Trees, TERPS and Bilingual Lingo
Perhaps our litigious, lawsuit-happy society is to blame for the migration of carefulness into all aspects of our lives. With the plethora of scattered notes and cautions, even our instrument procedures can seem as if they’re written in a foreign language. But threatening cautions, warnings and notes usually appear after something malo (bad) happened to someone. Usually by someone not paying attention or not thinking lo suficientemente por delante (far enough ahead): don’t drink el cloro (bleach), don’t swallow anzuelos de pesca (fish hooks), and don’t put any persona (person) in your washing machine, or la mascota (pets) in the microwave oven. And that steaming cup of caliente coffee? That’s Español for hot, not the flavor. Have these types of low-IQ cautions made us so numb that we sometimes ignore warnings and notes? After all, do we really need to be told to keep our tongue away from a frosty (escarchado) flag pole or a running chainsaw from our sensitive body parts (lindas nalgas)? Luckily for us pilots, procedural cautions and notes are not as silly as these; they are foot-stomping, attention-getters that can prevent something bad from happening – if we read them.
Read ’em and Weep
As the above diligently researched (not really) bilingual examples often times imply, we are spoon-fed and coddled by manufacturers, the FAA and our mother in order to avoid shooting our eye out with a BB gun, burning our tongue on coffee, slicing our anatomy with power tools or flying into an obstruction with our airplane. Imagine how much more difficult it would be for us gringos if Aviation English was not the universal language on the radio and in our flying publications. Fortunately, U.S. in-flight publications are written in plain-old, El English-o. So then, if we are spoon fed the restrictions on ODP’s, SID’s, STAR’s and approaches, all in our native tongue, why then do we sometimes mess them up? Recently, one reason was addressed on a Beechcraft Owners and Pilots discussion board. The thread was about ATC clearances being issued despite the procedure not being “legal.” The case in point was an instrument approach, at night, to a runway in which the approach had been changed by a note that said the procedure was now “NA at Night.” A TERPS (Standard Terminal Instrument Procedures) review had determined that some trees had grown tall enough to become an official obstruction to night operations. The chart change had snuck by many users due to familiarity with the old procedure and an inadequate review of the new one. Most of the participants in the conversation believed, however, that it would be helpful if ATC would not issue a clearance to do an unauthorized thing such as this approach at night. An understandable desire because it’s easy to confuse an ATC “clearance” with an FAA “authorization.”
Leaders, Lemmings and Legality
The English language is replete with synonyms, antonyms, homonyms, homophones, homographs, heteronyms and words with subtle (potentially dangerous) and similar, but different, meanings depending on their use, context and intent. For example, a current English word-use that bugs me with ATC is this: “Follow the Citation, taxi to 17R via delta, foxtrot and bravo. Cleared to cross 9R.” Sometimes the “follow” means “go after” the Citation that is crossing in front of you and sometimes it means “follow them” to where they’re going, which may not be along the described route or even to 17R. What’s a literal, English-speaking piloto (pee-lot-toe) to do? If I follow ATC’s instructions literally, without context, common sense or a query to ATC, my 737 could end up at the FBO parked next to a Citation instead of at 17R. And by the way, the “authorization” notes on the airport diagram page likely say that the GA ramp is restricted to wingspans less than xxx and weight less than xxx – despite ATC’s “clearance” to “follow” the Citation. There may also be wingspan restrictions on the taxiways themselves headed to 17R that permit the Citation to take that route but not my 737. Other times it’s not the clearance, the authorization or the English language that is confusing; it’s the sneaky changes that occur every 28 days to previously familiar restrictions and notes – like those pesky trees that caused the night approach to become illegal.
In Lumber-Lingo: Size Matters
As PIC, there are a million “gotchas” lying in wait and it’s our job to check for any new ones each time we fly a procedure; especially one to familiar fields with familiar procedures because complacency will bite us in the nalgas (buttocks). An example of a chart change that snuck by some of us (i.e. me) was a recent change to the identifier, frequency and climb restrictions on the O’Hare Five Departure in Chicago. The ORD (Orchard Field) departure and VOR frequency had not been changed as long as anyone could remember (complacency). The old VOR was ORD/113.9 and the climb restriction on departure was 3,000 by 5 miles and 4,000 by 8 miles. I remembered and briefed the climb restrictions in nominal lumber-lingo as 3×5 and 4×8 (three by five and four by eight). The new name/frequency is GCO/108.25 and the climb restriction is 3,000 by 5.5 miles and 4,000 by 8.5 miles. Now, we all know that a modern 2×4 isn’t really 2 inches by 4 inches, but why’d they go and mess up an easy to remember DP (Departure Procedure) with dimensional lumber sizes instead of nominal? The change was less restrictive but this is not always the case and ATC may not be there to pry our tongue, or flying certificate, from the escarchado flag pole of a piloto deviation.
Since we’ve grown accustomed to being coddled while in U.S. airspace, or perhaps because ATC cleared the airplane in front of us to do the thing that we want to do, we may wrongly assume that all is well with the wind, the weather, the runway and therefore, that once cleared by ATC, the procedure is “authorized.” But consider takeoff minimums, our aircraft category and a Cat III ILS. If we are so inclined (and I am not), when operating under Part 91, a zero-zero takeoff is authorized—not true for Part 121. And, as part of a full standard weather briefing, not to incriminate one profession because of another’s actions, I once had a weather briefer needlessly give me, in my Duke, the NOTAM’s for a Copter ILS (helicopter category). On the other hand, if CAT III operations are in use at a busy airport, the sector controllers will often pro-actively query inbound aircraft to see if they are CAT III capable before allowing them into the terminal airspace— this is because non-Cat III participants would need to hold or execute a missed approach and thereby clog up the system. While a procedure may be loaded into our FMS database, we, our aircraft or the certificate under which we operate may not allow us to fly the procedure. Also, different crews operating under different certificates or FARs will have different weather, wind and runway requirements for both takeoff and landing. And this is the coddling-conundrum faced by ATC controllers in clearing us for a procedure. Neither ATC nor the weather briefer know the capabilities and qualifications of every crew and their aircraft. Just because the weather guy briefed the changes to the Copter ILS, it doesn’t mean that I can fly my Duke at 50 knots on final to a 100-foot DH, nor your Citation to Cat III minimums, nor a P-51 into known ice.
The Fed’s Razor Strap
I have sat in a line of 50 cars at a four-way stop near O’Hare as drivers tried to advance their position by driving past the line and then “pushing” their way into the sequence. The apocalyptic symphony of turn signals, horns and hand gestures was exasperating. In contrast, the other day traffic signals were out in several small towns between my house and the AZO aeropuerto. Without help from a traffic marshal, and in the dark, each intersection had been successfully transformed into a four-way stop by the drivers. As I navigated each of several intersections, it was refreshing to see the efficiency and civility of the drivers taking turns. Not only do rules, restrictions and notes keep us safe from obstacles, but following them makes our actions efficient and predictable. With tens of thousands of instrument procedures around the world, being flown by tens of thousands of pilots, we must all agree to update our pubs on schedule and before we fly them, to review each for applicability, authorizations, restrictions and changes. Because if we miss a critical note, or we fly a procedure that is not authorized, the Feds may take a razor strap to our nalgas making us wish that we had swallowed anzuelos de pesca instead.
Since familiarity breeds, well, familiarity, reading at least one or two departures, arrivals and approaches every day will improve our chart reading competency. The following link is to the FAA’s Terminal Procedure Publication. It’s 47 pages and makes for an educational and razor-strap-free review. Don’t fret, it’s in Aviation English: https://www.faa.gov/air_traffic/flight_info/aeronav/digital_products/aero_guide/media/editions/cug-tpp-edition.pdf.