Air Traffic Controller Argues Endlessly With Pilot

Air Traffic Controller Argues Endlessly With Pilot

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As an aviation geek, I love listening to air traffic control audio, and always enjoy the VASAviation YouTube channel, which does a great job covering interesting air traffic control interactions.

While I usually focus on situations involving airlines, there are also some interesting interactions at general aviation airports. I recently wrote about San Carlos Airport’s cranky air traffic controller, so here’s one about Denton Airport’s argumentative air traffic controller.

Denton Airport’s argumentative air traffic controller

Denton Enterprise Airport (DTO) is a small general aviation airport in Denton, Texas, which also has lots of flight schools. Even more than at major airports, air traffic controllers here should be patient, given the range of pilots they’re dealing with.

In the roughly 3min20sec clip posted by VASAviation, you can hear a Cherokee aircraft trying to do some touch-and-go sequences for practice. The pilot politely requests to be sequenced for a short approach (which the controller and pilot have a different definition of), and this is when the air traffic controller gets incredibly argumentative.

Controller: “You should have turned your base before you hit the approach end of the runway. You’re outside the airport traffic area.”
Pilot: “We’re on about a quarter mile base, ma’am.”
Controller: “Yeah, I know, you should be inside the airport. You should have turned your base abeam the numbers.”
Pilot: “We can’t do that and land on the thousand footers.”
Controller: “Well that’s what a short approach is.”
Pilot: “I’m sorry, I guess I should… we need to come up with something different, because in order to complete a commercial check ride, we gotta do what’s called a power off 180.”
Controller: “That’s fine, but don’t ask for a short approach if you’re gonna do a power off 180. That’s my point.”
Pilot: “Well, okay, I will remember that from now on. No problem.”

Keep in mind that this is all happening on the frequency during a critical phase of flight for pilots, when the focus is supposed to be on safely directly pilots. You’d think that the conversation would have ended with the above, but nope. The controller needs to do a bit more schooling…

Controller: “When you ask for a short approach, I expect you to turn your base abeam the numbers.”
Pilot: “This is gonna be a full stop, and maybe we need to talk about that some more because you’re the first controller in 15 years that’s ever said that.”
Controller: “Well, I’m just, you know, if you ask for a short approach, a short approach is when you turn your base abeam the numbers. If I know that you’re a student asking for a short approach, I know you’re out there practicing and you probably will extend. But if you’re doing something other than a short approach, don’t ask for a short approach.”
Pilot: “Well, I will definitely look up the definition of short approach because I’ve never seen where it says you turn base abeam the numbers, cause I don’t see how you could possibly do that.”
Controller: “Well, I Googled it, actually. I Googled short approach and it said to turn your base abeam or before the numbers and you will land, probably, touch down, around midfield.”
Pilot: “Okay, well, then I apologize for requesting the wrong thing, because everywhere else short approach means power off 180, but that’s definitely not what it means here.”
Controller: “Yeah, well, I mean, you know, I don’t know. Maybe it’s just because I’ve worked at different airports. I don’t know. But just ask for what you need so I know what you wanna do so I can accommodate.”
Pilot: I will most definitely do that. It’s just most controllers don’t know what a power off 180 is.”

You can listen to this (exhausting) interaction for yourself below…

This entire interaction is ridiculous on many levels:

  • If the controller wants to discuss this with the pilot, it should be taken off the frequency and be done by phone
  • This isn’t something that should be discussed so extensively during a critical phase of flight
  • The controller just keeps repeating herself… okay, you’ve made your point, now move on

Was the controller actually right about a short approach?

The air traffic controller and (seemingly) experienced pilot disagree on what a short approach is. You’ve gotta love that she claims that she Googled it to confirm that she was right:

  • Google never has any wrong information, right? 😉
  • You’d think she’d have better things to do, like, you know, directing airplanes

If you look at the comments section on the VASAviation video, virtually every pilot seems to agree that the pilot was in the right with his interpretation, rather than the controller.

What do Federal Aviation Regulations say, though? Here’s the only reference I can find to what constitutes a short approach:

A short approach is executed when the pilot makes an abbreviated downwind, base, and final legs turning inside of the standard 45-degree base turn. This can be requested at a towered airport for aircraft spacing, but is more commonly used at a non-towered airport or a part-time-towered airport when the control tower is not operating, when landing with a simulated engine out or completing a power-off 180-degree accuracy approach commercial-rating maneuver.

This would also support the pilot’s claim, as I don’t see any official source that suggests that you need to turn your base abeam the numbers for it to be considered a short approach.

To take it a step further, I can’t actually find any source from Googling that suggests that a short approach requires a turn abeam the numbers. That leads me to believe she was literally making this up.

Bottom line

Denton Airport has an air traffic controller who not only likes to argue unnecessarily with pilots on the main frequency, but also doesn’t actually seem to have accurate information. Hopefully she gets a talking to regarding her behavior…

What do you make of this air traffic controller’s behavior?

Conversations (55)
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  1. Colleen Hutchens Guest

    She needs to be fired

  2. george Guest

    The Air Traffic Controller is asserting her authority as being right at the wrong time and by tying up the airwaves while other pilots are needing to departvorcland.This clearly should have been discussed over the phone. I Do NOT BELIEVE that this Controller is correct in her assessment.
    I hope that her supervisor has a discussion about her UNPROFESSIONAL BEHAVIOR!

  3. Gene McCormick Guest

    And while all that conversation was going on there may have been other aircraft approaching the airport who would like to establish contact with the tower.

  4. Antonio Martins Guest

    Well, as a non native language speaker and non pilot, but recognizer the weekend people in many ways, i think the controller was completely wrong! What type of controller would looking for something on Google?

  5. JC Guest

    I'm a retired airline pilot for 25 years. Before that I was a flight instructor. In all my years I have never heard an exchange like this. That controller was unprofessional.

  6. Josiane martin Guest

    She needs to be terminated. Go work for Google Aviation.

  7. Beel Guest

    Whyy google, as in the verb google? There are so many better options available and who don't track you.

  8. Fred R. Guest

    What I think is someone (in the tower) was having a bad day… and I say this as a credentialed pilot and a former military ATC. PS: long chats over the radio are (usually) not recommended, the protocol is to have the pilot call the tower by phone once on the ground.

  9. Curt Newport Guest

    As an instrument rated GA pilot (practicing commercial), I agree with the general sentiment here. Even practicing the engine out landings (power off 180) you're not turning abeam the numbers. That phase of flight is also not conducive to an extensive "learning period", and that's not really a controllers job. A "short approach" is anything that is less than a "standard approach", much like an "extended downwind" is anything more. I don't have as much...

    As an instrument rated GA pilot (practicing commercial), I agree with the general sentiment here. Even practicing the engine out landings (power off 180) you're not turning abeam the numbers. That phase of flight is also not conducive to an extensive "learning period", and that's not really a controllers job. A "short approach" is anything that is less than a "standard approach", much like an "extended downwind" is anything more. I don't have as much flight experience as many of my other GA friends, but I don't know that we have any approach procedure that has us making a base turn abeam the numbers that isn't an emergency. I9

  10. Gurudath Kavalu Guest

    She’s not happily married

  11. Greg Art Guest

    I always asked for a 180 side approach. But that was 23,000 flight hours ago.

    1. Steven Guest

      Controller should be fired or retrained.

  12. Bill Guest

    I've got 30k hours and I've never flown a short approach. Nor would I. Turn abeam the numbers, nope. Land long nope. Controller was having a bad day.

    1. Larry Wright Guest

      I spent 23 years ad a controller and first line supervisor at some of the busiest air traffic control towers in the Faa Western region. San Jose ATCT as a controller and Hayward ATCT as a first line supervisor before and after the PATCO strike.
      This controller at San Carlos should have given the phone number for the tower and made their supervisor aware of what happened. The controller chastising the pilot over the...

      I spent 23 years ad a controller and first line supervisor at some of the busiest air traffic control towers in the Faa Western region. San Jose ATCT as a controller and Hayward ATCT as a first line supervisor before and after the PATCO strike.
      This controller at San Carlos should have given the phone number for the tower and made their supervisor aware of what happened. The controller chastising the pilot over the air was unacceptable and should have been addressed.

  13. Baldy Ivy Guest

    Just made a note to not go anywhere near here

    1. Curt Newport Guest

      As an instrument rated GA pilot (practicing commercial), I agree with the general sentiment here. Even practicing the engine out landings (power off 180) you're not turning abeam the numbers. That phase of flight is also not conducive to an extensive "learning period", and that's not really a controllers job. A "short approach" is anything that is less than a "standard approach", much like an "extended downwind" is anything more. I don't have as much...

      As an instrument rated GA pilot (practicing commercial), I agree with the general sentiment here. Even practicing the engine out landings (power off 180) you're not turning abeam the numbers. That phase of flight is also not conducive to an extensive "learning period", and that's not really a controllers job. A "short approach" is anything that is less than a "standard approach", much like an "extended downwind" is anything more. I don't have as much flight experience as many of my other GA friends, but I don't know that we have any approach procedure that has us making a base turn abeam the numbers that isn't an emergency.

    2. george Guest

      This is why she's at a small airport, because she's NOT COMPETENT to work at a large airport.
      Unfortunately, I don't believe she should be an AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER until she gets more training!

  14. Dav K Guest

    This Local Controller needs to reference page 9-24 thru 9-27 of her employer’s (FAA) “Airplane Flying Handbook.”

    She’s about to be humbled.

    https://www.faa.gov/sites/faa.gov/files/regulations_policies/handbooks_manuals/aviation/airplane_handbook/10_afh_ch9.pdf

  15. E Braun Guest

    Totally unacceptable behavior of a controller. Controllers are in a tower and not in the aircraft. Safety is the responsibility of the pilot.

  16. Juan Batch Guest

    What is the purpose of a short approach? I would think most people make a short approach because for some reason be it emergency or personal choice decide a long approach is not appropriate. If traffic is not a problem it would appear to me this is a pilots decision as to how abbreviated this short approach will be. ie. Smoke in cockpit may require a shorter approach than say person air sick. Vs. Engine...

    What is the purpose of a short approach? I would think most people make a short approach because for some reason be it emergency or personal choice decide a long approach is not appropriate. If traffic is not a problem it would appear to me this is a pilots decision as to how abbreviated this short approach will be. ie. Smoke in cockpit may require a shorter approach than say person air sick. Vs. Engine failure. The air traffic controllers job is to maintain safe separation not fly the airplane from the tower.

  17. Jlynn. Alton Guest

    I can recall the events where PRES REGHAN FIRED A BUNCH OF ATC AGENTS FOR BEING WRONG???

    1. Curt Newport Guest

      I think the controllers were on strike, when Reagan fired them.

    2. Nabeel Doumani Guest

      True, he fired them because their strike violated federal laws

  18. Peter Thompson Guest

    Sit down with the air traffic controller and then take her up for a flight and show her a short approach and a 180 degree power of approach

  19. Rachael Guest

    Looks like someone needs to go back to school, but NOT for air trafficking. Miss manners to learn to shut the heck up before this person gets people killed, small airport or not.

  20. John M Guest

    I flew in and out of KDTO a couple months ago. KDTO is a very busy AP with lots of student pilots. I too was embarrassed of the mentioned controller's unprofessional attitude. Many controllers can be terse, and in some situations that terseness helps to get a point across to those flying in the airspace. I am open if a controller feels the need to bluntly explain to me that I did not exactly follow...

    I flew in and out of KDTO a couple months ago. KDTO is a very busy AP with lots of student pilots. I too was embarrassed of the mentioned controller's unprofessional attitude. Many controllers can be terse, and in some situations that terseness helps to get a point across to those flying in the airspace. I am open if a controller feels the need to bluntly explain to me that I did not exactly follow their direction. When piloting an aircraft in a busy airspace, safety is everything and should never to be taken lightly.

    BUT...while flying in KDTO's airspace, I found the controller in question to be very unprofessional, where her venomous attitude created an additional and unnecessary distraction for me while I was piloting my airplane. Her beat down of every pilot in the pattern was not only a huge distraction, but it was also a very brazen waste of precious radio time. At one point, she told another pilot, "if you cannot fly over the highway, then do not come here!". In short order, the pilot repeated her words verbatim. That was tragic and funny at the same time. I am hopeful the controller's leadership at KDTO finds this feedback and creates a retraining solution. No one needs to be beaten down by their chosen profession, but when it is time to re-evaluate the safety of those within the airspace, it is an issue that needs to be addressed.

  21. Rich Guest

    As a retired Air Traffic Controller, I am embarrassed by this exchange. This may exhibit a common problem wherein the Controller may also be a pilot.

  22. Flyin' Brian The Hawaiian Guest

    Wow. Absolutely unprofessional at best, possibly reckless on the part of the controller. I'm human & We all have bad days, This controller seems to have a reputation, Allegedly. Pilot did a great job keeping his cool, being rational & legitimately seemed to want to keep things from escalating. With any luck we can all learn a thing or 2 from this exchange.

  23. Jeanne Jeanne the Controlling Machine Guest

    Unprofessional. That should ALL have taken place on the phone, not the frequency. I say this as a retired ATCS.

  24. Juan Guest

    As a controller both military and civilian, I have seen pilots turn toward base/final abeam the numbers and dive for the runway. I tried looking up that inormation in varios FAA Publicstions and one of the manuals is the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM). In the secrion pilot controller glossary (MAKE SHORT APPROACH) it states:

    Used by ATC to inform a pilot to alter his/her traffic pattern so as to make a short
    final approach....

    As a controller both military and civilian, I have seen pilots turn toward base/final abeam the numbers and dive for the runway. I tried looking up that inormation in varios FAA Publicstions and one of the manuals is the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM). In the secrion pilot controller glossary (MAKE SHORT APPROACH) it states:

    Used by ATC to inform a pilot to alter his/her traffic pattern so as to make a short
    final approach.

    Ref, AIM PCG M−1

    If there is another reference approved by the FAA that the pilot used to describe a short approach then please post it. Power off 180 is a procedure used to by flight instructors to describe such maneuver during a checkride. It al depends on the altitude where the pilot has to glide the aircraft to the runway and it can be anywhere from 0 to 3 mile final.

    Thank you

  25. David Guest

    Just wow! Although I agree with most here that the controller was out of line. The pilot should not have taken the bait and should have shut down the conversation. I like the comment to advise “hold the tape”. This is one time when I would’ve advised the Controller to expect a phone call from me. After I was on the ground.

  26. james Guest

    Oh ben, morons like you that write for a living while the rest of us run the world wouldnt last 2 minutes in an air traffic controller's chair!

  27. Mark Wright Guest

    Another empty kitchen

  28. John Guest

    1. Googled while plugged in = suspended
    2. Have time to argue that much = didnt matter if approach was short or not
    3. Argue with pilot in critical phase of flight = pilot report and subsequent suspension
    There’s no excuse for this behaviour

    1. James Guest

      tell us you have no idea about atc without telling us

    2. Darrell Crawford Guest

      I’m going to call Obiden and Harris and see what they say and if they can make a public presentation on what the right thing is to do Obiden and Harris have the answers

  29. Tom Guest

    Controller is wrong-pilot has right land! Period!!

  30. L. G. Guest

    "Preserve the tape" usually stops the controller trying to fly the plane in my experience.

  31. HB Guest

    Oh yes! I flew in to DTO in September with a friend of mine and luckily I didn’t do anything to get gripped at, but our jaws were absolutely on the floor at the way she was speaking to some of the other pilots. She’s having full on conversations over the frequency, and some of what she was saying, was absolutely hateful.

  32. Randal McFarlane Guest

    I was a controller and had to put up with some pilots who wanted to be “the flying air traffic controller!”

    1. Mark Wright Guest

      Because you were an advisor not a controller per se. The Pilot in Command has the full say and final authority over the safety of the flight. Remember you won't be the one they put in the box if something goes wrong.

    2. Joe Guest

      What a total embarrassment to the ATC profession! That controller needs to be reprimanded, and spend some time in the training department. I was argumenative my first year as an FPL controller, until I listened to how bad it sounded on the frequency. After being sat down and explained that these pilot are the customers, provide them with a service. That changed my mindset for a 32 year career.

  33. polarbear Gold

    What surprises me here most is that the controller has access to google while in the tower

  34. Galoot Diamond

    ATC references "Google" ... seriously ?

  35. Wild Bill Guest

    As a former tower controller…. This was the controllers lack of planning. When I worked student pilots I would always ask how far they expected to take their downwind out. If they were gonna keep it tight would figure out if I was able to make it work reference my straight in traffic. If not it’s simple. Tell them to extend their upwind or have them do a 360 in the downwind to accommodate both....

    As a former tower controller…. This was the controllers lack of planning. When I worked student pilots I would always ask how far they expected to take their downwind out. If they were gonna keep it tight would figure out if I was able to make it work reference my straight in traffic. If not it’s simple. Tell them to extend their upwind or have them do a 360 in the downwind to accommodate both. I’m not saying I always made the right decision, but simply explaining to the pilot you messed up is much easier than trying to place blame on the pilot who did nothing wrong.

    1. Joshua Member

      During my training I was asked to 360 or extend several times for spacing and it was never an issue at all. Never expected a mea culpa from the tower guy (Class D airspace) either. It happens; and the ATC folks are just trying to maintain spacing to keep everyone safe.

    1. Andrew Eppink Guest

      Holy cow. I haven't flown in years but it sounds to me like the Gal doesn't know what she's talking about and is bs'ing.

  36. Thomas Christoffersen Guest

    On a short approach the Wind and/or aircraft type is the deciding factor, of how wide or narrow you will have to make the turn.
    The objective is for the (student)Pilot to Cut the power to idle abeam the Numbers, and then glide the aircraft through a descending 180 degree turn onto the 1000’ markers.
    The controller is full of BS, just having a bad day :-D

  37. Joshua Member

    I too am a general aviation pilot (sport pilot) and agree that a short approach will not turn abeam the numbers.

    Depending on the length of the runway turning abeam the numbers 1000 ft AGL (the usual pattern altitude for GA) it’s going to be damn hard to impossible to get the plane down and stop it before you run out of runway. It also takes all of the usual landmarks and landing aids...

    I too am a general aviation pilot (sport pilot) and agree that a short approach will not turn abeam the numbers.

    Depending on the length of the runway turning abeam the numbers 1000 ft AGL (the usual pattern altitude for GA) it’s going to be damn hard to impossible to get the plane down and stop it before you run out of runway. It also takes all of the usual landmarks and landing aids out of the equation (PAPI, pavement landing markers, normal sight picture).

    Not saying such a landing couldn’t be be performed, but I sure wouldn’t do one by choice, and it wasn’t what the pilot in question was asking for.

  38. DJA… Guest

    I fly out of KDTO regularly… someone has to keep all the coneheads honest

  39. Chas Guest

    If you read more of the comments it sounds like this controller as a wide reputation at this airport as awful to deal with.

    Just using logic her interpretation makes zero sense (which the pilot tried to explain): if you turn base abeam the numbers, you will roll out on final *over* the numbers, which will make it a bit difficult to touch down on the numbers….

  40. BenjaminKohl Gold

    Yeah… that controller has no idea what they’re talking about. And it’s incredibly reckless (on both of them but especially the controller) to continue arguing back and forth on the radio. The pilot should have just said “roger” and dropped it or asked for a phone number once on the ground.

    1. Juan Guest

      Totally agree... Something that could have been discussed on the ground preferably on the phone.

    2. Galen Guest

      ...they're(????)... It's just ONE person, a she, so we say, ...SHE doesn't know....

      Make sense?

      THEY is 3rd person PLURAL
      HE/SHE/IT is 3rd person S*******r!

      You fill in the above!

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Joshua Member

I too am a general aviation pilot (sport pilot) and agree that a short approach will not turn abeam the numbers. Depending on the length of the runway turning abeam the numbers 1000 ft AGL (the usual pattern altitude for GA) it’s going to be damn hard to impossible to get the plane down and stop it before you run out of runway. It also takes all of the usual landmarks and landing aids out of the equation (PAPI, pavement landing markers, normal sight picture). Not saying such a landing couldn’t be be performed, but I sure wouldn’t do one by choice, and it wasn’t what the pilot in question was asking for.

3
Galoot Diamond

ATC references "Google" ... seriously ?

2
Wild Bill Guest

As a former tower controller…. This was the controllers lack of planning. When I worked student pilots I would always ask how far they expected to take their downwind out. If they were gonna keep it tight would figure out if I was able to make it work reference my straight in traffic. If not it’s simple. Tell them to extend their upwind or have them do a 360 in the downwind to accommodate both. I’m not saying I always made the right decision, but simply explaining to the pilot you messed up is much easier than trying to place blame on the pilot who did nothing wrong.

2
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