Hah: Maui ATC Gives Pilots “Lumps Of Coal” For Christmas

Filed Under: Hawaiian

It looks like Maui air traffic control (ATC) decided to celebrate Christmas in a rather unconventional way, by having some fun with pilots. I initially thought this happened yesterday, but as it turns out this is from last Christmas — that’s not a big deal, as it’s equally fun either way.

Hawaii ATC has fun for Christmas

Before pilots request clearance for their flight, they’re supposed to listen to the automatic terminal information service, known as ATIS. This essentially broadcasts the weather conditions at the airport, and other things that pilots should be aware of.

The information is updated at least once an hour, so when a pilot requests clearance from air traffic control, they are supposed to indicate which ATIS information they listened to, so that the controller knows they have up-to-date information.

Ordinarily that simply follows the phonetic alphabet, so you have update “A,” then update “B,” then update “C,” and so on. Typically they use the phonetic alphabet for this, meaning that you’d refer to each update as alpha, bravo, charlie, etc. However, for Christmas last year Maui didn’t follow the typical phonetic alphabet for ATIS.

Rather than providing “information lima” and “information mike,” Maui mixed it up a bit. The automated system instead used “lumps of coal” for the letter “L,” and “mistletoe” for the letter “M.” Hah. You can listen to the audio of pilots repeating this here:

They’re slightly nicer than this Maui controller

It’s nice to see pilots and air traffic controllers having fun. However, since I was writing about Maui and air traffic control, I couldn’t help but be reminded of this ATC audio from a while back, also from Maui approach. In it, a pilot declares an emergency, and the controller would be hard-pressed to be less helpful.

You can hear that audio here, should you be interested:

Bottom line

It’s not easy to work on holidays and be away from your family (though that’s something many more people are facing this year), so it’s always nice to see people who make the best of it. Kudos to the Maui air traffic controllers for having some unconventional fun with ATIS updates…

(Tip of the hat to SINJim)

  1. Not yesterday, but last year.

    Note that at the end, the video says “This happened during Christmas Day, 2019”.

    Apparently VASaviation was lacking original content so they just decided to cash in a rerun.

  2. @JS

    Yeah, I thought the ‘Lumps of Coal’ thing sounded almost too familiar… I thought, “Wait, didn’t they do this last year too?”

  3. @HSK

    I’m also positive I’ve seen this video before, but I can’t find the original from last year anymore. They must have deleted it and then re-posted it.

  4. Naughty boys and girls being given a lump of coal for christmas is a traditional sign that they have misbehaved and need to do better next year if they want a good present.

    Whreas on new years eve the first person to visit your house should bring a lump of coal to ensure your fire keeps burning through the rest of the winter.

  5. Lucky, I would not describe the controller as unhelpful. I think he misunderstood when the pilot when he said the airport in sight with clouds between him and the airport. A better controller would have clarified what he needed and focused on getting him down safely. And NO WAY should the controller have pressed on why the pilot declared an emergency. But does not even rank on the scale of unhelpful (China) or rude (New York).
    -pilot and former ATC.

  6. Tom Smith, absolutely he should have pressed on the nature of the emergency. He needs to know what is happening. In the case of severe turbulence the information is vital to protect other pilots in the area as well as in detemining if there might be a chance of structural damage, the controller is legally required to get the severity and is also required to ask the nature of the emergency. Pilot is a jerk for not sharing it because other pilots in the area need that information. If it wasn’t turbulence but an aircraft issue the more informed the fire and rescue are on the ground the better the survival chance for everyone on board. Lastly an aircraft flying low, below a minimum vectoring altitude is dangerous when they can’t see where there going. The reason the controller was worked up was his back side was on the line as well as the lives of the pilot and passengers. If your on a visual approach you need to see were your going because by definition your flying yourself visually to the airport. Pilots get vectors “for a visual approach” not on it, which wouldn’t make any sense because after being cleared they can turn as needed and a vector is compulsory.

  7. Lucky, that controller was very helpful! As a former commercial pilot, the pilot in question was most likely in instrument conditions and was panicking because he was not an instrument pilot. I could tell this because he was asking for a visual approach. He would not fly through clouds, which indicates he was a private or student pilot. The plane in question was a Cessna 172 owned by a flight school in Honolulu.

    When a pilot declares an emergency, airspace clears so ATC can get the plane safely on the ground. This controller was acting very professional, IMHO. But you could tell the frustration in the controller’s voice because the pilot was saying things like “the airport was in sight” when it kind of wasn’t. ATC asking what kind of emergency is a valid question. ATC needs to know what kind of emergency it is to prepare the airport for any emergency services when the plane lands.

    The person in trouble would be the pilot. He flew into weather he was not trained for and declared an emergency when it probably wasn’t. This according to the FAA may or may not be considered an emergency. A pilot could lose their license for an improper declaration. I’m sure in this case the worse that happened was a stern talking to and a boatload of paperwork (always paperwork with the FAA).

  8. I’m an instrument rated private pilot, and I’ve never heard of someone’s certificate being revoked for a questionable emergency declaration. More often, the issue is that pilots are too reluctant to declare an emergency. I was trained that anytime that the safety of the flight is not assured, that is an emergency.

  9. I agree with Simon that most pilots won’t declare an emergency when perhaps they should. They don’t want to bother anyone, they don’t want to put up with the paperwork, they think they can handle it. We one time lost an engine over Columbia, MO after getting the engines overhauled in Kansas City, and I was flying right seat. After feathering the prop, I turned to the pilot and asked if we were going to put down in Columbia. He just said it wasn’t the bother, turns the plane around, and flew back to KC so he could give a piece of his mind to the mechanic! No emergency or anything according to him; just another day at the office. Was this an emergency? Maybe. But not to the pilot in charge (I was 18 at the time).

  10. If you listen real close, the pilot encountered “light rain and light turbulence”. Declared an Emergency and turned back “direct Kahului Airport”. Controller is required to ascertain “the nature of your Emergency” so that he can notify supervisor on duty, Maui Tower, Airport Fire Department/Crash Rescue and Coast Guard. Souls on board, Fuel remaining on board on arrival (if there is a crash-fire department wants to know how big of a fire). None of this critical information was furnished by the pilot. Instead, he said, “we can talk about this on the ground.” ATC needs that information. If pilot was in IMC conditions, his weather conditions dramatically improved because it is 100% impossible to execute a Visual Approach under IMC conditions, 10 MILES from the airport at NIGHT!!! Simply put, he couldn’t and would not see anything from 10 miles, in bad weather, at night. Conditions had to improve for him to request a Visual Approach. Controller already established there were no “mechanical problems” and if any turbulence was on going. This request for a Visual Approach would also indicate he was no longer in bad weather and therefore, possibly, no longer an Emergency. Lastly, a Visual Approach allows the pilot to navigate his own aircraft to the airport of intended landing. There is no vectors or altitude Assignment on a Visual Approach. Pilot simply flies his own airplane to the active runway. Pilot did not or was not able to understand simple basic ATC instructions. Controller tried to do his job, but because of the pilots’ ineptitude or lack of experience, the situation deteriorated.

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Reminder: OMAAT comments are changing soon. Register here to save your space.