Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Class B with a grain of Salt

Salt Lake City approach and its Class B procedures continue to leave me scratching my head. Continues? See Class B Silliness from back in April. And for years they have been annoying turbine pilots by using an unpublished north departure gate, the Wasatch VOR 005 radial at 60 nautical miles. Locals learn to expect this and to carry a little extra fuel (it adds 15 miles to a flight to Pocatello, for example), but transients are left scratching their heads and reprogramming the FMS while Mr. Big Shot and his trophy wife fume at the delay.

They're still slow to give Class B clearances. Sometimes they'll say "Expect Class B clearance from the next controller," but the legal status of "expect" isn't clear to me, especially when flying under Visual Flight Rules (VFR). Under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) the situation is different: according to 14CFR91.185, the route or altitude that ATC has told a pilot to "expect" becomes the clearance in the event of lost communications. So, approaching Idaho Falls on a busy IFR day one often hears "Proceed direct Idaho Falls VOR, expect ILS runway 20 approach." If you reach IDA and the frequency has been too busy for center to give you a new clearance (lack of bandwidth is a form of lost communications) you just go ahead and do the approach.

But a VFR approaching KSLC is not an IFR, and a clearance is not a route. Do they think that the "expect" will allow me to enter Class B in the event of frequency congestion? I just don't know. We end up circling in the little notch between the Wasatch Front and the Class B boundary, above the Ogden Class D.

The next annoyance is their use of an unpublished frequency for the tower. General Aviation usually uses the east runway (17 - 35); the tower frequency is published as 118.3 mHz. But now the final handoff from Approach is "Contact Salt Lake Tower on 120.2." This isn't a big deal on arrival, when you are going through a bunch of frequency changes, but departure is different. Before flying in the Class B airspace you need a clearance, and the Clearance Delivery position has helpfully given you a departure frequency along with a transponder code. When my students are ready, I have them switch to tower frequency, then set the departure frequency as the standby frequency, and only then call "Ready."

But now Salt Lake Tower hands departures off to 120.2, rather than the departure frequency that we have been told to expect. So the student, already stressed, does a bunch of knob twisting while trying to stay straight and stay under the altitude restriction. It would be easier if Clearance Delivery said "Departure with Tower on 120.2."

Leaving Class B, we hear "...leaving Class B airspace, frequency change approved, have a nice flight." What happened to "squawk VFR?" I am 100% sure that they do not want us on the same transponder code; they recycle them pretty quickly. So again we have to ask and the frequency is tied up more than necessary and somebody doesn't get their clearance or flies through a localizer due to lack of bandwidth.

And it's not our fault.

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