Solving Bad Setups
While reading [William G.] Bozin’s April 2014 AeroSafety World editorial (“Stable Approach Criteria and Go-Arounds”), a question came to mind: Of all the very significant effort that has been put into examining unstable approaches, and developing stable-approach criteria, I can’t recall seeing an analysis of what factors outside the cockpit may set up an unstable approach.
As a [U.S. Federal Aviation Regulations] Part 121 captain, I quite frequently shake my head in frustration when air traffic control (ATC) is the sole factor in finding myself in a bind when it comes to establishing a stable approach by my airline’s criteria.
The number of ATC units in the United States and internationally that require the airplane to maintain altitudes and/or airspeeds that work against executing a well-planned, safe, stable approach is increasing.
I don’t doubt the cause of much of this is political (noise complaints), but some is not. A great example is Indianapolis Approach Control. Some years ago, they put out a request for feedback on the quality of their work. I commented that their procedure of keeping airplanes at 7,000 to 10,000 ft above mean sea level (MSL; airport elevation is 797 ft MSL) until abeam the airport on downwind leg, when Runways 23L and23R are in use, was a constant factor in a rushed approach.
An ATC supervisor contacted me by phone and, to my wonder, expressed surprise at my comment. It was their opinion that pilots actually liked this “slam-dunk” kind of set up, and they couldn’t recall ever hearing a negative comment.
I know I’m not the only pilot to complain about this particular procedure, but can understand that no one called in about it (including me). Pilots generally understand that noise abatement takes precedence over safety (that is, good setups) at many, many airports and that complaining will do you absolutely no good. So why bother?
Another great example is Honolulu International Airport’s Runway 08L. After a recent discussion with them, it was very apparent that they mostly deal with smaller transport aircraft, and just apply the same flight-handling characteristics to larger aircraft. The result is a very bad setup for everyone (10,000 ft on downwind abeam the airport), with both close-in altitude restrictions and and speed restrictions. The smaller aircraft flight crews are capable of handling it. The larger aircraft flight crews either struggle and are not very stable, or go around and try again.
To end a long screed, has anyone taken on the task of trying to get ATC involved in solving bad setups, one of the biggest problems in establishing a stable approach? It would be nice to have them be a help instead of, in too many cases, being part of the problem.
I would be happy to work on a task like that.