Archive for November, 2008

ASR Approaches – a vanishing breed

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

One of the first things a pilot in trouble is trained to do is ask for help. Often, ATC is the lifeline for a lost VFR pilot or an IFR flight in distress by getting them to a runway. But sometimes they can’t help.

The Maryland State Police lost a medevac helicopter last month in some rapidly deteriorating foggy conditions. With two car accident victims aboard the helicopter was unable to land at the original hospital helipad and was diverting to Andrews AFB. The pilot, for reasons yet undetermined, was unable to receive the ILS and asked for an ASR approach. The controller on duty was not certified and no one else in the facility was able to help.

Long ago, our flight school used to take instrument students over to Andrews almost every evening when traffic was light to practice ASR and PAR approaches. In the era of faster, easier, cheaper it appears that the availability of such skills is dwindling.

But, as the excerpt from Air Traffic Saviors shows, there are still times and places where ASR skills would save lives.

“Great Lakes Region—On the evening of January 3, 2007, Detroit Tracon controller Patrick Eberhart noticed that a Beechcraft Bonanza inbound to Pontiac, Michigan, was off course in its initial approach. As the aircraft was being re-vectored to start the approach again, the pilot declared a fuel emergency and advised of a flight instrument malfunction. Eberhart cleared his frequency of other traffic and provided no-gyro vectors to the Bonanza, a procedure that hasn’t been used in Detroit for more than 10 years! It worked, and the pilot descended below the clouds perfectly aligned with the runway.”

Has anyone had occasion to use, or could have used, an ASR in the last several years? Is this something we should concede to efficiency or should the FAA should consider reinstating/ retaining ASR at more locations?