The Complexities of Getting Going, with Video
Why an uncontrolled airport in IMC can mean hurry up and wait, especially when there are other airplanes involved.
By Robert Goyer / Published: Mar 12, 2013
My trip down to Galveston was becoming remarkably complicated, which is always a red flag to me that signals the need to look out for increased risk. Sure enough, there it was, staring me in the face.
It was low IFR at Austin Executive as I did my preflight in the early morning mist. The automated weather said 400 overcast and a half-mile visibility, though the viz looked slightly better than that to the naked eye. The flight visibility, which is all that matters, was probably at or slightly above minimums for the LPV approach to Runway 13, which seems to default to active runway status when the winds are calm, which they were, as it means a shorter taxi to the takeoff end.
As you might know, there are no takeoff minimums for regular Part 91 operations, like the one I was conducting that morning, though there are numerous safety considerations that any pilot thinks about. One is, what happens if you need to come back around and land? If the airport is truly below minimums, then that’s not legally an option, though in an emergency, all bets are off, and a pilot needs to do what a pilot needs to do.
Getting my clearance was a bit of a chore. I have a Bose A20 headset with Bluetooth that I have hooked up wirelessly to my Samsung smart phone/video camera/email machine/lots of other things. I called Austin Departure on the phone number I have stored on my phone. The etiquette for talking to these folks on the phone is apparently different from talking with them on freq. One time I called with my N-number and request and they responded with something to the effect of, “Oh, hi, how’s it going?” I guess without the risk of stepping on someone else’s transmission you can chat in a more conversational way. I’m still working on it.
In any case, the controller was great about getting my clearance for me, despite my phone breaking up during my call, and when she asked how long it would be before I was ready to go, I replied that it would take about a minute for me to get the fairly simple flight plan in and then I was set to go. She was surprised, maybe thinking I’d called from the FBO and not my airplane (though I think I mentioned it in my initial “call”), and she told me to hold for release as there was another airplane inbound. She told me to give them a call back in a couple of minutes. I said I would.
I switched to advisory frequency at Exec, and soon heard the airplane in question, a PA-46 — I think it was a Meridian — calling his long final to Runway 13, which was just a ways in front of me. I couldn’t see him, but I thought it might be fun to get some footage of the landing while I waited. The Piper emerged from the clouds low and close to the runway and proceeded to successfully land.
I called Austin Departure back and, sure enough, the Piper hadn’t called to cancel his IFR, which he had to do before I could be cleared for takeoff. I said that I just saw him land, the controller asked what his N-number was, I said I truthfully didn’t know and she went off-line to ask if my seeing a PA-46 land in front of me was good enough or if she had to hear from the pilot himself.
I don’t know what the answer was — maybe he was calling as we talked — but shortly I was cleared for takeoff and hit the road. The departure was uneventful, though it was a strange thing to not be able to see the end of the runway as I was accelerating down it.
Then again, in IFR there are certain leaps of faith we take on every flight. Without them, instrument flying would not be possible. And thanks to the good work of Austin Departure (and my A20 headset) I was able to begin the process of taking those joyous leaps.