Friday, October 17, 2008

"Bob" Part Deux: The Reckoning

This is a sequel to my earlier post "Some Pilots..."

Light cargo haulers. Canceled check fliers. Whatever their name, they seem to have a lot of things in common wherever they are in the country.
  • They're always in an extreme hurry. Opposite direction departures, intersection takeoffs. Even their radio transmissions are brief to the point of being curt.
  • They will do anything in their power to be number one to the runway, maneuvering their Cessnas and Barons like P-51s.
  • The sky can be filled with a solid overcast, Noachian deluge-style rain, horrible visibility, volcanic ash, flaming frogs falling from the clouds, locusts swarming, and yet.... they'll still call the field in sight from 30 miles out at 1500 feet, in hopes of snagging a visual approach.
That all being said, it makes them fun to work. They bend their airplanes around the sky like madmen, make extreme short approaches, fly through some crazy weather. I don't know who pays them or how they get paid, but I've seen them fly directly through Heavy and Extreme precipitation in light piston singles just to shave a minute or two off their flight. Obviously we issue the weather to them, but we can't make them deviate if they don't want to. All we can do is provide the pilot with the weather information.

Overall, they're entertaining... until they're not number 1 for the runway. If you've got to sequence them, watch out. And that's where our story begins.

There are two rules in play for this story:
  1. We have to sequence all traffic to Pensacola Regional, regardless of whether it's VFR or IFR. We can't just shotgun the tower with VFRs from all over the place while feeding them IFR's on the primary final.
  2. Pensacola tower's AOR (Area of Responsibility) goes up to 1700', so we own 2200' and above.
So, let us proceed.

The Situation: Overcast day. Reduced visibility. We are landing runway 8 using instrument approaches.

The Players: We have three aircraft inbound to Pensacola at the moment. From the west, we have an IFR Embraer 135 regional airliner descending for the GPS approach . From the northeast, about 20-25 miles out, we have an IFR light cargo hauler. And from about 15-20 miles to the southeast, we have Bob v2.0, another IFR light cargo hauler (who's from the same company as the other one).

The Plan: You can't beat a straight-in. The Embraer is hands-down #1. I'm going to put Bob on a right downwind to follow him and then put the other cargo hauler on the left downwind to follow Bob.

The part of Bob will be played by the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

The Embraer has been cleared for his instrument approach and is about ten miles out. I descend Bob to 2200 feet. and he's on a vector to join a 3 mile or so right downwind for 8. He's about five miles southeast of the airport at this point. Having worked a few of these light cargo haulers before, I'm pretty sure that he's going to want to jump in front of the Embraer with a visual. However, that's not going to work for us.

Well, Bob's closer to the airport and - as expected - calls us "Airport in sight." This implies a request for the visual approach. The Embraer is now on a four mile final. No way is Bob going to make it in ahead of him. So, I just say, "Roger. Fly heading 250, maintain 2200, vectors for sequence. You're following a regional jet on a 4 mile final."

Apparently Bob thought that by calling the field in sight, it automatically waived our need to sequence and separate from other aircraft. He immediately copped an attitude. "I have the airport in sight."

So I repeat, "Fly heading 250, maintain 2200, vectors for sequence."

"Ha-ha! Thought you were getting that visual, weren't you?"

Now he pulls out the next weapon in his arsenal. It's a well-used blade that has allowed him to cut through many an ATC requirement in the past.

"Approach, I'm canceling IFR at this time."

Nice try. Remember: we still need to sequence VFR aircraft. Regardless of whether or not he's VFR, his light piston is not going to beat our Embraer. And if he tries, within 30 seconds I'm going to get a call from our tower's landline with the ATC phraseology equivalent of "WTF, over?!"

So, Bob has swung his sword. We now parry with our own mighty blade.

"Roger, IFR cancellation received. Fly heading 250, maintain VFR at 2200."

Clang! His blow is deflected. Cancelling IFR has changed nothing for him. He still needs to be sequenced to follow that Embraer. He is still number 2 for the runway. And unless he gets him in sight - which he hasn't - we still need wake turbulence separation.

"Cancel THIS!"

Note: I'd like to stress at this point one thing I mentioned in my last "Bob" story: at no point are we driving him far out of his way or making him do anything unsafe or unusual. We are not "vectoring for controller amusement". We're merely vectoring him behind another aircraft in a manner that is safe and efficient. The plan was to wait until he was abeam the Embraer on the downwind and then clear him for the visual. He would have had maybe another two or three miles to fly, and then he'd be cleared.

However, now he drops another bomb: "Uh, I can't maintain VFR on this heading. It'll run me right into the clouds! And I don't have my IFR clearance anymore." He sounds very annoyed and has simultaneously confirmed our suspicion: he obviously cancelled IFR just to try and sneak in ahead of the Embraer. Apparently, however, he wasn't actually in tenable VMC conditions.

Well, well. That's a surprise. "Maintain VFR at or above 2200'. Climb and deviate as necessary. "

Got yourself in a pickle now, don't ya?

At this point, we're splitting off the position. While before, I was both East and West, now I'm just the East side. Since we're landing runway 8, I hand Bob off to the west controller. By now my instructor and I are already annoyed ourselves. We were just trying to work the traffic, and this guy was trying to play us for fools.

Since I didn't work Bob after we handed him off, I am not certain if the other controller recleared him IFR or what. I don't know. However, what I do know is that Bob went from being number two to land, to number three. Because of his stunt, he ended up being vectored out to the west a bit, and the other airplane from his company - who, I might add, heard the entire exchange on the radio - wound up being closer. The other airplane did not make peep and simply followed instructions without complaint.

"So, have you learned your lesson?"

Well, apparently he didn't.

Shortly after he landed, Bob had the gall to call the TRACON and complain. Our supervisor was on the phone with him for a long time - at least 20 minutes. To make a long story short, he accused us of trying to fly him into clouds when he was VFR, which was absolute bullshit. The second he told us that the heading would run him into clouds, we told him to maintain VFR and deviate as necessary. It was plainly obvious to everyone on our end that he'd tried to pull a shortcut and wasn't in real VFR conditions.

Difficult Pilots

I don't care how much of an asshole a pilot is - and I've worked a couple real pricks in my short time training - I will never consciously put anyone in danger. I don't care what attitude they're copping. My goal is to keep the operation as safe as possible - whether they like it or not. However, I find it especially ridiculous when a pilot puts himself into danger - such as canceling IFR in IMC conditions - and then tries to blame the controller.

Like yesterday, for instance, one of my coworkers had a Cessna that was doing work 15 miles north of Whiting NAS. After he finished in that spot, he wanted to work all of three miles northeast of Whiting. This would put him right in the T-34 departure path: a bad place to be when you're talking swarms of high performance military aircraft flown by student pilots. The area was also located within the tower's airspace.

The controller called the tower, asked for a point-out, and they told him unable - with good reason. He informed the pilot: "Unable request due to Whiting departures, remain clear of Class C surface area." Apparently the pilot got pissed off, even though it was for his own safety. With Whiting launching like crazy as they were yesterday, every single departure would have been a potential conflict and a traffic call. Simply not workable.

We're not trying to be pains in the butt and restrict people from flying around without justification. However, there are times where we simply can't accomodate a request. Usually the reason for the "unable" is the best one of all: safety.

As a nightcap to the story: On the good side of things, I've worked this post's Bob several times since that day, and he's much more cooperative than he was before.


Level 7,000 said...

Sounds like a Flight Express 210 or BE58 that was late and hates how slow those ERJ's get on a five mile final. If it's Ditto tell him to relax. Keep up the enjoyable writings. I used to fly 210's for them down in FL and now I am out of CPS. Nice to hear they are still flying the paint off the aircraft.

Wicked Penguin said...

Man, that's some funny stuff right there. Eight kabillion people on the internet, and it still feels like a small world.

Like I said in the post I know the light cargo guys are good and we try to accomodate them. But sometimes, you just can't give them what they want. And that's when things get ugly.

You should have heard the one time we had one going from PNS to Panama City along the coast. Right as he's departing, Eglin shut down the coastline to all IFR and VFR traffic. You could hear the resigned "Aw, f***..." in his voice as we re-cleared him overland via Crestview.

Anonymous said...

Great insight!

Anonymous said...

since that jerk off was able to see everything so well, I would have asked him to report the traffic on a 4 mile final in sight. Followed by, your # 2 for the runway. Maintain Vfr seperation. If he was unable. I would have vectored his ass back to the IAP and refiled his butt IFR. What a jerk.