All too often pilots find themselves getting behind at critical points during a flight. Often times this is due to something happening out of the pilots’ control, but sometimes we do it to ourselves!
One of the most common times pilots find themselves not “as far ahead of the airplane” as they’d like to be is when they are approaching their destination and suddenly they are just past the Top of Descent (TOD). TOD, of course, is where in a perfect world the pilot will reduce power, lower the nose and begin a cruise descent towards the destination, beginning the meticulous energy management proposition which will end with a beautiful landing. But back to blowing by the TOD… Air traffic control is busy with instructions for various aircraft, and it doesn’t help that the pilot realizes they don’t have the current conditions for their destination! To recap, the point to start the descent is past, the current conditions at the destination are unknown and it’s tough to get a word in edge wise on a busy frequency… Not a great situation!
How does this happen? The cruise portion of the flight is where the pilot is generally at the most relaxed with a low state of alert, monitoring the flight, but not as active as during the takeoff or landing phases. Thinking “there is plenty of time” happens to people in all walks of life… Sure enough, as if planned, the controller who is providing flight following and advisories is seeing a higher workload, making the situation more difficult. As the time to descent lessens, the plan for arrival crosses the pilots mind and that is when it is realized, “gee I don’t even know which runway they are using down there…”
So how do we avoid this? Well, it’s pretty simple!
- Prior to departing for the trip, during the planning stage, pick a point as the “get info by here point.” This will ensure the current conditions (ASOS/AWSOW/ATIS) are known before they are needed and it will be a part of your plan. This will ensure you hold yourself accountable.
- When you get to the “planned point” to get the conditions, or even prior, call the controller and ask to switch frequencies for 5 minutes or less. The controller will take a look and provide any traffic updates then ask you to report when you’re back on the frequency. This approach is much better than trying to use the radio technology to your advantage and listen to the weather at the same time as the approach control frequency… You will be able to focus on the current conditions, without interruption and ensure you’re mentally prepared. Then, when you switch back to the controller’s frequency you can announce that you’re back and you’ll be ready to start your descent and ready to report field in sight and switch over to the tower or local traffic frequency.
-Fly Safe, @MTElia1B9