Never Hesitate To Say “Unable!”

by Dave Weiman
Midwest Flyer – December 2017/January 2018

I concur with Midwest Flyer Magazine “Instrument Flight” columnist, Michael J. “Mick” Kaufman, in his assessment of a fatal accident involving a pilot flying a small general aviation aircraft from Norman, Oklahoma (KOUN) to William P. Hobby-Houston Airport (KHOU) on June 9, 2016 (see article beginning on page 9). Clearly, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) needs to review its training and supervisory syllabi to change its policy in how controllers treat air traffic – the airlines versus general aviation.

The pilot was on approach to a commercial airport and because airline traffic was overtaking her from behind, she was vectored for a go-around, to which she agreed in a courteous manner. The problem was, as airline traffic continued inbound, she was vectored again, and again, and again to different runways by different controllers, until it became a highly stressful situation for the pilot, and she came in too high on at least one occasion. Finally, on the last missed approach, the pilot apparently turned too sharp, stalled, and spun the aircraft into the ground.

Kaufman states: “At the conclusion of this video, most of you will throw your hands in the air in disbelief, wondering how the pilot let ATC crash her airplane. I do not want to say that all air traffic controllers are from the evil-empire, because I credit them with saving my life in an emergency more than once. However, I have stated in several columns that we as pilots must be assertive when flying our aircraft, and had the pilot of this aircraft taken on the command role when asked to go around and used the words “UNABLE,” (a term made famous by Capt. Chesley Burnett “Sully” Sullenberger III of U.S. Airways Flight 1549, Miracle On the Hudson), she would be alive today.”

As Mick points out, air traffic controllers are usually on top of their game and do a fantastic job, but since when is it written or perceived policy that the airlines get priority at the expense of general aviation safety?

I think that most general aviation pilots do their best to accommodate the airlines whenever possible, but it appears that some FAA controllers and their supervisors are of the mindset that general aviation pilots should always yield to the big iron, and that’s wrong!

Whether it is pressure from the airlines to keep their traffic flowing in an orderly fashion without delay, stress of the job, inexperience on the part of controllers, the fact that many controllers are not pilots themselves and lack understanding of what it is like to fly an airplane (we feel that every controller should be required to fly different aircraft each year as part of their training), or attitude, controllers can and do make mistakes from time to time. That’s only human, but to make such actions policy, is inexcusable, and that needs to change. In the meantime, never hesitate to say “UNABLE!”

See for yourself and come to your own conclusions:

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This entry was posted in Columns, Columns, Dec 2017/Jan 2018, Dialogue and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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