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Approach Airspace is Stressful


Andrew Grey
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I was descending into KPDX tonight on the TIMBR2 arrival. To get the ATIS I always type in:  .metar KPDX. The wind was out of the west at 6kts and I was set up for ILS28L. But when I brought up a KPDX controller's atis I saw it was showing landing east on ILS10R/L. I was about 50nm out so I changed up my FMC and other stuff for 10R which took a few. Around 30nm out, PDX approach beeped me to contact them so I did. He then told me he was landing ILS28L/R and wanted me on 28R. Now I had to scramble and re-set up for 28R, all the while getting calls to turn and descend. I ended up blowing the entire approach and told the controller I had to check out and sorry. I told him the runway change messed me up and he might want to check the ATIS. Right before I hit the disconnect, I thought I heard him say I was reading some other PDX controller's ATIS.

Anyway, I have been flying online since the SATCO days in 2000 and flight sims in general since '82, and approach controllers still stress me out. It seems like every time I plan for a runway, I get a-hold of the approach controller, and some other runway is now in use, causing a mad scramble to get re-set up for it. Under 10,000' and inside of 30nm is not really a good place to be dorking around with the FMC and having to change up everything. And it's kinda irritating not being able to get the runway from the center controller further out when they are online. I understand for realism and this is how it is in the real world, but in the real world we have a copilot in airliners.

I use VR also and that in itself is a struggle often times. The hand controllers don't work properly to quickly dial in frequencies and press buttons on tiny, blurry screens (in VR). And having the approach controller complicating things makes me just want to fly offline. I know it specifically wasn't that guy's fault last night and I'm not complaining about him (although some ATIS coordination between controller positions would probably help so multiple ATIS are not being thrown out there). I guess I'm not sure what the solution is to this, if any. I was just kind of wondering anyone else has thoughts on this. The difficulties of VR by yourself and online approach airspace is where the bottleneck is, I think. Maybe this will improve when VR and shared cockpits become more commonplace.

Edited by Andrew Grey
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Any reason you were waiting for a contact me? I would've contacted him right at 50 nm out. Especially if you were coming from uncontrolled airspace where you need a squawk. Had you been with Center, he would have given you the general landing direction together with descend via. 

If you type .metar KPDX you get the METAR, not the ATIS. For ATIS, type .atis KPDX_ATIS. 

Still, runway changes happen and I agree approach can be stressful for the VATSIM single pilot crew. 

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Runway changes can happen everytime, but you don't have to stress. As my mate Andreas said before, you can ask for delay vectors so you can setup your new runway parameters and others stuff. Even if you do a long haul flight, you can expect a runway and having to change it when you're coming to the airport. This is something that you can expect every flight you'll do. And the ATC is here to help you, he can't refuse to give you vectors!

Conclusion: do not stress, everything will be fine, it's a simulator !!!! 

Have a good day mate ;)

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Thanks guys. I'll take all of that into advisement. Delay vectors, I never heard of that or heard anyone requesting them. But I have not flown VATSIM very often in the past few years. But I am a lot more lately since I got a new system.

3 hours ago, Dace Nicmane said:

Any reason you were waiting for a contact me? I would've contacted him right at 50 nm out. Especially if you were coming from uncontrolled airspace where you need a squawk. Had you been with Center, he would have given you the general landing direction together with descend via. 

If you type .metar KPDX you get the METAR, not the ATIS. For ATIS, type .atis KPDX_ATIS. 

Still, runway changes happen and I agree approach can be stressful for the VATSIM single pilot crew. 

I wasn't sure where the airspace boundaries were with approach airspace. I can see center boundries on IFR enroute charts, but I am not aware of any charts showing approach airspace boundaries. I assume that it is normally about 30-40nm out. If I don't hear from them by 40nm, I usually contact them. Are there charts showing approach airspace?

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There are no charts, but 30-40 nm out is a good rule of thumb. In the absence of a Center controller, I'd contact them 10-15 nm earlier for the squawk and landing direction information (or you can shoot them a message asking for the latter).

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Although it's getting better, runway changes at busy terminal airspaces in the United States are very common - and they're plenty challenging for two-crew, professional pilots to handle. Places like KATL, KMSP, and plenty of others do runway changes very frequently, sometimes below 10,000'. There has been great advice given already, so I won't repeat it. A few other thoughts, though:

  • After two runway changes, especially provided it's not terribly busy, feel free to just request vectors to final (before or after the delay vectors). You'll still need to re-program the approach but at least you won't need to worry as much about the arrival. 
  • Definitely call early, especially when you're coming from an uncontrolled airspace into an area controlled only by Approach.

For VATSIM pilots, I recommend:

  • About 15-20 minutes prior to descent, use the text command to get the ATIS (.atis KPDX_ATIS) and see what's being advertised. If it's one runway, great. You can set that up now.
  • If there are multiple runways, use your best guess as to what's going to be used. As you get more familiar with the airport(s), you'll find out that certain runways are often used from certain directions. For example, not knowing KPDX's operation, coming from the south on the TMBRS arrival, I'd be setting up for Runway 10R/28L, unless the ATIS says something different. You want the setup done about 10 minutes before you start descending. 
  • If there is a subsequent runway change, do your best to manage it, but feel free to ask for help as you need to.

Given the challenges of flying single pilot, especially in Virtual Reality, when it isn't terribly busy, you could consider asking "Center, AAL3, have information K, are you able to advise the landing runway?" However, be aware that Center controllers won't always know the runway in use, because often it gets assigned later in the flight. Also, if you're talking to Boston Center but landing at an airport like KJFK, we probably don't have any more information than you do about what the airport is doing, since it's not in our airspace/area of coverage.

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Evan Reiter
Boston Virtual ARTCC/ZBW Community Manager

 

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I have encountered the very rare occurrence when the TRACON was vectoring me for one runway while the ATCT was advertising another on its ATIS. I went back and listened to the ATIS, double-checked the time, then I asked the approach controller to clarify. He called the tower up and realized his info was wrong and switched me and two or three others who hadn't said anything to the correct runway.

What's the lesson here? If you're getting conflicting info, as I did above, ask for clarification! I have found that more pilots allow themselves to get into trouble by not speaking up when something doesn't smell right.

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On 8/12/2021 at 11:54 PM, Andrew Grey said:

Under 10,000' and inside of 30nm is not really a good place to be dorking around with the FMC and having to change up everything. And it's kinda irritating not being able to get the runway from the center controller further out when they are online. I understand for realism and this is how it is in the real world, but in the real world we have a copilot in airliners.

It's not just because it's "for realism."  For airports using multiple landing runways, Approach is trying to spread the traffic evenly between them in order to get everyone in without having to hold or delay.  They're also trying to keep gaps in the arrival stream so that Tower can depart some planes in those gaps.  Unless the inbound traffic is especially light, it's not possible for Approach to accommodate each individual pilot's arrvial runway preference, particularly during events.

Example: at KIAD it's common to be landing on 19L, 19C, and 19R while departing 19L and 30.  However, if 75% of the pilots heading inbound during a busy night have 19L pre-set in their FMCs, Approach has to reassign many of them to 19C or 19R, or, has to ask the enroute controllers to delay or hold aircraft inbound for 19L while 19C and 19R go largely unused.  Stacking too many arrivals on 19L also has the effect of messing up the Tower controller who is trying to squeeze out departures from 19L in between its arrivals, but when the arrivals are coming every 3 miles, the line for departing on 19L is going to continue to stack up.  So yes, it's "for realism" but it's also "for efficiency" = "for avoiding delays".

When traffic is lighter it's generally a lot easier just to accommodate every pilot's preferred arrival runway.  My opinion, though, is that it's good to challenge yourself to be able to accommodate the controller's needs as much as possible (WITHIN REASON) so that you're ready to fly in events without becoming a disruption.  The more experience you gain, the more confident you should become in being able to be flexible and accommodating so that the guys in the arrival stream behind you don't end up in a hold.

Edited by Robert Shearman Jr
minor clarification
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Cheers,

-R.

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