Air Traffic Control


The air route traffic control center (ARTCC) encompasses the en-route air traffic control system air/ground radio communications that provide safe, expeditious movement of aircraft operating on instrument flight rules (IFR) within the controlled airspace of the center. ARTCCs provide the central authority for issuing IFR clearances and nationwide monitoring of each IFR flight.

This applies primarily to the en-route phase of flight and includes weather information and other in-flight services. There are 20 ARTCCs in the conterminous United States and each center contains between 20 to 80 sectors. Each sectors’ size, shape and altitudes are determined by traffic flow, airway structure and workload. Appropriate radar and communication sites are connected to the centers by microwave links and telephone lines.

The code of federal regulations (CFRs) requires the pilot in command under IFR in controlled airspace to continuously monitor an appropriate center or control frequency. When climbing after takeoff, an IFR flight is either in contact with a radar-equipped local departure control or, in some areas, an ARTCC facility. As a flight transition to the en-route phase, pilots typically expect a handoff from departure control to a center frequency if they are not already in contact with the center. 

Terminal Radar Approach Control

Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) controllers work in dimly lit radar rooms located within the control tower complex or in a separate building located on (or near) the airport it serves. Using radar scopes, these controllers typically work in an area of airspace with a 50-mile radius and up to an altitude of 17,000 feet. This airspace is configured to provide service to a primary airport but may include other airports that are within 50 miles of the radar service area. Aircraft within this area are provided vectors to airports, around terrain and weather, as well as separation from other aircraft. Controllers in TRACONs determine the arrival sequence for the control tower’s designated airspace.

Air Traffic Control Tower

Controllers in this type of facility manage aircraft operations on the ground and within specified airspace around an airport. The number of controllers in the tower varies depending on the size of the airport. Small general aviation airports typically have three or four controllers, while larger international airports can have up to 15 controllers talking to aircraft, processing flight plans and coordinating air traffic flow. Tower controllers manage the ground movement of aircraft around the airport and ensure appropriate spacing between aircraft taking off and landing. In addition, it is the responsibility of the control tower to determine the landing sequence between aircraft under its control. Tower controllers issue a variety of instructions to pilots, from how to enter a pattern for landing, to how to depart the airport for their destination.

IFR Clearance

An IFR clearance is authorization by ATC for an aircraft to proceed under specified traffic conditions in controlled airspace. The purpose of this authorization is to prevent a collision between known aircraft. An IFR clearance contains specific information in the following order:

  1. Clearance limit – The fix, point or location to which an aircraft is cleared when issued an air traffic clearance.
  2. Route – A defined path to the clearance limit.
  3. Altitude – Usually an initially assigned altitude for the departure area with a time or location to expect higher.
  4. Remarks – In this latter part of an IFR clearance, you will receive a departure frequency and a discrete transponder code.
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By Andrew Henley

Cesar Salazar walked into American Flyers at our Morristown, New Jersey location for the first time in 2015. Cesar was a private pilot, attending our 3-day instrument and commercial ground schools.  At the time, he was working for the Morristown Airport operations department. With his infectious personality, we knew this was someone we wanted on our team.

After completing the 3-day ground school, and passing his written exams, we convinced Cesar to come on board as an administrative intern. This meant he was working 5 days a week in the office while spending his off days training towards his instrument and commercial. His work ethic is as solid as they come. He is both loyal and dedicated to our students and employees.  For these reasons and many more, we asked him to become a school manager.

For the past two years, Cesar has been the leader of our Morristown, New Jersey school.  He recently completed both his CFI-I and CFI-A and would love to take you on an intro flight if you are in the area. Cesar loves spending time with his family, salsa dancing and flying.  

Cesar, we are incredibly proud of you and are thankful for all that you do for American Flyers.

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Safety Trends


By Steven Daun, National Chief Pilot

For the majority of my career in aviation, I’ve noticed that very few companies and instructors like to discuss safety trends. This could be for a few reasons — one being that part of this discussion includes tough subjects like accidents and incidents. Both of which are subjects that nobody likes to discuss for a multitude of reasons.

In the last quarter of each year, several entities publish various statistics regarding aviation safety. Most of these reports include accident and incident statistics. As I was reviewing these statistics, a few things struck me and I felt that it was important to discuss them.

There are over 609,000 certificated and active pilots in the United States. In 2016 alone, there were a total of 1,036 accidents. When you look at the factors involved in these accidents, you find that over 77% of them (771) were considered “personal aviation”. That is, those “nonprofessional” pilots who fly for recreational purposes. Of the remaining 265 accidents, 185 were related to maintenance issues that were, for the most part, outside of the pilots’ control. This leaves 80 accidents that are spread across instruction, business aviation, corporate aviation, aerial observation and public use aviation. 

When you dig deeper into the numbers, you find that the majority of the 771 accidents occurred during the daytime in VMC (visual meteorological conditions). Furthermore, most of these pilots (45.6% of them) only had a private pilot license. 

One can surmise that there are three primary reasons contributing to these statistics:

  1. Poor training
  2. The various rules and procedures were not taken seriously
  3. Did little or no proficiency training

Many “wannabe pilots” are not aware of the importance of the quality of their training. We live in a disposable society where most people prioritize things being “cheap” without giving much consideration to the quality of these things. This is evident through the number of people that say they will just memorize the knowledge test answers and do not realize the true importance of knowing and understanding the information. We see many people who are looking for the cheapest training or hourly rates. Does this mean that “cheap” means poor training? No, not at all. But, we do caution you to not select a school solely based on price.

For as long as people have been learning to fly, there has always been celebrations based on how few hours they had when they first soloed. If you take a step back and think about this, it doesn’t make sense. The primary focus of a quality training program should be education and preparation. Once you demonstrate that you have the necessary knowledge to safely solo, then it is time to solo. Many schools focus on how quickly they can get you to land an airplane. What good is it if you are capable of landing, but you do not know or understand anything else?

The first 25 hours of your private pilot training (ground and flight) are perhaps the most important hours that you will ever receive. This is the time where you learn the basic concepts of flying that provide you with a solid foundation on which to build your experience and future licenses. 

There are, and perhaps always will be, a certain group of people who do not take things seriously. They believe that the rules and procedures are meant for everyone besides them, and that their skills and abilities are superior to that of the average pilot. In reviewing the data, this is where we find that most of the 771 accidents. There is a saying in aviation that can be summed up as the 6 “P’s”: “Piss Poor Planning Yields Piss Poor Performance”. Failure to obtain a proper briefing, failure to properly preflight your aircraft, failure to calculate your weight and balance, failure to calculate aircraft performance, failure to do proper flight planning. These makeup only a few of the 6 “P’s”.

When reviewing the root causes of many of these accidents, you find that the pilot failed to do or complete more than one of the items above. Any sane person has to ask why. I’m sure if you go back and speak with these pilots, they will tell you that they knew better but didn’t do what they should have done. The most problematic part of those types of statements is that the passengers who are flying with them didn’t know any better and most importantly, trusted them.

Society tends to look at small general aviation airplanes as if they’re some sort of toy. They’re so small and light so, therefore, they must be easy to fly! Just like a car, open the door, hop in, start it up and drive. The lack of seriousness in some cases also contributes to these accidents. A beautiful sunny day with no wind to some causes some people to think that they don’t need to do all of the proper planning. They cut corners, take shortcuts and it catches up to them.

The third item that we need to look at is proficiency. Webster’s defines proficient as “well-advanced or competent in any art, science or subject; skilled”. In aviation, proficiency comes in many different forms. These include working on your next certificate or rating, conducting proper flight reviews or instrument proficiency checks, scheduling regular simulator sessions to maintain or enhance your skills or simply working with an instructor on a regular basis to maintain your proficiency.

Most airlines in the U.S. require their crews to go through recurrent training every 6 months. The FAA requires that all 141 flight schools conduct regular training and annual proficiency checks. Most corporate or business flight departments require their pilots to undergo regular recurrent or proficiency training. Fortunately, most Private Pilots do seek to maintain their currency and proficiency. They see the value and importance of conducting safe flight and sticking to the rules and procedures.

There will always be a group of people who won’t follow the rules regardless of how much you plead with them. For everyone else, there is very good news. If you are not a professional pilot and want to maintain your proficiency and currency, there are many ways to do this. 

The first way is to find a reputable school (or instructor) and set up a regular training schedule whether it is monthly, bi-monthly or semi-annually. It doesn’t matter, as long as you are doing something to make yourself a better pilot. 

Another resource that is available to all pilots is the FAA’s guide to conducting an effective flight review. This includes the instrument proficiency check. Reviewing this document will give you an idea of most of the areas that are included in the discussion of currency and proficiency. 

If you aren’t sure where to go or what your next step should be, please contact our National Support Team. We will guide you through this process based on your needs and objectives.

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It’s a Great Time To Start A Career As A Professional Pilot


By Andrew Henley

“I really want to be a professional pilot; do you think that’s a good idea?” That was the question I asked my high school guidance counselor. He looked at me like I was crazy. He said, “I have no idea, you should go to the local airport and find someone who knows more about the aviation industry.” Looking back, I’m not surprised by his response. The ’80s and early ’90s were a difficult time for the aviation industry. The glitz and glamour associated with airline pilots during the 1960s were now replaced with discouraged employees worried about losing their pensions. It certainly was not a job that any guidance counselor would recommend to a kid looking to make a career decision.

That was then, what about now? Is becoming a professional pilot a good career move? Yes, without a shadow of a doubt. Becoming a professional pilot in 2020 is a great career move. Why is that? What has changed over the last 20+ years? The short answer, a lot. In the 1960’s being an airline pilot was considered an upper-class job. You would see a pilot walking through the airport signing autographs for eager children. Pilots were more popular than movie stars. That changed in the late 1970’s thanks, in part, to the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978.

The Deregulation Act led to the exposure of competition which created heavy losses and conflicts with labor unions for a number of carriers. Beginning in 1978, and through the early 2000s, 7 major carriers (Eastern, Midway, Braniff, Pan Am, Continental, Northwest, and TWA), and countless others, went bankrupt or were liquidated. In short, this left a lot of pilots either furloughed or without a job. The industry made the pilot occupation so unattractive, so tenuous and poorly paid, that people stopped wanting to do it. 

By 2001, the industry was dealing with the effects of another economic downturn. Business travel decreased substantially while, at the same time, labor and fuel costs were rising. The events of 9/11 greatly magnified the airlines’ issues, leading to a sharp decline in customers and significantly higher operating costs. It wasn’t until 2006/2007, that airlines began to turn a profit. While many airlines were grappling with their ability to turn a profit, hundreds, if not 1,000’s of airline pilots were reaching their mandatory retirement age.

In 2007, the mandatory retirement age was changed from 60 to 65. This new rule did not provide a long- term solution; it only kicked the pilot shortage down the road. Here’s the good news for anyone wanting a career as a professional pilot, with over 2,000 pilots retiring each year, professional pilot careers are becoming more and more popular. At its peak, within the next 5 years, over 3,100 airline pilots will retire each year. That means more opportunity and better pay for aspiring airline pilots.

Thankfully the needs of the airline industry have created a buzz among aspiring pilots. It makes sense, twelve years ago the average first-year pay for a first officer was around $20K per year. Today, the average sign-on bonus is almost $30K with their first-year compensation at well over $60K. Airlines are so eager to hire that they have created recruiting departments (this used to be a one-person job) that are responsible for going to career fairs, high schools, and colleges to educate a new generation of would-be pilots. 

In years past, parents would ask, “how easy will it be for my son or daughter to find a job flying for the airlines?” I would give them an honest answer, “they’ll get there, I just don’t know how long it will take.” Today when asked the same question, I can point them to almost any airline’s recruiting webpage. There, they will see the typical path for an aspiring airline pilot:

After completing your flight training (Private, Instrument, Commercial Single and Multi-Engine, and your CFI-A and CFI-I), you will typically work as a CFI building your experience. The average flight instructor achieves 1,500 hours of flight time (ATP minimums for employment at a 121 carrier) within 16 to 18 months after they began flight instructing. From there, the instructor will begin flying for a regional airline. After two years of working as a first officer, the pilot will have the opportunity to upgrade to captain. After about six years working for the regional airline, they will then flow-through to a major carrier. Think about that the next time someone asks, “Is being an airline pilot a good career?” If you start today, you could be flying for a major airline in eight years!

I’ll end with this. If you are a guidance counselor, or you know one, please give them this issue of the Pilot’s Digest. Our duty as ambassadors of aviation is to promote this wonderful industry. More people need to know about the amazing opportunities associated with being a professional pilot.

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Investing In Today’s Youth With Principles of Aviation


American Flyers in Scottsdale, Arizona was able to spend the day with Northwest Christian’s physics class.  Every year, our goal is to inspire students in aviation and we are proud to say that this was our second year in a row hosting this field trip. During this field-trip, a team of instructors was able to show these young minds what flying is all about.

The day started off with a very competitive paper airplane competition. Instructor Kyle Helmke gave a detailed presentation on the four forces of flight— lift, thrust, drag, and weight—all of which are important components to keep in mind when constructing the perfect paper airplane. The students were challenged to make their paper airplane in the most aerodynamic way possible and they were able to take flight in our hangar. Some paper airplanes had hole punches in them and some had paper clips on their wings and tails. After a winner was announced, the students were able to get into our simulator bay to receive additional aviation knowledge from our flight instructors.

The day ended with every student taking a victory lap in the simulator. This action-packed field trip is one that we hope continues every year because there is no better feeling than getting students excited about aviation. Who knows, our field trips may lead to many future pilots!

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An Overview of the Forms of Navigation


By Chris Webb

History is full of famous quotes regarding travel, journeys, and destinations. A Chinese proverb once said, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” Ralph Waldo Emerson was quoted with saying “life is a journey, not a destination.” Both quotes have one thing in particular in common: you are going to have to navigate to find your way. In aviation, there are many different forms of navigating. The most popular are pilotage, dead reckoning, radio navigation (i.e. VORs) or astronomical navigation (i.e. GPS).

Dead reckoning is the form of navigation that occupies the majority of our time. Ironically, it is also the least accurate. Dead reckoning uses forecasted weather to guess where you will be in your journey after some time. It is very important to start our planning with this form of navigation because it shows us what our route of flight looks like, and allows us to determine where suitable airports are located for our landings. It helps us to predict when fuel is running low, and when it is time to land for more fuel. It helps us identify a mustering or rendezvous point and also enables us to designate a moment of time in the future to decide if we are able to continue on with our journey. All the research and calculations are done during this phase of navigation.

Once we take off, the other forms of navigation come into play.

Radio navigation is next in line in terms of accuracy and it enables us to tune in and cross-reference our position using one or more VORs. In terms of flight, radio navigation can help you identify which city you are flying past.

Radio navigation is a wonderful tool to use to make sure you are in the right spot, to increase your dead reckoning accuracy and to enable you to make accurate course adjustments as necessary. This means that you need to be familiar with the local sectional chart, as well as the chart symbology. By the time a VOR is cross-referenced and checked on a sectional, the aircraft has moved! So, be prepared to take several or continuous readings.

Next, we will look at GPS which is a type of radio navigation. It is far more accurate than VOR navigation, and certainly much more accurate than dead reckoning.

Believe it or not, pilotage is still the most accurate form of navigation. The simple act of looking outside and cross-referencing what you see with your sectional. Even though the GPS’s navigation is becoming legendary, it still cannot guide you to a parking spot or show you how to enter a traffic pattern. Pilotage actually plots into the future. Looking outside enables you to find yourself crossing over a highway flying towards an airport. You subconsciously plot out your flight path and determine the fastest and easiest way to arrive at your destination. You do this every day whether you are standing in a grocery store trying to decide which line to go into, or looking for a parking spot in a parking lot. You determine your position which registers parking spots that are open, the distance to those registers and parking spots, and even the path you need to take! GPSs cannot do that, only pilotage can.

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The Art of Landing


By Chris Webb

Editor’s Note: Ah, the elusive perfect landing. We have all been there, right? Nice stable approach, airspeed and altitude nailed, no wind and we are lined up with the numbers as precisely as can be. 50 feet, 20 feet, 10 feet, the swish. A small gust of wind pushes us onto the runway with a thud rather than the squeak that we were expecting. We know and understand that landing an airplane is part skill and part luck. As Chris explains this month, there are a few things that we can do on the skill side of things to minimize any surprises on the luck side.

All flight maneuvers have three basic parts: the entry, the maneuver, and the recovery. Even the various maneuvers have steps to follow in each of them. The thing that makes landing so difficult is that it does not appear to have any part, just one fluid motion from the traffic pattern to the wheels touching down. So, let’s do just that: let’s take the complicated, dynamic, fast-paced maneuver known as landing and simplify it. After all, how do you run a marathon? One mile at a time.

There are four parts of the landing process: the traffic pattern, the round out, the flare and the rollout. We can say that the traffic pattern is similar to the batter’s stance in baseball in that it needs to be as constant as possible. A batter doesn’t know what kind of pitch is going to be thrown, and we don’t know exactly what the winds will do on the ground near the runway, so we need to be prepared and set ourselves up for the best possible outcome.

The traffic pattern is all about getting the airplane at the correct airspeed, the right power configuration, appropriate flap setting and the proper attitude and altitude with checklists done; all of this before rolling out on the final. The power and attitude should be set, allowing a stabilized approach to the runway. A stabilized approach is when the airplane’s flight path is constant, meaning the airplane isn’t rising and dropping and the wings are leveled. To do this, the pilot needs to pick an aiming spot. It can be any spot on the runway that can be used as a reference. It’s a measuring stick on how constant the flight path is. With this visual reference, we can evaluate our approach. Is this aiming spot raising or lowering? Drifting to the right or left? Of course, minor corrections are needed once winds are introduced, but the flight path should be very constant.

When properly executed, the traffic pattern should bring the plane to roughly 50 feet above the runway at the proper airspeed and attitude. It will be at this point that the pilot will begin to transition from a relative nose-down attitude to a nose-up attitude — this is the round out. Since the nose is beginning to be raised up, your aim spot will be blocked. The pilot needs to shift their eyes from the aiming point to further down the runway. The plane hasn’t landed yet. The pitcher has just now thrown the pitch.

The flare begins as the nose is brought up to the edge of the horizon and ends when the wheels touch the ground. The purpose of the flare is to get the main landing gear positioned to touch down first. In an ideal landing, shortly after bringing the nose up, the wheels touch down. If the wheels are not on the ground after the nose is brought up, then the plane is not ready to land yet, so either the round out was started too high, or there was too much flying energy (airspeed and attitude). In either case, these are elements that need to be controlled and fixed during the traffic pattern phase. Going back to our baseball analogy, by the time the pitch is thrown, there isn’t time to readjust your stance. So, go around and try again. 

NOTE: During the landing process, you need to be very careful about changing or amending the manufacturer’s recommendations as set forth in the POH. There are many suggestions and pointers out there about airspeed on final, and while some of these suggestions may make sense or are applicable while flying a certain airplane, they might not be transferable to others. You may be taking a bad habit with you without even realizing it!

In these later phases of landing, there should be minimal time looking at the airspeed indicator. Rather, the majority of your attention should be dedicated to observing what the aim spot is doing. Changes in pitch and power should only occur on what is being observed, not in anticipation. For example, do not lower flaps simply because you are on base leg or final. Are you fast or slow? High or low? Then make the necessary adjustments to maintain the glide path.

You have flown a stabilized traffic pattern, which brought you over the numbers. You begin the round out by easing the yoke back, and you continue the correct, smooth, graceful pull of the yoke to bring the nose up. You reduce power. The wheels, smoothly and under control, lightly touch the runway. Now is the time to cheer out and clap, fist pump or high five yourself, right? NO! The landing isn’t over, and the plane is still “flying”! You still have to slow the plane down. Then, there’s the taxi to parking and shut down. This is the rollout. Once the engine is off and you’re out of the plane, then you can do your victory dance.

The landing process demands a lot of attention from the pilot. It does not require strength or speed, but it does require planning, a little agility, and timing. Unfortunately, sometimes, the landing is the only part of the entire flight that the passengers, spotters, and friends get to watch. It’s their last impression of the flight, and it’s yours as well! You will not find nearly as many videos online of airplanes mid-flight and the countless number of calculations, decisions and troubleshooting the pilot must go through, but there is an abundance of landing videos out there. Make your landing video-worthy and suitable for remembering.

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