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Question about UNICOM/Landing

Henry Wallace

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So I did my first ever flight on vatsim today (EGCC to LPPT) and it went great, however when I was descending there was center online but I never got a contact me. So I stayed on unicom and when I was on the base leg, the center controller disconnected. 

I presume the reason he did not send me a contact me was because he was wrapping up and didn't want to take on any new traffic. I turned final and another aircraft said they were landing on the opposite side of my runway. I didn't know what to do so I disconnected. 

What should I have done in this situation?

Thanks, Henry

Edited by Henry Wallace
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From: https://www.vatsim.net/pilot-resource-centre/vatsim-basics/important-rules

Important Rules

3.   Pilots need to check regularly whether they are flying through controlled (live staffed) airspace. Pilots shall ideally make contact with ATC before entering controlled airspace, or as soon as possible if a controller logs on while crossing through that controller’s airspace.  

4 hours ago, Henry Wallace said:

What should I have done in this situation?

You should have made contact with the controller.  This is a very old chestnut on the VATSIM network.  

However:  From the Code of Conduct"; section:

"B3(a) - Pilots shall monitor their flights at all times. It is the responsibility of the pilot to check for, and make timely contact with appropriate air traffic controllers. This includes making prompt contact when requested to do so."


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Quig, C3, P1, VATPAC, CZQM (inact), CZQX (ret).

4200+ hrs of "Chaos, Panic & Disorder in your virtual skies!"



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16 hours ago, Richard Quigley said:

You should have made contact with the controller.

Ok, I will do this in the future.

I had got the impression, from videos I had watched and forum posts I had read that you should just wait for a contact me message. Also, earlier in the flight, I looked on VATSpy and it said I was in London Center's airspace. So I checked in with london center and he said "you're not in my airspace, monitor unicom 122.8". So if I'm not sure, I should always contact them?


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Right, so even without all the rule-waving, it is the pilot's responsibility to initiate contact; contact-me's are really intended as "Plan B", for when...

  • ...the airspace structure is such that it is not obvious which controller a pilot should be talking to (this can be the case when, for example, multiple controllers are logged onto the same kind of position, e.g. two TWR controllers at the same airport; but also when sectors are subdivided in a way that isn't straightforward for pilots to understand, e.g. in the German FIRs).
  • ...a controller wants to assume control a flight before crossing into their airspace from uncontrolled airspace; e.g., I have been picked up by EDGG (Langen Radar) coming from EHAM while still on the SID, long before reaching the FIR boundary, when EHAA was offline - I presume this is because the controller's workload was low, there wasn't going to be a handover anyway, so picking me up earlier made everyone's lives easier.
  • ...a controller has just logged on, and doesn't want to wait for pilots to notice. With the pilot clients I am aware of, there will be no alert in-sim, or even in the client GUI, when this happens, so a contact-me is an easy way to attract the pilot's attention.

But the starting point is still that when you know (or suspect) that you're in controlled airspace, it is up to YOU to seek radio contact.

The other thing is that when you fly in UNICOM airspace, there is a number of things you can do to prevent conflicts like these long before they happen, including:

  • ...monitoring other traffic in the area. Use a VATSIM map, the radar view in your pilot client (if any), tools like vatspy, etc. etc.
  • ...announcing your intentions, and monitoring UNICOM for others' intentions. It's possible that the other person neglects to announce, but if one of you does and the other is listening, the conflict should still become apparent.

In general, it's best to assume that when no ATC is available, you, the pilot, become responsible for separation, so you have to do a bit of ATC work yourself. I like to mentally give myself clearances like a controller would: e.g., suppose I'm approaching my TOD, and there's no ATC, I'd think/say/mumble "Request descent, XYZ123", then I'd go check for traffic, and think/say/mumble "XYZ123, descend FL130" or whatever, and THEN I would initiate the descent. The moments where you would normally get a clearance (or request one) are typically the most critical checkpoints, so this is a natural way of checking for conflicts at critical points. And if there is traffic that might be affected, they are also points where announcing your intentions makes the most sense (e.g., "ABCD traffic, XYZ123 established ILS 01"). Of course there is no controller to resolve conflicts for you and call the shots, so you will have to negotiate this with one another, but IME it tends to work out fine in most cases.

Panic log-offs are definitely avoidable.

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  • Board of Governors

As with the above, I would highly recommend using https://skyvector.com/. While I think the data is somewhat limited outside the US, it has essentially all of the aeronautical charts that you could ever want, low, high, TAC, etc. These are actual charts and will show you the appropriate contact in which areas. Note that charts take into consideration that the frequency is staffed, but it should also give the facility name. Example, Potomac frequencies here in DC (https://skyvector.com/?ll=39.34945659919388,-77.48734267572173&chart=102&zoom=4)

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Unless otherwise stated, opinions are my own and not representative of the official opinion of the VATSIM Board of Governors

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On 7/30/2020 at 11:39 AM, Henry Wallace said:

What should I have done in this situation?

I’ll try and answer this question from the point of view of “what should I have done instead of disconnecting?”

First thing would be to initiate a go-around. If the other aircraft also starts to go around then remember to offset your flight path to the right to avoid a collision. After you are sorted in your climb out, attempt to establish contact with the other traffic (again assuming the other traffic initiated a go around as well) and sort it out over UNICOM from there. The only difficult part of this whole thing would be to make the decision to go around as you have very little time to make up your mind when you’re on final approach. As others mentioned it’s a good idea to announce your intentions over Unicom and listen carefully for others as well as using external tools to avoid this situation in the first place. Keep in mind this applies to all pilots on VATSIM, not just you.


Anyways hope this helps a little,


Josh Jenk

CZVR I1 controller


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