Last week we discussed whether a new generation of pilots should learn basic stick-and-rudder skills before being entwined by glass and seductions of automation (83 percent of you agree—proving only that unscientific web polls are just that).
The DOT’s Office of Inspector General just released a report saying that the FAA is going to have a hard time filling the more than 11,700 ATC slots needed in the next eight years. In the interest of streamlining to get the new controllers fully certified that old staple—the ASR (or airport surveillance radar) approach—is starting to slip away. Is that a “stick-and-rudder skill” for controllers? Fewer and fewer facilities have controllers capable of providing guidance to the ground. It’s not something that is needed very often, thankfully, but it seems like a good thing to have in the ATC tool kit for pilots who may have a short circuit in the avionics or in the headset.
I’ve had one occasion to use an ASR approach, when a newly-replaced vacuum pump fried itself. Seems the technician didn’t clean out the vacuum lines of the previously failed pump debris leading to an early failure (25 hours) at a most inopportune time. The METAR was “1 sm OVC 04”—or translated, lousy. A widespread tropical system moving up from the Gulf had blanketed the Midwest with the nearest VFR more than an hour away. Better to take a shot at a nearby approach. It was uneventful and I backed it up with an ILS although my tracking without the ASR would have likely included more “bracketing” than usual.
I’ve been honored over the last several years to be a judge for the National Air Traffic Controllers Archie League Medal of Safety Award, which provides recognition for the best in-flight saves during the year. Not surprisingly, many of those recipients were pilots and in several cases it involved providing an ASR approach to a VFR pilot who was way over his head or to an IFR flight with an equipment malfunction. Because of that skill, lives were certainly saved—but we’ve got this expense problem. Does it make sense to have one controller on shift who’s ASR qualified, even if the others aren’t?
So, should we take the extra time to train ASR-qualified controllers, or at least some, or just let it go and y’all be careful out there?