Two reasons prompted me to write this…
a. Due to Friday Night Flight SoCal was very busy yesterday and at a given moment San Diego had 27 inbound and another 12 aircraft on the takeoff queue
b. One of the pilots that was inbound wrote me a PM complaining about a few things, I clarified the situation with him and hope he now understands - but figured other people may have the same questions / misconceptions.
Busy airports are fun for everyone, but it can also become boring and frustrating if you are sitting in the queue for 15 minutes or if you are sent on a go around once or twice. Tower and Approach controllers work together trying to get you in and out as quick as possible - the windows are tight so we need everyone to make their part so it’s an enjoyable experience.
So bare with me… this will be long. Most of the tips I will give apply to any situation (busy or not busy) but the more traffic, the more important this tips become…
APPROACHING a busy airport
When airports are super busy more often than not the approach frequency is also open, so here is what you should do:
1) Follow instructions closely, do not wait to HEAR your approach instructions - when frequency is busy it may take a while for the audio with your instruction to be heard - this may screw up sequencing and spacing - always pay attention, read the instruction, acknowledge and execute.
Extra tip: Think about a car GPS - when it tells you “turn right” if you wait 30-60s to turn right - well… you already lost your way. Same here, if you do not follow approach vectors right away you are turning towards the wrong direction.
2) Do not switch to tower frequency unless instructed to. Cleared for ILS approach does not mean clear to change frequencies.
3) When instructed to switch to tower frequency:
a) If approach controller requested not to exceed a certain speed - continue to do so, do not speed up.
b) The approach controller spaced you - keep the same space between you and the aircraft ahead throughout final, if you think there’s a lot of room - that space between you and the aircraft ahead is there for a reason. Unless tower issues a command otherwise, it’s your responsibility as a pilot to maintain the separation.
c) Contact tower saying you are on the ILS for a SPECIFIC runway - do not just say “inbound for landing” - tell us which runway approach vectored you to - in airports with multiple runways it’s not always obvious to us which runway you have been vectored to.
d) NEVER request a runway different than the one you have been vectored to. And I do mean NEVER in its literal meaning.
Tip: if for some reason you want to change runways after you have been handed over to tower, request Inbound for the runway you have been vectored to, once you get a response back then request runway change. If tower is able to accommodate your request, they will.
ON SHORT FINAL
There will likely be an aircraft lined up waiting for departure or on takeoff roll. Starting with the “don’ts”:
a) Do not panic
b) Do not report your position to tower saying you are on final - unless you think something is wrong (which never happens, we IFATC are never wrong, take note). Just kidding, we obviously make mistakes, but in general do not report position, it just clutters the frequency. See my other post about “reporting position” here - https://community.infiniteflight.com/t/reporting-position/92658
Here is what you should do:
a) If it looks like a close window, maintain slowest practical speed
b) You are free to call a go around, but typically the tower controller has one eye on the runway, another eye on you - trust the ATC controller - we got your back (most of the times, anyway).
c) If told to go around - go around! Thrust up, retract flaps, climb… go around is not a 360, you typically have to go back to the end of the approach line… do not turn right back into final, that may grant you a ghosting.
As far as the outbound traffic has LIFTED OFF before you cross the runway threshold - we are all good! But you are the pilot, if you don’t feel comfortable with that - call a go around yourself.
LANDING and GETTING OFF THE RUNWAY
When you are landing another aircraft is likely lining up for takeoff and another aircraft is on short final behind you so your collaboration is KEY
1) Slow down normally… but keep an eye on the taxiways (I always switch my view so I can properly see the taxiways)
2) You will be told to exit runway left/right, please expedite.
a) Pay attention to left/right commands - and turn accordingly. Let’s say you really want to park left of the runway but ATC tells you to exit right. Please exit to the right - there is a reason behind every command we issue. After you exit we can figure out a way of getting you to where you want to be.
b) EXPEDITE - that means do not come to a stop on the runway, continue your arrival roll at a decent speed (30knots+) and exit the runway as soon as possible
c) Do NOT contact ground before exiting the runway, focus on getting out of the runway first, stop then contact ground.
3) Exit the runway means - get your ENTIRE aircraft off the runway.
Now let’s move to the people trying to get out…
WHILE on QUEUE…
“Taxi to runway 27, contact Tower when ready”. What does that mean?
a) Taxi to runway 27
b) Do not switch to tower frequency until ready for takeoff
c) Do not request frequency change, you are already cleared to change to tower frequency when READY (for takeoff).
d) Do not request takeoff if you are not 1st in line
WHEN 1st in line
1) Request takeoff (I will not rant about “remaining in the pattern”…). I know this sounds obvious - but it is not. Do not overlook this, I mean really - request takeoff - there’s a short window for you, if you sit there without requesting for takeoff you may miss it and you are affecting everyone behind you.
a) Do not request takeoff more than once - that will not get you out of there faster.
b) If told to line up and wait - move. There’s no “Line up and wait, please expedite” - but you can see the airport is busy so…please expedite
c) If told to takeoff immediately that means you will get onto the runway at a decent speed, you will not stop and you will takeoff at a decent thrust level (80%+).
That’s it! That’s how to have an enjoyable experience at a busy airport / airspace :)
If you are lined up and waiting tower can clear you for take off as soon as the arriving traffic is off the runway OR the outbound traffic has lifted off - note - lifted off. We (and you) do not have to wait for the aircraft ahead to be at a certain distance. Obviously we use common sense, I am not clearing a 737 for takeoff just when a Cessna lifts off - we will give it some time, but in general - on busy days expect to be cleared as soon as the aircraft ahead is off the ground.
If you are holding short we may clear you even before the departure has lifted off, because it takes time for you to read the command, acknowledge, move onto the runway and be ready for the roll - again, as far as the outbound traffic has lifted off before you start your takeoff roll - we are all good!
Thanks for reading. Post questions / comments / corrections below or PM me - I am happy to help. Happy flights!