Air Traffic Controller Discussion With a Global Perspective
By Pedro Rodrigues 1377186
#508577 I've recently joined VATSim, and I am having a blast a it, really cool. I see most people there use big airliners, basically most people use an RNAV capable aircraft which the aupilot can operate from.

I not really a fan of that, I am more into understanding the basics, before using more advanced stuff.

Even in the real world arriving at a busy airport with light aircraft is no funny thing, it is stress full for the pilot, it is out of routine for the controllers, all and all it is not something everyone is looking forward to happen. That is why is not uncommon for a GA pilot to contact the airport some time in advance to basically trying to get is 'pre-approach' clearance, if you want.

This is very normal to happen, and facilitates a lot for everyone. If an approach controller clears you to approach via the STAR XXXX in an RNAV capable aircraft you just punch that in the FMC, with GA aircraft I would have to understand the VORs to track, which radials, which DME read outs to execute turns at, and all that confusion. Honestly, some airports have procedures my aircraft can not do, like navigate to a waypoint that is given by the distance between DME stations, I can't do that.

All and all my question is, is there a way for me to contact controllers an alert them of my arrival in advance (maybe even the day before)?

More on that, I understand that for controllers is much easier to deal with a RNAV capable aircraft, but at the same time I would assume the routine of such operation could jeopardise the interest of those involved (this is hobby after all). So from my perspective would be a cool thing, to break the routine, but still I may arrive in a bad timing.

I asked this, because I've recently travelled to Geneva and was expecting full ATC coverage there, but since Swiss ATC had listed on their site's booking area their schedule, they had unsual volumes of traffic there, and understandably, I was causing a bit of trouble I've noticed (first time I was requested to hold on a light aircraft, which BTW if the controller is reading: sorry for not executing the standard holding patterns, I had a lot to plan for that landing, so I decided to just do 2 min circles instead, sorry about that freq was too busy).

Other thing I've noticed, controller tend to change my flight plans to VFR. That has been causing some confusion for them, I'm VFR just not FMC and autopilot based.

Really appreciate any help you can give, I started a journey around europe, and I'm finding quite stressful for both me and controllers when we have to interact, but I would love to reach a good cooperation level in order to eliminate any stress for any part, as opposed to not interact with ATC which is not the point of flying on VATSim).

Sorry for the long read.
By Bradley Grafelman 1242018
#508586
Pedro Rodrigues 1377186 wrote:with GA aircraft I would have to understand the VORs to track, which radials, which DME read outs to execute turns at, and all that confusion.

You mean with some GA aircraft. The (growing?) number of GA aircraft with at least GPSes (but even including FMSes) is certainly not insignificant I would say.

Pedro Rodrigues 1377186 wrote:All and all my question is, is there a way for me to contact controllers an alert them of my arrival in advance (maybe even the day before)?

No; mostly because there is really no point in doing so.

Pedro Rodrigues 1377186 wrote:More on that, I understand that for controllers is much easier to deal with a RNAV capable aircraft

I don't know about the "much" part. It's at least slightly more convenient for a controller, sure.

To some degree, I think you're exaggerating the differences between RNAV and non-RNAV capable aircraft (for both the pilot and ATC).

Pedro Rodrigues 1377186 wrote:Other thing I've noticed, controller tend to change my flight plans to VFR.

I doubt the majority of controllers would just look at a/c type and assume the flight rules. This sounds more like an isolated issue that warrants feedback in order to get the proper training to the controller(s) in need of it.
By Pedro Rodrigues 1377186
#508589
You mean with some GA aircraft. The (growing?) number of GA aircraft with at least GPSes (but even including FMSes) is certainly not insignificant I would say.

Ok, my bad there. Not specifically with GA aircraft, rather with the equipment I have on board, which is stated on the flight plan. (But I think you got my point)

No; mostly because there is really no point in doing so.

I have to disagree with you here. Sure if the airport is not busy, which most aren't at VATSim, there is no point. But you can be sure, every busy airport in the world would thank you for letting them know in advance you're to land there. Since I am planning to fly on an event day, that would be wise.

To some degree, I think you're exaggerating the differences between RNAV and non-RNAV capable aircraft (for both the pilot and ATC).

Might be so.

I doubt the majority of controllers would just look at a/c type and assume the flight rules. This sounds more like an isolated issue that warrants feedback in order to get the proper training to the controller(s) in need of it.

I'm actually quite sure that is what happen, even more now. Just wanted some feedback, thanks.

Anyway, thanks for your reply. I will keep flying.
By Bradley Grafelman 1242018
#508590
Pedro Rodrigues 1377186 wrote:But you can be sure, every busy airport in the world would thank you for letting them know in advance you're to land there. Since I am planning to fly on an event day, that would be wise.

What is it you think the advance notice would do? What would it change?
By Josh Glottmann 1275389
#508592
Pedro Rodrigues 1377186 wrote:But you can be sure, every busy airport in the world would thank you for letting them know in advance you're to land there. Since I am planning to fly on an event day, that would be wise.

I agree with Brad here. Controllers should be able to handle both non-RNAV aircraft and general aviation aircraft, even during busy events. From their perspective, it might mean vectoring your for the tightest possible final, or, simply putting you on a visual approach behind a jet (assuming that's allowed where your flying - usually not allowed in Europe). If you told me during an event (and that's assuming you message the right approach controller :mrgreen:), I would say, "ok," and just keep on controlling. With all the other traffic that's happening during an event that can't be predicted, it's almost impossible to determine the best way to handle a non-RNAV GA aircraft until you're working it.
By Don Desfosse 1035677
#508600
Pedro Rodrigues 1377186 wrote:I've recently joined VATSim, and I am having a blast a it, really cool.

Welcome! I'm sure you'll find that we all agree, it is really cool!

Pedro Rodrigues 1377186 wrote:Other thing I've noticed, controller tend to change my flight plans to VFR. That has been causing some confusion for them, I'm VFR just not FMC and autopilot based.

I'm curious why you're making this statement. Out of curiosity, I went back and looked at every flight plan you filed, and in exactly zero cases did in the controller change your flight plan type to VFR. Didn't happen.

Pedro Rodrigues 1377186 wrote:I have to disagree with you here. Sure if the airport is not busy, which most aren't at VATSim, there is no point. But you can be sure, every busy airport in the world would thank you for letting them know in advance you're to land there. Since I am planning to fly on an event day, that would be wise.

Not on VATSIM. As a small GA aircraft, you might experience some delays at or be sent to a different runway, but because we do not do aircraft planning for ATC, there is no way to capture your "reservation". As in the real world, any of our controllers that are working large events are trained to handle both large and small aircraft, and how to fit everyone in. Granted, they may not get a lot of practice, and may make a couple of mistakes, but you are certainly able to fly in to large events in a small aircraft if, and this is important, you know what you're doing and respond to ATC commands accurately and quickly. If you're not quite up to the level of proficiency to do that, you might choose to fly in smaller events first until you can do so.

Josh's comment above is spot on. Again, welcome!
By Trent Hopkinson 812681
#508783 Step 1: File an IFR flight plan
Step 2: Receive IFR Clearance
Step 3: Be capable of flying what you filed.
Step 4: only accept clearances you are capable of, and which safely get you where you need to be.
Step 5: make requests for the things you want to change.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yrnrz8emQFw

Here's a video of me sitting right seat of a Cessna C172 flying IFR to an ILS approach. The (real world) ATC asked if we could fly a visual approach (an IFR procedure by the way!) and we declined because we actually wanted to fly the ILS, not just because of cloud (the cloud base was high enough for a visual approach).

An ILS in this case required a slightly higher workload from the controller (Vectors to the ILS intercept, instead of just dropping us in the vicinity of the downwind and letting us contact tower at will). - Notice how he asks for clarification as to why we have asked for an ILS. "Is it to get below the cloud? or for other reasons like IFR Currency training?" - almost like you can hear the controller suggesting "I'm busy and it would be easier to give you a visual approach, also the cloud base is much higher than the forecast suggested, like, 8000ft high, instead of 2000ft. It'd be awesome if you could be less needy, cos it's really busy today :P

- Note that the ATC was too busy to turn us onto the intercept exactly on time, and apologized for getting us turned to intercept too late to avoid passing through the localizer. There simply wasn't any gaps to make the transmission at the 'right' time.

Remember: a Visual Approach is an Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) procedure, not a Visual flight rules procedure! it just means that the ATC has to make less transmissions to you, by handing off navigation responsibility to the pilot flying.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visual_approach

ATC rarely look at the flight plans of aircraft they aren't handling. Once you file the plan, the delivery/ground controller will likely take a look with the expectation that they may be talking to you in just a few minutes. "Something that will happen in 3 hours" is one of those things that are irrelevant. Don't be so needy as to think pre-filing your flight plan 24 hours before your flight will be useful for anyone.
By David Zhong 1027224
#508832
Trent Hopkinson 812681 wrote:Remember: a Visual Approach is an Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) procedure, not a Visual flight rules procedure!


When you've been told to "join upwind, maintain 1500" as a VFR, how do you suggest that ATC release you from 1500 other than to say "cleared visual approach"?
By Bradley Grafelman 1242018
#508835 "Cleared to land", "Resume appropriate VFR altitudes", "Maintain VFR". Any of those three would do it (although the second would probably feel awkward if you're still in the pattern).

If I was flying VFR and was told "Cleared visual approach", I'd query the controller to ensure both that the instruction was intended for me and that the controller was aware I'm VFR.
By Simon Kelsey 810049
#508843
David Zhong 1027224 wrote:When you've been told to "join upwind, maintain 1500" as a VFR, how do you suggest that ATC release you from 1500 other than to say "cleared visual approach"?


In the UK at least (can't speak for anywhere else) you wouldn't be given a hard 'maintain xxxx ft' as a VFR flight: for the same reasons that ATC cannot vector VFR, ie the pilot is required to maintain VMC and a radar controller has no way of ensuring that when vectoring (not to mention that ATC generally do not provide any separation for VFR flights and so the pilot is also responsible for seeing and avoiding).

ATC may ask you to maintain 'not above' (or I guess theoretically 'not below' but I don't think I've ever heard that one) a certain altitude and they may ask you to operate north/east/south/west of (significant point), but they will not give you hard headings and altitudes.

In your example of an aircraft joining the circuit to land, the exchange would be something like:

'Bigtown Tower, G-ABCD Cessna 172 5 miles north, request airfield information and joining instructions.'

'G-CD, join right downwind runway 24, circuit height not above 1000ft QFE 1003.'

'Join right downwind runway 24, not above 1000ft QFE 1003, G-CD.'

'Right downwind runway 24, to land, G-CD.'

'G-CD roger, number two to a PA28 on base leg, report final.'
By Simon Kelsey 810049
#508849
Bradley Grafelman 1242018 wrote:
Simon Kelsey 810049 wrote:ATC cannot vector VFR

Wait, what? That's actually a limitation in the UK?


I can't think of any occasion where it would happen, that's for certain. I'd have to check the books to be certain as to whether there was a hard limit, however.

As I say - in practical terms, how can you radar vector an aircraft that can't fly in clouds that you can't see (as a radar controller) and that you are not responsible for separation (in Class D - and as we don't do class B in the UK and the C is above FL195 in practice D is the only CAS where a controller is going to be speaking to your average VFR flight)?

As I say, inside CAS it will be a radar control service, ATC will certainly issue 'softer' instructions (not above etc), and can impose clearance limits (zone crossers at Gatwick, for instance, will often be instructed to remain north of the north terminal until they are classed to cross), route via a particular point or VRP etc, but I don't think I've ever known a radar heading be issued to a VFR aircraft. I am prepared to be corrected though!
By David Zhong 1027224
#508851 My question, was of course, rhetorical, but interesting to see the variety of replies from overseas!

In Australia, at least, "cleared visual approach" is used frequently for VFR aircraft. Hard levels can be given and the onus is on the pilot to advise "unable", although generally radar controllers will issue "not above" or "not below". It is usually tower controllers managing aerodrome traffic that will issue hard levels given that they don't have many levels available to use.
By Trent Hopkinson 812681
#508859
David Zhong 1027224 wrote:My question, was of course, rhetorical, but interesting to see the variety of replies from overseas!

In Australia, at least, "cleared visual approach" is used frequently for VFR aircraft. Hard levels can be given and the onus is on the pilot to advise "unable", although generally radar controllers will issue "not above" or "not below". It is usually tower controllers managing aerodrome traffic that will issue hard levels given that they don't have many levels available to use.


Meanwhile "Cleared for visual approach" is not the same as "IFR flight plan is cancelled, squawk 1200, join downwind"
By Dace Nicmane 1313735
#508865 The OP didn't clarify what he meant by "changed my FP from IFR to VFR", but I think Trent's explanation (that he was given visual approach) is very probable, though I myself would've never thought of this!