January 27, 2014
By Dan Namowitz
The student pilot who confronted a forced landing scenario in the Jan. 24 "Training Tip" was paying a stiff price for sloppy decision making as he ran out of fuel while fleeing bad weather on a cross-country flight. The thought ran through his mind, "If I had only activated my VFR flight plan, someone would soon be issuing an ALNOT."
What’s an ALNOT? ALNOT stands for alert notice. It is "a request originated by a flight service station (FSS) or an air route traffic control center (ARTCC) for an extensive communication search for overdue, unreported, or missing aircraft," explains the Aeronautical Information Manual.
A pilot who activates a filed VFR flight plan—as many flight schools require for student solos—has the peace of mind of knowing that if the flight plan is not closed by 30 minutes past the estimated time of arrival, location inquiries will commence, and will intensify if the aircraft is not quickly located (sitting on the ramp at the departure or arrival airport, for example).
There are ways to maximize the system’s ability to locate an overdue aircraft. As AIM 5-1-9 describes, Block 11 of the VFR flight plan form allows you to enter remarks about your flight. Enter "only those remarks that may aid in VFR search and rescue, such as planned stops en route or student cross country."
Aside from a flight plan that hasn’t been closed, are there other scenarios that might trigger a search-and-rescue (SAR) response?
Here’s one: If you have been receiving radar flight following from air traffic control, don’t descend below coverage or decide to land at an alternate airport (for which you have been endorsed to land) for fuel or rest without first terminating radar service. "Radar facilities providing radar flight following or advisories consider the loss of radar and radios, without service termination notice, to be a possible emergency. Pilots receiving VFR services from radar facilities should be aware that SAR may be initiated under these circumstances," says the AIM.
People are another important SAR trigger: When the friend of an aircraft occupant considered the flight overdue, law enforcement authorities were contacted—and the two persons aboard, who had been injured during an emergency landing sequence, were rescued.
In an emergency, time is critical. Taking all measures to activate search and rescue, and maximizing system effectiveness by providing high-quality information, is the best hedge.
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor.
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