Incomplete Information

Incomplete Information

The morning sky was clear, I was enjoying a 50-knot tailwind, and I would soon be landing to pick up the passenger for the return trip. We would be back home for lunch. On such days, it was great to enjoy the freedom and flexibility of general aviation transportation.
The only annoyance was strong westerly surface winds; in accordance with the forecast, the ASOS report was 260 degrees at 19, gusting to 27. Oh well, I knew the airport had a runway 27 that would serve to ameliorate those conditions. I passed the descent-profile target at 20 miles and called the VFR-only tower. “Report downwind for 31,” I was told.
I fortunately restrained myself from requesting 27; I can handle it, says I, it’s not quite directly across 31, and the tower probably has a reason for assigning us the diagonal. After all, the Citation that passed me on a visual base made it in. I hustled into the downwind to keep spacing for a Twin Cessna reporting 12 miles out.
The battle was joined, and with artful concentration I planted the upwind gear and rolled out through the intersection, where the reason for the tower’s instructions became all too clear. Barricades and flashers blocked not just runway 27 but the taxiway as well. Who knew a major construction rebuild was in process?
“Who knew” should have been me. When I got the pickup call, I had a frenzied 45 minutes to plan the trip and get off. I self-briefed the weather, filed and fled, assured that conditions over the route were severe-clear. NOTAMs and fuel didn’t overly concern me; in any event, good alternate fields were 30 miles away, and I knew the area like the proverbial back of my hand.
In this age of on-line flight planning, having the luxury of briefers to assist in the required preflight preparation is almost past history. It’s up to us to discipline ourselves to dig through the digital pages, until we’re fully covered against surprises like my sloppy planning handed me. It’s not just the pop-up TFRs and runway closures that can endanger our flight. Fuel can be unavailable and parking can be saturated; I’ve experienced both in the past month. Smart operators will call the destination FBO after completing the initial filing, just to double-check facilities.
You and I know our responsibilities. But everyone gets in a hurry at times, assuming too much. Just because we’re accustomed to having the welcome lights on to greet our arrival doesn’t mean we can get careless. NOTAM acquisition isn’t always easy, but the information is out there, and we have a duty to check all pertinent data. If the wind had been a little stronger, my passenger would not have been pleased to have had to shuttle to the alternate.
Make sure you have ALL the information before you launch.
LeRoy Cook

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