IFR Fix: What goes around

December 21, 2012

An aircraft is bound for the holding fix after a missed approach at Alton/St. Louis Regional Airport. The heading gives the pilot a choice: fly a parallel entry or a teardrop entry to the hold. The pilot elects the parallel entry.

A Cessna 172 has been cleared direct to HAIGS intersection, and for the ILS RWY 27 approach at the Hagerstown, Md., Regional Airport. Arriving from the southeast, the flight makes a direct entry into the racetrack procedure turn, flies the turn, and completes the approach.

In both cases, controllers are caught off guard by what they see on the scope, and question it. The pilots are certain their actions were correct.

Neither discussion ends with a quick exchange, leaving both pilots torn between defending themselves and avoiding an airborne argument. How they handled the disputes, in their own words in Aviation Safety Reporting System filings, provides good guidance for other pilots.

With the St. Louis flight established in holding, approach—expecting a teardrop entry—called to express surprise.

The instructor, reporting to the ASRS, wrote that the pilot flying (PF) “looked at me and I said ‘Just say thanks and let it drop,’ which we did.”

ATC didn’t. The next controller asked if they had gotten the holding issue “straightened out.”

“Again I told the PF to just say ‘Yes, thank you,’ and let it drop,” the pilot reported. But residual concern caused the instructor to call the ATC facility the following day (and be surprised to learn that the questioning controller was a pilot).

The Cessna 172 flying toward Hagerstown reached HAIGS and turned outbound into the racetrack holding pattern for course reversal on the ILS. “Once established, the Tower Controller stated that they had received a call from ZDC indicating that I, in effect, should have proceeded straight in. I respectfully told the controller that I did not agree,” the instructor reported.

That discussion also continued. Following the missed approach the instructor “had a brief, courteous discussion” with the controller, including citation of AIM text.

“I chose to not debate the issue in the air, and controller said there was no follow-up discussion or action required,” the pilot reported.

ASRS reports are designed to point out unsafe system flaws, usually via narratives and a synopsis of the issues. Always terse, synopses are occasionally—perhaps unintentionally—glib: “C172 Flight Instructor and Center Controller debate the need for a holding pattern at HAIGS when cleared direct and for the approach to Runway 27 at HGR.”

The report also records that both parties opted to discontinue their debate, so possibly the biggest contribution to safety has already emerged.