When we’re doing cross countries, we call Winnipeg Flight Information Centre, both to file our flight plan, and (if we’re smart) get a weather briefing. One day (the day of my flight test, actually) the guy I talked to told me I should come in and visit them. I didn’t realize it, but they also do onsite weather briefings in person – you don’t even need an appointment, it’s just a walk in thing.
So I went to visit them a few weeks ago, and they lamented how all the pilots check the online weather now, and they never come to see them anymore, and they even prefer if you come see them, because it’s easier to point out things on a screen than describe it over the phone. That and they lamented that pilots were all briefing themselves with the online resources and frequently missing things that they would have been able to make sure they knew about. They said certain times of the year, three quarters of their calls are from Harv’s Air students, and they seemed I sat and chatted with them for a while, and they told me funny stories about idiot pilots:
An American pilot who flew with roam maps instead of aeronautical charts, and his radio frequency info was five years out of date, so when he got to Canada, and some of the frequencies had changed, who charged into FIC complaining that no one had answered him on the radio.
A whole flock of cadets going on solo cross countries called in to file flight plans who, when asked if they wanted a weather briefing, all assured the briefer that they had briefed themselves online, and subsequently called in, one by one to amend their flight plans when they had to turn back upon encountering fog the briefer would have told them about.
And another story about a couple of Cadets who lost their licences after crashing their plane. They had told Transport Canada that they’d had engine trouble, and tried to land in a field of cows, but when the Transport Canada investigator found a camera on the ground at the crash site, the pictures revealed that they’d been buzzing the cows from only a few feet off the ground.
The weather thing is big. There’s so much that can happen in the weather. People joke about how inaccurate weather forecasters are, but if you look at what they have – they’re actually far more accurate than we realize. When I take off, and the clouds are consistently right about the height they told me they’d be at – damn, I’m not gonna tell them they don’t know what they’re talking about. The thing is, if you’re standing in one place, like, for example, in a town or city, it could be raining on one side of Winnipeg, and not on the other, so half of Winnipeg is going well, I guess they were right, it did rain, and the other half is going, ha, ha, they were wrong. But that’s not how weather works – it moves around in masses and when the masses touch they interact in relatively predictable ways. What happens in the five to six feet from the ground to the tops of our heads is such a tiny part of what weather is, and there’s so much that happens in the winds aloft, at different altitudes, the amount of detail they can give us pilots to prepare for what we’re taking off into is really impressive.
The final thing I want to mention is one interesting element in the conversation between a weather briefer and pilot. A weather briefer isn’t responsible for a pilot’s decision on whether or not to take off. They’re there to help the pilot make the decision, but they have no idea what the abilities of the pilot calling in are. They might say something like, “It looks like great flying weather today” or “It’s going to be some rough windy weather out there” or “The visibility is very poor, just barely VFR minimums”, but they’ll never say “The weather is bad, you should stay on the ground.” So it’s interesting, on those iffy days, listening to the briefer’s tone after I tell him that I’m relatively inexperienced, to try and gauge whether or not he thinks I should go.
Anyway, they’re awesome, and so very integral to aviation. We couldn’t fly without them.
So who can say whether a pilot can go up or not? I assume that most of the time it’s for the pilot to take repsonsibility for his/her decisions, including the decision to fly at all; but just out of interest, is there anyone who could say to you ‘Sorry Lindsay you are not flying today’ and have the authority to do that?
Also, there’s something about the flavour of this post (and now I think about it other posts here) that mean I’d not be surprised if you end up training other pilots yourself one day. Would you be interested in doing that? Am I getting this wrong?
And of course I now know the collective noun for cadets is ‘a flock’
There definitely is people who can tell a pilot they can’t go flying. There’s generally a chief pilot in a company who can say no, you’re staying on the ground today, even if the pilot is ready to take on the weather.
And then there’s ATC. Say you’re a private pilot and you’ve filed a VFR flight plan, and the weather minimums are below what you’re allowed to take off into, and you taxi out to the runway at a controlled airport, ATC won’t clear you. You’ll sit at the hold short line saying -plane registration- ready for takeoff until you’re blue in the face, and ATC will just give you a shortened weather briefing highlighting the visibility. At an uncontrolled airport, if the visibility is below minimums, there would be no one to stop you from taking off, but it wouldn’t be legal.
There’s also the owner of the plane. If I showed up at Harv’s Air in the middle of a snowstorm, the dispatcher would go “Dude, no.” The dispatcher, when planes are being rented, is generally the authority that makes the call then. There are school rules about visibility and wind that are stricter than the aviation laws.
On the other end of things, the pilot *always* has the final say on going. No one can say, okay, the weather is above minimums, you have to fly now. If you’re too much of a chicken, you might eventually lose your job over it, but no one can make you do it.
I wouldn’t be surprised if I ended up instructing either, honestly. At first I just hadn’t thought about it, but now that I’ve had more time in the plane, and taking passengers, the asperger’s isn’t nearly the problem I feared it might be. I have been thinking about a post on that.
I just wanted to say how much I enjoy reading your blog and about learning to fly, Lindsay – I’ve really loved the last few episodes!
I’m glad it’s appreciated. I definitely want to keep things interesting for my readers 🙂
We had an ex-military pilot and later, trainer, come in and talk to us about being a supervisor and stuff. He reinforced the notion of double-checking EVERYTHING to ensure dumb mistakes aren’t made, giving the example of not being able to take off/land until the pilot could repeat everything back to ATC perfectly.
He then told us a story about how three (co)pilots were once so busy worrying about why a little green landing gear light didn’t come on, that they didn’t realize they’d dropped ALOT of altitude, and were dangerously close to crashing. He lamented that pilots “didn’t get hints” (much like men when women are hinting), and that “ATC isn’t allowed to blantantly ask ‘are you aware you’re about to crash?!’ since pilots get all offended we ‘outed’ them on the radio”.
So morale of the story: have fun, but make sure you’re ego never gets the best of you!
Indeed 😛 In aviation, the stereotypes are ATC thinks all pilots are incompetent morons, and pilots think ATC are all assholes. It’s obviously not actually the case. Of course it can get scary if suddenly you realize the ATC person on the radio is incompetent, and you realize how much you take them for granted. That’s a rare thing though. Most of them are pretty decent, and the one’s at st andrews are used to handling poor confused student pilots without broadcasting to the world that the pilot doesn’t know what they’re doing. I know I’ve got confused and done dumb things, and I think every pilot has enough times and had ATC be perfectly professional in handling them that we pilots don’t get snarky with them.
FIC isn’t ATC though – they’re both run by NAVCanada, but FIC aren’t actively controlling aircraft. They provide mostly weather and flight planning services, and would be in charge of organizing search and rescue, should a plane not arrive at it’s destination.