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Arrival procedure - STAR/runway information provided too late


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Posted (edited)

I have just made my first flights on Vatsim the last couple of days. It has been mostly interesting and enjoyable experience so far. However my flight today has been difficult. It has been very busy day for ATCs and the STAR (without the arrival approach/runway) was provided to me just few miles before the transition waypoint. Then I have been vectored to the approach without knowing the arrival approach/runway so I could not prepare properly for the approach.

I have few questions regarding this situation:

- How frequent is to get the STAR just few miles before the transition waypoint? and not getting the approach/runway information while you are on the final vectoring to the approach?

- How do you fly the STAR in this case since the two aircrafts I fly on two different simulators (Toliss A321/X-Plane and CESSNA CJ4/MSFS) do not allow (to my knowledge) to enter in the FMS the STAR prior to entering the arrival runway [Edit: Actually You can indeed enter a STAR without entering the approach in Toliss, I learned thanks to the forum members - see  the answers below]

- How do you manage the situation when flying the STAR and the vector to the approach without knowing the arrival runway? Is there any specific procedure to follow? Can you request from  ATC to vector you in a way to get the time to enter and brief the final approach?

- Is it OK on Vatsim to request (un case of communication problem) from ATC to provide by message the name of the STAR and/or the approach

Sorry if some of these questions are too basic. I am still learning and feedback from Vatsim experienced pilots (or ATCs) would be much appreciated.

Sam

Edited by Samer HAJ HOUSSAIN
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Posted (edited)

This would not be Frankfurt (EDDF) you are referring to by any chance? It is common when it is busy at Frankfurt to not get your arrival runway until late on, even STARs can be issued late. 

How you managed a STAR without a runway - most good addon aircraft allow you to just input the STAR without the need for the runway, but if this is not case then you will normally have a good idea on what runways they are using based off the ATIS info, just stick one of the runways in, and this can always be changed on your FMC later on when ATC give you a rwy assignment. This can be a little daunting for a newer vatsim pilot, it just take practice and knowing how to operate your FMC well. Worst case if you do get lost is to request vectors from ATC, but I would advise try to doing it yourself via the FMC rather than reyling on ATC vectors, as this adds extra workload onto them.

Edited by marcus holmes
wanted to add more info
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Posted (edited)

I have made several flights since I started few days ago both in US and in Europe. 

I did Frankfurt and Roma the last couple of days it has ben great and ATCs were very professional. My flight's destination this morning was Athens. ATCs were indeed very busy.  But What I am interested in is how to handle this situation (along with ATC), not the reason for it.

 As to include the SID/STAR/Runways in the filed FP, I use simbreif to make initial plan then I upload the plan in xPilot/vPilot. The final plan has no SID/STAR/Runways (or it appears so). The reason for this is that those are determined by ATCs according to the real time situation. During my flight today  and in order to anticipate I looked to the ATIS information in the destination airport during my flight.  But this is of limited help in large airport where there are several runways/approaches  that are used at each moment. Anyway the final STAR/approach/runway were indeed different from those in the filed FP.

Edited by Samer HAJ HOUSSAIN
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Posted (edited)

In Frankfurt, if the ATIS says that they are using 25L and 25R for landings, consider 25L when you are arriving from somewhere in the South and 25R if you arrive from somewhere Northerly, concerning the STAR entry-points. For example, arriving via SPESA, you will land on 25L most likely. This way you can already set up your FMS and your NAV radios. If you need to information earlier, just ask ATC, if there is enough time and space on the frequency. ATC may simply forget about it, when they are really busy. Happens in the real world, too.

Edited by Andreas Fuchs
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Posted (edited)

 

On 5/2/2021 at 12:22 AM, Andreas Fuchs said:

In Frankfurt, if the ATIS says that they are using 25L and 25R for landings, consider 25L when you are arriving from somewhere in the South and 25R if you arrive from somewhere Northerly, concerning the STAR entry-points. For example, arriving via SPESA, you will land on 25L most likely. This way you can already set up your FMS and your NAV radios. If you need to information earlier, just ask ATC, if there is enough time and space on the frequency. ATC may simply forget about it, when they are really busy. Happens in the real world, too.

Thank you Marcus for you comment, very helpful.

In the Toliss A321 there is no way to enter the STAR before entering the Approach (to my knowledge and test)[Edit: Actually You can indeed enter a STAR without entering the approach in Toliss, I learned thanks to the forum members - see  the answers below]. So I had to fly the STAR  by hand, this was possible for me because it was just straight line with no altitude changes (one heading). However I was very worried about not having the time to brief the approach properly (checking the IF altitude, the NAV frequency, prepare for potential RNAV without vertical guidance, set the minimums, etc). 

Obviously if I were familiar with airport like @Andreas with Frankfurt it would have been different story.

From what you said I understand that is possible for me to request the approach information when I feel I need it to securely continue flying. I was not sure about that. This is certainly what I will do next time. By the way I think you were right ATC was so busy this morning that he missed to give me the information timely.

Edited by Samer HAJ HOUSSAIN
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Posted (edited)

Normally the runway to expect is given by Approach on first contact, or in the case of VATSIM top down control, you can expect it to be given around the place where you'd be handed off from Center to Approach. That is not to say that the runway can't change later, though. If you're not given the runway to expect (or a STAR) in a timely manner, feel free to remind the controller. With the STAR, if the frequency is busy, as others have said, make a guess about one of the parallel runways and program it in. With the runway, feel free to ask for more time / vectors to prepare for the approach. And yes, you can request to send the STAR name in the text or ask the controller to spell it letter by letter for you. 

Edited by Dace Nicmane
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9 hours ago, Samer HAJ HOUSSAIN said:

- How do you fly the STAR in this case since the two aircrafts I fly on two different simulators (Toliss A321/X-Plane and CESSNA CJ4/MSFS) do not allow (to my knowledge) to enter in the FMS the STAR prior to entering the arrival runway

Not sure about the specific flight sim developer, however if they have modeled it off the real systems, when you go to the arrival procedures page, specifically on Airbus, you LSK the destination then LSK Arrival, you land on the runway page, In Airbus if you push the ➡️ arrow you'll be taken to the STARS page, where you can enter a STAR with out entering an arrival runway, later on when you are given the runway by Approach, you can go back and enter that.

 

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Posted (edited)
10 hours ago, Dace Nicmane said:

Normally the runway to expect is given by Approach on first contact, or in the case of VATSIM top down control, you can expect it to be given around the place where you'd be handed off from Center to Approach. That is not to say that the runway can't change later, though. If you're not given the runway to expect (or a STAR) in a timely manner, feel free to remind the controller. With the STAR, if the frequency is busy, as others have said, make a guess about one of the parallel runways and program it in. With the runway, feel free to ask for more time / vectors to prepare for the approach. And yes, you can request to send the STAR name in the text or ask the controller to spell it letter by letter for you. 

This is indeed very clear and very helpful to know, thank you for it. I wish I could find few pages documentation describing those procedures, but may be I did not research enough.

As for the spelling letter by letter and/or texting, it was for the approach/runway (not the STAR), but I guess it is not different.  My lack of experience of listening to ATC talking very quickly and with strong local accent prevented me from identifying (with no doubt) the approach he was mentioning. But again he seemed to have been very busy.  Anyway the flight (along with input I am getting from you and other members) has been a very good lesson for me.

Although I can guess but may I ask you for a typical phraseology you would use for:

a) Reminding  the controller for the  STAR or the runway/approach

b) Asking for letter by letter spelling or texting the STAR or the approach name

I am very enjoying siming on Vatsim, and being able to share and learn from others makes the experience even more enjoyable. Thanks again.

 

Edited by Samer HAJ HOUSSAIN
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2 hours ago, Kirk Christie said:

Not sure about the specific flight sim developer, however if they have modeled it off the real systems, when you go to the arrival procedures page, specifically on Airbus, you LSK the destination then LSK Arrival, you land on the runway page, In Airbus if you push the ➡️ arrow you'll be taken to the STARS page, where you can enter a STAR with out entering an arrival runway, later on when you are given the runway by Approach, you can go back and enter that.

 

LSK destination, then LSK arival  and I get to the runway page, this is what I have been doing so far.

The missing part is the  --> So to move from runway page to the the STAR page.

I 've just tested it on the simulator (Toliss A321 / X-plan 11) : It indeed works.

Thank you a lot for taking the time to help.

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Hi Samer,

the "recipe" that I posted should work in most places. Some airports are using one runway for landings and another one for departures exclusively. The ATIS will mention this. Based on this you can insert the approach and arrival way before your top of descent and also perform an approach briefing. In case that there are two or three other possible landing runways, have a quick look at those approach charts and keep them readily available as well, just in case you get told to land on one of those. That's how we do it in the real world. Are you using any program or website to display the current status of ATC and pilots at VATSIM? Like VATspy, Qutescoop, Vattastic etc.? Through these services can check the arrival ATIS already way before you will be in range. Naturally, you should check the ATIS again when you are closer to your destination, just in case that there has been a significant change.

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25 minutes ago, Andreas Fuchs said:

Hi Samer,

the "recipe" that I posted should work in most places. Some airports are using one runway for landings and another one for departures exclusively. The ATIS will mention this. Based on this you can insert the approach and arrival way before your top of descent and also perform an approach briefing. In case that there are two or three other possible landing runways, have a quick look at those approach charts and keep them readily available as well, just in case you get told to land on one of those. That's how we do it in the real world. Are you using any program or website to display the current status of ATC and pilots at VATSIM? Like VATspy, Qutescoop, Vattastic etc.? Through these services can check the arrival ATIS already way before you will be in range. Naturally, you should check the ATIS again when you are closer to your destination, just in case that there has been a significant change.

Hi Andreas,

As soon (in my very limited experience) as I realized that ATIS a is available through Vatspy anywhere, I started using it all the time. Interestingly (strangely?) enough , ATIS of my destination that day (LGAV) mentioned only closed runways and not active runways for departure and landing as it is the case in general (to my knowledge)

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18 minutes ago, Samer HAJ HOUSSAIN said:

Hi Andreas,

As soon (in my very limited experience) as I realized that ATIS a is available through Vatspy anywhere, I started using it all the time. Interestingly (strangely?) enough , ATIS of my destination that day (LGAV) mentioned only closed runways and not active runways for departure and landing as it is the case in general (to my knowledge)

You can request ATIS, and controller information for any station on the network no matter where you are in the world as long as that position is online using a dot command, so if you are not in range of the ATIS or a controller, you can easily get that info. 

.atis <callsign>
Example
.atis LGAV_ATIS < This rill return a text ATIS for LGAV_ATIS
.atis LGGG_CTR < This will return the text controller info for the controller logged in as LGGG_CTR 

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1 hour ago, Samer HAJ HOUSSAIN said:

Interestingly (strangely?) enough , ATIS of my destination that day (LGAV) mentioned only closed runways and not active runways for departure and landing as it is the case in general (to my knowledge)

Well, it isn't the norm, but as LGAV has only 2 runways, the information is still sufficient to tell you that you should plan the other runway. I assume that you knew that already 🙂

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3 hours ago, Samer HAJ HOUSSAIN said:

Although I can guess but may I ask you for a typical phraseology you would use for:

a) Reminding  the controller for the  STAR or the runway/approach

b) Asking for letter by letter spelling or texting the STAR or the approach name

There is no specific phraseology, just use plain English. You can also ask the controller to speak slower. 

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Hi!

Regarding the "have to insert an runway prior entering a STAR/Transition/Apporach" - just select the runway you expect and in case you then get a different one you can still change it. Usually knowing the exact runway (for example for parallel runways) is not really needed more than 20 nm from landing - there is then still time enough to change in the FMS and potentially re-tune the navigation equipment if needed. In a lot of cases already the STAR itself will only lead to a unique runway so you know it indirectly already from that. At a lot of larger airports with a "director", "final" or "feeder" position the final runway selection will be done by this controller although you might be with several other APP controllers beforehand.
From the ATIS you usually know the general landing direction which should be fine until you really need specific information for the intercept of the correct runway - for that as I wrote usually the 20 nm (or roughly downwind abeam the airport) are easily enough.

Something I definitely would suggest is to make sure you are familiar with how you quickly change runways and/or approaches in your aircraft, so it's not a surprise when it happens. At busy airports with parallel runways it is very possible that you ask a controller very early for the runway and they will give you a "likely one" but later it will change as you might better fit into the stream on the other runway.

Cheers
Michael

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Thank you Michael for the input.

Changing the runway in the FMS and re-tune frequency is not the issue for me. What I feel I need to do in advance is to prepare properly for the approach in terms of IF altitude, descent angle, go-around, minimums, etc (based on Navigraph chart).  Obviously this is not so difficult for an ILS. It gets trickier for me when it is RNP/ RNAV (without vertical guidance), VOR/DME (I try to use the VOR navigation),  Circle to land, etc. 

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On 5/2/2021 at 1:38 AM, Samer HAJ HOUSSAIN said:

In the Toliss A321 there is no way to enter the STAR before entering the Approach (to my knowledge and test). So I had to fly the STAR  by hand, this was possible for me because it was just straight line with no altitude changes (one heading). However I was very worried about not having the time to brief the approach properly (checking the IF altitude, the NAV frequency, prepare for potential RNAV without vertical guidance, set the minimums, etc). 

Hi Samer,

You should learn how to manage the secondary flight plan. It's well implemented in the Toliss.

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10 hours ago, Samer HAJ HOUSSAIN said:

Thank you Michael for the input.

Changing the runway in the FMS and re-tune frequency is not the issue for me. What I feel I need to do in advance is to prepare properly for the approach in terms of IF altitude, descent angle, go-around, minimums, etc (based on Navigraph chart).  Obviously this is not so difficult for an ILS. It gets trickier for me when it is RNP/ RNAV (without vertical guidance), VOR/DME (I try to use the VOR navigation),  Circle to land, etc. 

 

If you are landing at an airport that is advertising an LNAV, VOR/DME, or other similar non-precision approach, it seems likely that the airport is only using one approach, which should be advertised on the ATIS. If there's no ATIS available, the radar facility providing approach control service should have the runway assignment for you. If that's the ARTCC or FIR, I usually wait until I'm within 60 miles of the airport to ask, if they haven't already told me what to expect; however, if the airport is served by a TRACON, you can expect the approach assignment on initial contact with that facility.

If you've briefed your approach and ATC assigns you a different one, then you certainly have the option to request your preferred approach with the controller, and if they can, they will accommodate your request. If they can't accommodate, then you should still have enough time to load and brief the new approach (it's helpful to have all charts available if you can. Skyvector or Airnav are good resources for US airports), but if you feel like you need it, you may also ask for a delay vector or a hold in order to get yourself set up to fly the new approach. Controllers are not mind readers, and if you don't tell us what you need or want, we might not give it to you.

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1 hour ago, Dustin Rider said:

 

 

If you are landing at an airport that is advertising an LNAV, VOR/DME, or other similar non-precision approach, it seems likely that the airport is only using one approach, which should be advertised on the ATIS. If there's no ATIS available, the radar facility providing approach control service should have the runway assignment for you. If that's the ARTCC or FIR, I usually wait until I'm within 60 miles of the airport to ask, if they haven't already told me what to expect; however, if the airport is served by a TRACON, you can expect the approach assignment on initial contact with that facility.

If you've briefed your approach and ATC assigns you a different one, then you certainly have the option to request your preferred approach with the controller, and if they can, they will accommodate your request. If they can't accommodate, then you should still have enough time to load and brief the new approach (it's helpful to have all charts available if you can. Skyvector or Airnav are good resources for US airports), but if you feel like you need it, you may also ask for a delay vector or a hold in order to get yourself set up to fly the new approach. Controllers are not mind readers, and if you don't tell us what you need or want, we might not give it to you.

Clear and precise description. Much appreciated.

Thanks for taking the time to answer.

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True, I forgot to mention this: when you are not ready for approach, then let ATC know. If your landing runway gets changed on short notice, you always have the option to state "we will report ready for approach", after reading back the new runway.

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Posted (edited)

In addition to the excellent advice above -- late runway and approach changes are something which happens, in real life perhaps even more so than on VATSIM, and they are part of the challenge of flying in to a busy, large international airport.

With that in mind, if I were briefing for an approach in to somewhere like Frankfurt I would consider this a threat. Threat and error management (TEM) is a major part of flying a modern airliner - just as important, if not more, than the mechanics of actually flying and operating the aircraft itself. What is a threat? Basically, it is anything which might "catch us out" for want of a better word and cause us to have to deviate from the original plan. Most accidents come as a result of crews failing to anticipate or getting caught up in a course of action which they are not prepared for with the result that errors occur and the aircraft ends up somewhere it shouldn't be. There is, therefore, a lot of emphasis on identifying potential threats and, most importantly, how they should be mitigated, at the briefing stage.

So in the brief, whilst we're comfortably in the cruise with our feet up, I will plan in the first instance for an approach to whichever runway I think is most likely based on the ATIS and experience (for instance, as Andreas says, if I am arriving from the north I might plan for 25R). However, having identfied the possibility of a late change as a threat, the question is then how can I best mitigate that threat and make sure that I am prepared to deal with it should it arise?

Well, a few things I could do -- I could load the approach for 25L in to the secondary flight plan, get the charts up and have them prepared in the clip in case I need them. Are there any significant differences that I need to be aware of? Well, a few:

  • 25R is much shorter at 2,800m - well, fine, if our landing performance allows us to land on 25R we'll be fine on 25L as well, so no need to redo that
  • The missed approach routes are different as we would expect but they both climb to 5,000ft so that's the same either way
  • There's a 10ft difference in the CAT I DA - i mean, probably going to be completely irrelevant but we'll just make a note of the DA for 25L
  • The taxi routes are different - if we get 25L we need to vacate right instead of left and the big threat here is that we will have to cross 25C so we need to make sure we don't accidentally enter 25C after vacating!

Otherwise - basically there's nothing major that leaps out, so if we get switched to 25L at a late stage I will:

  • Activate the secondary flight plan
  • Bring up the 25L chart and confirm that we have tuned and identified the correct ILS
  • Bug the 25L DA
  • Remind myself that I need to vacate right after landing and hold on M probably until I get further instructions.

(and I would probably verbalise the above as part of the brief as well).

Job done - and mostly all sorted out at a time of low workload in the cruise!

Something else just to mention - listening to transmissions for other aircraft is also very important in terms of building and maintaining your situation awareness (SA) -- so if I'm coming down the arrival and I'm hearing other aircraft being cleared for the RNAV but I've briefed the ILS, I'd be thinking that now would be a good time to find the charts for the RNAV and perhaps get that ready in the secondary if need be. Again, it's about building that SA so as to get ahead of the game in terms of workload management.

Ultimately, as Andreas says, the final level of mitigation is to make more time by asking for a hold/longer vectors/a longer final etc to allow us to get set up. Obviously from a commercial point of view we want to try and avoid taking more time and burning more fuel than we need to which is why there is so much emphasis on trying to get ahead of the game, anticipate any potential changes and get ahead of them so as to avoid this but ultimately from time to time even the best laid plans can be blown up by something totally unpredictable, and if I am presented with a genuine last-minute surprise that I don't feel I can adequately deal with in the available time/distance to go then that is always the preferable option to getting rushed in to something that I'm not ready for.

Edited by Simon Kelsey
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