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.
In this post:
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.
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?