ATC Question


New Member
I was wondering if you guys could give me your take on a problem I had last thusday night. I was doing several practice ILS approches between CNO and POC with my instructor. On the missed approach from CNO we were being vectored to the ILS at POC, ATC gave us missed approach instructions and then they changed controlers(not freqs just controlers). Then we were cleared for the approach and ATC said full stop. I told the controler we would like a missed. He told me contact the tower. Tower told us "cleared to land" again I asked for the missed, they said to continue. After about 30 sec, tower said the socal app couldnt do the missed because of traffic but that we could go missed and fly VFR to the west and call socal again. We did that. Tower told us contact socal on 125.5. My call was like this:
me: "Socal App N8091H IFR request"
app: "N8091H radar contact say request"
me : "N8091H PA28 3 west of POC would like ILS 26R at POC"
app: "N8091H I told you to make a full stop and you agnologed"
me: "N8091H tower told us we could go missed VFR and make a new request"
app: "N8091H It doesnt matter what the tower said I am working app, and I told you to make a full stop"

well, I didnt feel like arguing anymore so I just said if he couldnt do it then we would go VFR. He gave us vectors to the ILS.

In this case what should I have done? I thought that my last instructions for ATC(tower) is what I should follow. Is that not right?

A bit of good news, I passed my IFR check ride on Sat
Nothing wrong with what you did, up until the time you called Socal after your VFR missed with a request. Since Socal just told you (indirectly) that they were too busy to accomodate any more practice approaches, you should have accepted that.

When he told you "full stop", I think what he was saying to you is that he couldn't handle anymore practice approaches now (too busy). Perhaps he could have elaborated more, but he was probably feeling a bit behind at the time. (he's probably feeling like you felt on your checkride when the examiner failed some equipment just before final or the holding fix). Anyway, shake it off for now, and remember that the folks at ATC are human too, and when they get loaded up, they might be a bit short in explanations.

One technical point also... You said the controller told you "full stop". Normally, a controller will not give this to you as an instruction, but rather a clarification of YOUR intentions. If you were on an IFR flight, you ALWAYS have a missed approach procedure. If it was a practice approach while remaining VFR then the procedures can wander somewhat because you're your flight is not operating under rules of IFR.
Whenever you have a shift change during a busy portion of a flight (i.e. approach, climb-out, etc), things have the potential to get wormy. I usually like to play "pain in these guys' arses" until I'm absolutely sure that the new controller knows who I am, and what's going on. If you don't, things can get really, really nasty all at the same time.

Case in point:

About a month ago, I was flying from Southern GA up Calhoun, GA (KCZL). My route took me well east of KATL, over the TRBOW intersection, and then a few vectors until I was direct KCZL. Throw in lots of WX deviations and it made the trip pretty interesting. As I switched from ATL App to ATL Center, they started working me around weather and traffic until I was beginning my descent into the airport. I knew there was a small area of weather about 5 or 10 miles west of the airport, but I was comming from the east, and there were aircraft 5 minutes in front of me that got the visual from 10 miles out.

Well, at 6000 feet and 15 miles from the airport, I trusted that center was keeping me high for terrain (lots of it there), and I was pretty much IMC for the entire time, in and out of the bumpaluphagus clouds. But I needed to start getting down if I was going to take the visual. The MSA for the area is 4500 ft, and I'm certain that the MVA is at least a little lower than that. Well, I had an assigned heading, and I flew it, and asked at least 6 times for a descent for the visual. No answer. NOBODY was getting an answer!!! Then, a Delta jet checked in (burning he got an answer...
) and was told to stand by, because there was a shift change going on, and at the same time they were splitting one of the sectors since they were so busy. well, doesn't help me, as I can't see the airport, but I can get pretty good glimpses of a nice fat juicy buildup at 12 O'Clock!!! Wasn't quite a thunderstorm (the thunderstorm was about 3 miles behind it), but it was more than I felt like tangling with. So, no answer, nothing....and then a descent to like 2,500. Still no approach clearance. Now, I'm slowing down, pushing it down, and trying to get out of the clouds. I'm almost begging for an approach clearance, but I realized that it was too late to get down in time to make a "normal approach to landing". I was already set up for the localizer, and would have had no problem shooting it, but I'll take a visual if I can get it!!!!

About this time, the controller gives me another heading, and tells me to switch frequencies, and to have a good day. Hmmm...this is getting fun.....

Well, I check in on the new freq and request and immediate vector to avoid weather, and to get into that really clear weather that was over the airport (confirmed by another aircraft that was VFR and landing....), in hopes of a contact approach. By the time I worked myself into a position to fly something that looked like a pattern, the field was going to be close to minimums. I was ready for that...I had the I was shocked to hear the controller tell me, "Negative, we don't have enough radar coverage to help me out any further. I was "cleared approach, contact Georgia Radio ....blah,blah...". I was madder than two Texas longhorns in Alaska during a beef cooking conte....anyway...

My delima at this point was that I was in the weather, thunderstorms approaching, 4 miles (and increasing) on the Northwest side of the airport, well, below both the MVA and the MDA for the outbound portion of the approach. I wasn't scared, but I was "rather concerned". Hey, remember those downdrafts they tell you about? They're real. I eventually got turned around, climbed, and got established on the approach. I ended up shooting the localizer approach and broke out about 1,000 feet, but had less than 2 miles visibility.

So, here's my point. Stay on top of the game, and don't trust the controllers to keep you safe. They will to a certain point, but it remains your responsibility. If I had bugged them enough further out from the airport, I could have gotten vectored for the LOC approach, and landed before that weather moved in. If I had not bugged them for IMMEDIATE vectorsa and waited for them, I would have had to turn around and head for my alternate, or fly 20 miles north of the storm, climb and hold, and wait for that weather to move in.

The funny thing the time I pumped my gas and went to the little boys' room, it was I love this sport!!!
mtsu what a great post!

I bet you might "understand my pain" when I deal with ATC.

The more I am up there the more I realize they are human and the system is less than perfect. I study the system constantly so I can be immediately aware when something isn't right.

This is our goal my friends! Be so on top of the ATC system that we expect every radio call, and when one comes when we don't expect it, or doesn't when we do, then we are aware of a potential problem.

Take advantage of those "open ATC" programs when you can. Go visit a tower, approach, center if they are open to visitors. It's getting rare these days because of TSA (@$%#!) but it still happens.

If we understand what they are doing and vice versa, it can't hurt.
Very true. I visited the tower at Orlando Executive a little while back and learned a lot. They have a shadow program where you shadow a controller for 4 hours. Originally, I was doing to in order to finish out my WINGS requirements, but I had a lot of fun, too. If any other airports have this program, I would DEFINATELY recommend it.
Before 9/11 I had visited several towers(OXR, CMA and CNO) and one app control(Pt. Mugu, just north of Los Angeles) and its well worth the trip and time. But I its much harder now, thanks to our government protecting us.
John, I feel your pain completely!!!!

I actually had the opportunity to visit the New orleans Approach & Tower some years ago, and got to sit with one of the guys working the scope pretty much all morning, and then I hung out in the tower all afternoon. It was an awesome experience, and you get to see that they make just as many mistakes as we do. Most of the time, they're on top of the game, as are we. But the minute we let our guard down, we learn that Mr. Murphy loves flying too!!!
He did nothing wrong ... approach was getting pissy. That's all.

When he told you "full stop", I think what he was saying to you is that he couldn't handle anymore practice approaches now (too busy).

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If that were the case then it is ATC's responsibility to communicate that situation (not accepting any more practice approaches) clearly, concisely and correctly. It's not our job to try and second guess what ATC wants. Not accepting procatice approaches? Say it. On our end if we're unsure about something: ask!

Clearances change. Approach doesn't override tower nor does tower override approach. You last instruction is the one that counts.

This is just a case of Approach getting pissy and taking it out on you - but remember you're the one who has the ultimate last word. This is not to say we should go around doing whatever the hell we want, but we, as pilots, do have the last word in terms of accepting a clearance.
gee what would he say if you waved off, or did a ‘Go-Around....’

It took me a while to figure out how to work ATC, the problem I have often is the Approach to land at my home base requires ATC to close the airspace both in ABEs eastern area and EWRs western area, the idea is if you have to go missed you could cross in to the NY Approach traffic.

So last week I was vectored to the IAP and told Expect to hold, 3 mile legs, EFC 60 min.

NY would not clear me in to their airspace. The Holding pattern put me directly over my airport of intended landing, but the ceilings were about 900ft, so they couldn't (wouldn't) let me down.

I suspect, there is a pissing match between ABE and EWR, but I don't know for sure.

In any event I do two things to avoid this now. I file my ALT as the next airport INTO the NY airspace, and as soon as I get the hold instructions, I let ATC know that I am carrying EXACTLY the IFR minimum fuel, not a drop more. (even though I have usually another 3 hours of gas) the distance to my ALT is 4 min, so every 3 mile leg on the hold is killing my time in the air.....

So what do they do now?...

ME: Allentown, be advised I have 50 min left of fuel upon arriving at the IAP, with no reserve.

ABE: UMMM roger standby,.... Mooney 123 you are cleared for the VOR-7.

Thank you very much.