Too Complex or Slow Down?

January 2, 2013 by Bruce Landsberg

I came across an interesting ASRS (NASA) report from a bizjet pilot who felt a bit overwhelmed by the complexity of reprogramming arrival or departure procedures.

With his Flight Management System, he notes:

I fly Garmin, Honeywell, and Collins products and the problem is the same for all of them. For takeoffs, we do not find out the runway we need to load until we have all engines running (a waste of fuel) or, if they change runways, we have to stop taxiing to re-program the FMS. For arrivals, we do not find out the landing runway until we are in the descent mode and should be heads outside, but instead, we are once again programming with our heads down.”

I’ve felt there are times when ATC really doesn’t allow pilots a lot of time to sort things out, especially for single pilots flying sophisticated equipment at moderately high speeds.

Outbound this shouldn’t be a huge issue because the aircraft on the ground can be stopped and things can be reloaded. I believe that all aircraft with an FMS should have ground power or clearance delivery capability that allows one comm radio and the ability to load flight plans and DPs before engine start. ATC should know enough about what’s happening to be able to predict the departure runway 15 minutes in advance unless the wind changes drastically.

Arrivals are a bit more complex, but is it possible to get the word out sooner? I start listening to the ATIS probably beyond the normal service volume, but getting it when well outside the busy place sometimes helps as long as ATC isn’t too fickle. Maybe the equipment should be easier to program? I’ve often thought if flying single-pilot to a busy place with the weather down, it would be nice to program the arrival and approach once, and then just manage the aircraft. Perhaps we should have a Single Pilot designation on IFR flight plans. Of course, you could always claim student pilot status (just kidding).

We’re talking margin here and, I assume, a reasonable comfort with the equipment—if you’re still learning basics, spend some more time with simulators or part-task trainers until you’re able to navigate the pages and menus at a reasonable speed. However when within 50 miles of the airport inbound at anywhere between 180 and 240 knots—flying the aircraft should be the first priority—remember that not only do the buttons have to be pushed, but the brain needs to understand all the altitudes and headings.

Anybody had difficulty with arrivals or departures where a late change spiked your workload?


The Christmas Gift

The Christmas Blog post threatened that whoever came up with the most outlandish question regarding Santa’s midnight ride would win a fabulous prize. The dubious honor goes to Wayne Schneider, a private pilot who is a partner in a Piper Cherokee, for asking…

“Do his magical abilities–“put his finger aside his nose and up the chimney he rose”–require a medical waiver? And speaking of medical issues, how does he keep all the cookies he must eat from affecting his blood pressure?”

AOPA’s crack medical team headed by director Gary Crump can certainly answer those questions, but we’ll have to find out later in the year about Santa’s blood pressure due to all the financial uncertainty that the “cliff” negotiations have sparked. Stay tuned…..

Only 357 shopping days remaining until Christmas 2013!

As we head into the new year, have you resolved to make aviation a higher priority in your life? One way to help is by giving to the AOPA Foundation. The threats to general aviation are still real and on our doorstep. Help us lead the fight with a donation to the foundation today. We’ll be reporting to you here and on the Foundation website how the money is being used.

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • Walt Woltosz

    Flying a Citation 550 as a single pilot, the most aggravating problem for me has been is when you switch from tower to departure and they amend your clearance and give you Victor airways (and intersections of them) while you’re in your climb. With Garmin 530/430 in the aircraft, you suddenly find yourself trying to find out if there are VOR and intersection names you can use to accomplish the same thing. All while flying the departure and climb out. Sometimes this happens before takeoff at the end of the runway with engines running, so you sit there and burn fuel as you struggle to reprogram the departure as quickly as possible.

  • Johnny White

    A little trick I have use flying Single Pilot in HP Turbo Props and Jets for the last 40 years is to tune in the approach control freq as far out as you can receive it and listen. You will here what approach and runway they are actually using and how the approaches are going. You can prepare for the approach and the missed approach well ahead of time. Even have time to build a secondary FP if you think there is going to be a missed or late approach / RW change .

  • Johnny White

    With GPS nav systems enroute navigation has a lot more directs and less airways which is getting pretty acquainted anyway. The only cure for being given a last minute airway or strange route assignment is to study prior to getting into airplane and have the Low and High chart folded and ready for the general direction you will be departing or arriving from. Sids ,Stars, High and Low charts and recent ATC assigned & filed routes are available for review are on Most useful web site on the planet.

  • Rod Smith

    Had his happen last November during flight into LAS,atis 150 mile out,set up arrival Tyssn3,desent via star,approach says plan 25R as advertised everthing ok then final controller says new atis..gave me alt.setting and surface wind no other changes..then 10 mile from airport (3min out)atc says do Grnpa1 arrival,I started reprograming fms,then thought this crazy…heads down busy airspace and superman could not reprogram fms in time for their request…I told atc unable to comply, request vectors or a direct to waypoint,then given direct Trrop and visual 19R.approach and landing were uneventful.I wondered how this would go for a low time sp jet newbe?I have right at 20k hours and several thousand as sp in c525/c560 aircraft.I believe an SP in remarks section would be a great idea..providing atc would notice it and try to give us a heads up.

  • George Semel

    Well, I am sort of lucky, the Aircraft I fly most has dual KX-170Bs NDB and DME. I carry a Garmin 296 map. And paper charts. I seem to have few problems with clearances or last minute changes in runways for landings or Approaches. The problem is that the new latest and greatest boxes take to many steps to program and even more steps when you have to change. New is not always better. Till they come up with a common user interface, that is as simple to use as the KX-170B’s, pilots are going to have this problem and distraction from looking out side the airplane when they should be. Of course I fly an 35 year old Piper Aztec. If we ever replace that airplane, We will make sure at least one of the Radio’s is a KX-170B They just work.

  • William Due

    I have performed many flights in Europe. When receiving my clearance, I always asked for the departure in order to program it into my GPS. Clearances were received about 30 minutes prior to departure so there was plenty of time to program. I can’t recall ever having the departure route changed. As far out as possible, we listened to ATIS. On contacting ATC we asked for expected arrival route. Again, there was plenty of time to program without expectation of changes. After having gotten accustomed to this fine service, on return to the U.S. I attempted to implement some of this wonderful information. Clearance Deliveries seemed to always be too busy. The same for arrival. Waiting at the intersection seems to be the norm. Yes, I think ATC could be somewhat more helpful.