Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Pilot Procedures and Paperwork

Last year, I mentioned how paperwork has been virtually eliminated from the cockpit due to the iPad. But, when flying through the clouds, pilots still need the old pen and paper.

There are two sets of rules pilots follow when flying an airplane: Visual Flight Rules (VFR) and Instrument Flight Rules (IFR). In order to fly under VFR I need to be able to see a few miles and keep my distance from the clouds (the distances vary depending on the type of airspace I'm flying in).

A key limitation when flying VFR is that I am not allowed to fly into the clouds since I can't see who else might be in there. This problem is easily solved by filing an IFR flight plan since air traffic control will track me on radar and give me a specific route to fly.

Flying IFR is more complicated than the simple "see and avoid" technique used when flying VFR. For example, what do you do if you're flying under IFR in the clouds and you lose communications? (There are specific procedures to follow in this case – needless to say it's not a situation any pilot wants to find themselves in.)

Before departing under IFR I will file my IFR clearance request and then it will be issued to me just prior to taking off. It helps to know what clearance I'll be issued ahead of time since it's a mouthful to write down, as it's being issued, and then read back as you can hear in this simulation.

IFR clearance from San Carlos (SQL) to Carlsbad (CRQ).

To make things flow smoothly I jot down CRAFT (orange oval) in a column to remember all parts of the clearance:
C – Cleared to (usually my destination)
R – Route to fly (blue rectangle in photo)
A – Altitude to climb to
F – Frequency to switch to after departure
T – Transponder code to squawk so ATC can track me on radar

My notes from a three hour flight.
While it's perfectly acceptable to get an IFR clearance issued after taking off it certainly makes things more complex since I'd have to write all this down while flying the plane. It's much easier to do on the ground. Lightening a pilot's workload is the reason commercial airlines have two pilots (the captain and first officer).

Once I'm airborne ATC will usually guide me to fly a specific route until I'm established on my flight plan. It's handy to have ATC act as a second set of eyes looking out for my wellbeing. Occasionally, ATC will give me course adjustments to deviate for bad weather, traffic, or to shorten my route. If I have no course adjustments then the only thing I need to write down are new radio frequencies as controllers hand me off from one radar sector to another.

iPads are great but for quick notes, nothing beats a pen and paper.

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