Ep # 184

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Re: Ep # 184

Postby lucaberta » Tue May 18, 2010 3:37 am

OK Sven, maybe a little clarification is needed in order to get things right. I wanted to know if you flew IFR at all, or if you were a commercial pilot flying IFR in the flight levels at all for good reasons, let me explain.

All what you say is absolutely spot on, a good visual scan is imperative and having TCAS assist you in doing that is even better. Yet, TCAS did not help when a Boeing 767 and an Tupolev 154 collided at FL350 over south Germany in 2002:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2002_%C3%9 ... _collision

And as you've well seen and commented, the jetliner and F16 incident also happened, and again a failed transponder was involved, rendering both the jetliner TCAS and the ATC radar useless, and sheer luck made this just an incident and not an accident. Yet, in my humble opinion, the pilots did not do anything wrong, as in Class Alpha airspace you're NOT even required to be looking out for traffic, as ATC does it for you. Most of the times, not every time, as we've seen.

Heck, what if it was cloudy on the day and the jetliner and F16 did not have visual contact at all? They were both on an IFR clearance, though the pilots were mistaken in their assumption. But they were both following a clearance.

Now, if we're talking plain old piston aircraft IFR, it gets different, as most of the times you will be flying under an IFR clerance but within a class Echo airspace which by definition is open to both IFR and VFR traffic, so below 18000' you better keep an eye out and look for that VFR traffic! Yes, in most cases they will have a transponder with mode C, so ATC will call them to you, but in any case I don't know of any IFR-rated pilot who would not look out for traffic below 18000'. At least in the USA, Europe is a different can of worms.

In a nutshell, as gmarshall correctly points out, in the flight levels with the speed involved, visual scanning doesn't help much at all. That's why TCAS is so useful. So above 18000' quite frankly I don't see pilots doing much visual scanning at all. It would be a waste of resources, you'd need to focus the whole time and then during descent and approach, maybe after a 12 hours flight, you will be so darn tired that you might as well do something stupid, right when you don't need to be acting stupid.

IFR pilots spend most of their time checking that the aircraft is still performing as intended, with no weird gauges indication, and also trying to avoid the weather and turbulence for passenger comfort. It's ATC that keeps them away from other planes, so they are relieved from visual scanning when they are in Class Alpha airspace.

Sven, great idea on getting your instruments ticket! You will achieve much better handling of the plane even if you never fly under an IFR flight plan, and you will broaden your skills by far. In my opinion the IR ticket is the way to step up from a "simple" PPL all the way to how pros do it all the time.

But again, when flying IFR below 18000' and in visual meteorological condition, expect VFR traffic, so keep looking out! That's why safety pilots were invented! ;)

Ciao, Luca
Luca Bertagnolio, CPL/ASEL/AMEL/ASES/IR

US States I've overflown or flown in:

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Re: Ep # 184

Postby Sven » Tue May 18, 2010 11:59 am

Thanks for the excellent explanation, Luca. Recently I experienced a complete electrical failure on the way back from a short one hour hop. I was just south of Sacramento when I lost all radio contact. Thankfully I had a handheld radio but it wasn't powerful enough to communicate with my flight followers at ATC. What scared me most was that I was in busy airspace at 6,500 ft with no transponder. I knew I'd be able to talk with the tower when I landed but any other traffic in the area would have no idea what my altitude was. As it turns out two other twin engine planes came within 1,500 to 1,000 ft of me vertically. I did my best to maintain the same altitude in hopes that flight following would remember my last altitude. Believe me, even with so many important instruments not functioning (oil pressure and temp, fuel, etc.) I was most concerned about that transponder. Thanks again for the explanation.

Flying a Mooney M20D. One of only 3 fixed-gear Mooney aircraft still flying.

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