Thursday, July 19, 2012

Hot Spots

Let’s talk about hot spots.  No, I am not referring to the Saturday night variety, but the ones that can be found at airports.  One of the FAA’s hot buttons is runway incursions, and the designation of hot spots is an effort to help you avoid becoming a runway incursion statistic.  Before I dive into this topic, I want to give credit to Steve Thibault for the idea for this article.  Steve works with me in Sim Flite Minnesota and recently gave an excellent seminar on using the iPad in the cockpit.  This section on hot spots was presented in his seminar.

Due to the format limitations of Blogger, you can read this article up on the Sim Flite Minnesota website, where the images are actually large enough to be seen.

Steve chose the downtown St Paul airport (STP) to use as an example.  It has a somewhat odd layout of runways.  This has no doubt helped create some incursions.  Below is the airport diagram for STP, which shows the designated hot spot areas.

As you can see, it has two runways with similar designations, runway 32 and runway 31.  This is almost a guaranteed recipe for incursions.  There is a text description of the hot spots.

So it’s probably not the most useful of descriptions.  But let’s employ another tool to get a better idea of what a pilot will actually see and why it can be misleading.  The picture below was captured using Google Earth.  The focus is on the H3 hot spot.

Now let’s zoom in for a much closer look.

Now the source of confusion becomes much more apparent.  We’ve been taught from the time we were student pilots to clear the runway before stopping to take care of after-landing items.  But look at where the hold short lines are for each runway.  Confused over solid versus dashed lines?  Remember the following little saying.

Dash across the dashed lines
Stop solid at the solid lines

So let’s say you have just landed on runway 32 and the tower tells you to exit on delta and hold short of runway 31.  By the time your aircraft’s nose reaches the hold short lines for runway 31, your tail might still be hanging out on runway 32.  So remembering your flight instructor saying “Get off the runway first”, you creep forward to get your offending tail off of runway 32.  And you have now just committed a runway incursion, and the tower may give you a phone number to call.

Today as pilots we have so much information available to us.  Google Earth allows you to actually see your destination airport.  And with GPS and your iPad, you can even follow your airplane’s progress on a taxiway.   Bottom line?  Don’t become an FAA statistic.  Use today’s ever-expanding technology to help keep you safe.

Friday, May 11, 2012

When Local Altimeter Not Received

It’s easy to become a little bit complacent about briefing an approach plate.  We look at the big ticket items, so to speak – the altitudes, fixes, missed approach procedures, etc.  But it is all too easy to let a little item slip through the cracks.  This came to mind recently when I was working in the G1000 sim with a customer who was planning a vacation to the Pacific Northwest area and wanted to rent a plane while out there.   I was looking at the available procedures for Renton (RNT) and saw this in the notes.

“When local altimeter setting not received, use Seattle-Tacoma Intl altimeter setting.”  It’s a note that is present on many approach plates.  But how many of us would take the time to find the frequency for ATIS at the Seattle airport?  I’d wager most of us don’t, and as you can see, it is clearly not provided on the approach plate.   Yes, you could use your GPS to find the information, but there is actually a far easier way to get the information, and it involves the now-ubiquitous iPad. 

The example detailed here utilizes an iPad2 and the very popular ForeFlight application.  From the Map page, with IFR enroute low chart type selected, you can clearly see the Seattle airport (SEA), to the west of Renton (RNT).  

If you put your finger on the SEA airport symbol, ForeFlight brings up a dialog box that looks like this.

We don’t want to add KSEA to the route, but we would like to get the frequency for its weather information.  Selecting the “>”  symbol to the right of the airport accomplishes this.  The first page displayed is the METAR, which has the altimeter setting. 

But you can also get the ATIS frequency by selecting the “Info” tab at the bottom of the dialog box. 

So now you have the SEA altimeter setting and can proceed to your destination at Renton.  ForeFlight gives a convenient way to get the information, but you could have also included it in your briefing of the approach plate.