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Old 01-17-2008, 07:54 AM
Scorch Scorch is offline
Super Moderator
Join Date: Dec 2004
Posts: 81
Default VFR Flight Following: No Thanks

I'm reading Ron Lee's excellent trip report and I'm struck by his experience with the "rude and unhelpful" approach controller at Las Vegas when he requested VFR flight following.

And then I read in my morning paper that the DFW Tracon is understaffed to the point of affecting safety and traffic capacity, according to the controller's union, which says this reflects a national shortage of controllers. The FAA's ATC managers, who created this problem, blithely dismiss the union's concerns, saying they see no connection between controller shortages and documented increased losses of separation.

Ron, I'm sure you are well aware that for the guy sitting at the scope, his first concern is NOT for the "safe and orderly traffic flow" you mention. First and foremost, his main job is separation of IFR traffic. He gets hammered for the dreaded "loss of separation" between IFR airplanes. Responding to VFR traffic is completely at his discretion.

So given the current shortages and hostile working conditions, it's easy to see why some of these guys are not thrilled when VFR GA airplanes pop up requesting ATC services in congested airspace. Yeah, we should all be courteous on the radio, but basically I don't blame them.

I almost never use VFR flight following, because for me, the hassles outweigh the dubious benefits. It can lead to a false sense of security. I prefer knowing that the only way I'm going to avoid traffic is to rely on myself to look out the darn window and see it, and not hope that some overworked controller may call traffic which may or may not even be squawking.

Plus, I admit it, I love living in one of the few places left on earth where we CAN fly relatively freely, without talking to a soul if we so choose. I DO always squawk VFR so airliners can see me on their TCAS, but peace and quiet on the radio is worth a lot. And anything that forces you to look out the window can't be all bad.

I love this country.
Ross Burgess
DFW area
Bought flying RV-6
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Old 01-17-2008, 08:00 AM
brayski98's Avatar
brayski98 brayski98 is offline
Join Date: Feb 2005
Location: Pecan Plantation, Tx.
Posts: 128
Default No Problems

I haven't experienced any issues, especially with attitude while using flight following. But like you I don't rely on an ATC to call out traffic, I will be looking. However, if I drop off the radar screen it would be nice to have someone notice right away instead of waiting for someone to notice I'm late.
Bryan Ray
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Old 01-17-2008, 08:36 AM
steveKs. steveKs. is offline
Join Date: May 2007
Location: Fowler, Kansas
Posts: 162

I was delivering my daughter into Meacham under DFW Bravo and the approach controller (very friendly) called out a number of vfr traffic that wasn't talking to control. I use center and approach services whenever possible in conjested airspace, even if not required, it is safer. I am aware that my eyes are my most important asset in keeping separation under VFR rules but it can't hurt having another pair of eyes looking out for me.
After 30 years of flying I have had a couple of controllers with a attitude but only a couple and my skin is pretty thick.

Going into Meacham the friendly controller called me number 2 behind a Lear and added "and you aint got a prayer of catching him". I was descending and the little devil on my left shoulder was prodding me to power up to 200 knots just to mess with the approach dude.
The friendliest voice I have ever heard and I can still hear him in my mind was a approach controller at handoff saying "17 Echo what can I do for you this evening?". I was in a iced up 172, IMC into Will Rogers.

I feel more secure with those guys staring at their little screens. Whether they know it or not they are working for me.
Steve Edwards
Southwest Ks. (MEJ)
RV8 200hp cs
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Old 01-17-2008, 08:48 AM
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Ironflight Ironflight is offline
VAF Moderator / Line Boy
Join Date: Jan 2005
Location: Dayton, NV
Posts: 12,465
Default I'm with Scorch!

It might surprise people given that I am big on procedural flying, but about the only time I will use VFR flight following is if I am going into a strange, busy terminal area and landing at the main airport. Other than that, I am perfectly comfortable flying along not adding to the burden of an overworked system. And I say that in all seriousness, because when I DO file IFR, I want the folks to be concentrating on keeping those of us in the clouds away from each other!

When I leave my airport on the south side of Houston, it takes me about 3 minutes to clear the class B airspace going to the south, or about 7 minutes clearing it to the east or west. It's far quicker to stay underneath than to call up Approach, get put on hold, finally get a squawk, then be told to stay underneath....

I really am concerned about controller workload, and I see a serious crisis coming in the ATC system. By NOT contributing to the workload, I might be helping out in a small way. They see me as a VFR target with Mode C, so they know where I am. I am smart enough about "the system" to pretty much know where the heavy traffic is going to be, and I stay away from it.

And as Scorch says, I really enjoy the ability to fly freely, without having to talk with anyone - it's a great benefit of our nation - and who knows if it will last forever?

Paul F. Dye
Editor at Large - KITPLANES Magazine
RV-8 - N188PD - "Valkyrie"
RV-6 (By Marriage) - N164MS - "Mikey"
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Old 01-17-2008, 09:00 AM
Jalanci Jalanci is offline
Join Date: Nov 2006
Location: Cromwell, CT
Posts: 38
Default ATC

I've had mostly great help using VFR Flight Following. I certainly understand that they are only another resource that can assist but not warranty separation. Occasionally I've had them miss some aircraft or became too busy to continue service, that's ok. I will also just listen to their frequency to get a read on the air situation.

My eyes may be the last line of defense, but one of the reasons I went with PCAS is because I've had numerous targets mentioned by ATC where I never saw them. I would imagine that different centers have a different culture towards VFR, here in the CT area, they have been great.
Jeff Cissell
RV7 - wings
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Old 01-17-2008, 09:05 AM
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Geico266 Geico266 is offline
Join Date: Feb 2005
Location: Huskerland, USA
Posts: 5,861

One of the reasons for concern, according to an ATC buddy of mine what we are seeing is the retirement of experienced controllers. When President Regan fired all of the striking contollers in August of 1981 they hired 13,000+ replacements. Those controllers are now approaching retirement age. Kinda like the baby boom crunch. It will work itself out.

I have had favorable results with flight following. When I have passengers going CC I use them alot. By myself, not so much.
RV-7 : In the hangar
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RV-12 : Built and sold
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Last edited by Geico266 : 01-17-2008 at 09:08 AM.
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Old 01-17-2008, 09:26 AM
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Ron Lee Ron Lee is offline
Join Date: Jun 2005
Posts: 3,275
Default Clarification

I was not really seeking flight following as I do on cross-countries. That usually works just fine. I often fly above aircraft going to COS and on many occasions my talking to the local controllers has probably helped them fly into COS without having to divert around me. So I am convinced that talking to ATC can help them.

If there is an ATC guy here you can tell me whether it is better to have an unidentified GA aircraft crossing a landing airliners projected path (outside of Class B) or would it help to have the GA aircraft altitude verified and maintain above or below a certain altitude?

I could have just as easily flown in a manner that I would have inadvertently caused problems at LAS yet have been flying ok as a VFR pilot.

When you fly high like I do, paths between me and airlines arrival or departing an airport do cross.
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Old 01-17-2008, 10:44 AM
Scorch Scorch is offline
Super Moderator
Join Date: Dec 2004
Posts: 81
Default Any controllers to chime in?

Ron makes a great point - if any controllers are reading, how do you feel about this? Alex?

Would you rather have us VFR GA guys just squawk VFR, fly where we know we're out of the way, and not bother you (like me and Iron), or do you prefer us to come up on the radio and request services so you are talking to us?

I'm also wondering if anyone knows of any actual, uh, data on this issue. Do airplanes using flight following actually have fewer near-misses, or collisions? I'm not even sure how you could measure this. NASA reports?
Ross Burgess
DFW area
Bought flying RV-6
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Old 01-17-2008, 11:09 AM
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McFly McFly is offline
Join Date: Sep 2005
Posts: 334

I use flight following on long flights. My attitude is that it is just an additional tool to help get the job done but it doesn?t change the roll or responsibility I have for the flight. I realize that I am the controller?s lowest priority but so far it has worked well for me.

Here is where I think flight following shines and this is purely my opinion. I have a 3 lb paper weight in my plane and it?s only purpose (again IMHO) is to satisfy a regulation. It?s called an ELT. When I am flying over large jagged rocks sticking out of the snow, I like hearing a voice on the other end ?just in case?.
Northern California
RV-7 Flying
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Old 01-17-2008, 11:31 AM
David-aviator David-aviator is offline
Join Date: Feb 2005
Location: Chesterfield, Missouri
Posts: 4,514

VFR flight following is a great service IF the controller has time to provide it. I've stopped using it because of a couple instances where the controller got very busy with IFR traffic and failed to hand me off or say service terminated, squawk 1200. You sit there paying attention to what's going on and there's been a disconnect on the other end. On one occasion a 757 got a TCAS warning, I saw him coming, and the controller was not aware of the conflict even though I was plugged into the system. Maybe it was a training situation as another person did come on to deal with the slightly irritated 757 driver. In this instance, TCAS worked as it always does. I kept my transmitter silent during the exchange as there was nothing constructive to add. Everyone knew I had fallen through the cracks.

Whether you use flight following on not, it is very important to squawk mode C at all times. Part 121 guys and most corporate jets carry TCAS II these days and they will get a warning and resolution advisory (RA) of any potential conflict with VFR traffic. They have authority to leave an assigned altitude when that alert goes off. In fact, company policy mandated following the TCAS II RA when I was on the pay roll. Of all the bell and whistle systems, it is the best.
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