s radio traffic so you know the position of other arriving and departing aircraft.

Another is that no two circuits of a busy pattern will be alike. In past practice sessions you may have had to respond to requests to "expedite" a takeoff, or to exit a runway with no delay. On a touch-and-go, a controller may have instructed you to take minimum time on the runway, or to begin your crosswind turn earlier than usual. On a few occasions you were even vectored out of the pattern briefly to accommodate traffic. 

Now, if separation from the heavy aircraft following you gets too tight, the controller could amend your clearance to "touch-and-go only." If you start to feel a bit squeezed or pressured, volunteering to go around also would help (and the offer might be gratefully accepted).

In the meantime you remain cleared for the option, which, according to the Pilot/Controller Glossary, is an ATC authorization "for an aircraft to make a touch-and-go, low approach, missed approach, stop and go, or full stop landing at the discretion of the pilot."

You wanted to make a stop-and-go to maximize your landing practice in that crosswind—but given your traffic, perhaps that’s not the best choice.

It’s decision time. What’s your call?