Chaotic Traffic Pattern: Sedona, AZ (KSEZ)

I recently flew friends to Sedona, AZ (KSEZ) for brunch on a beautiful Sunday morning. The flight from the Las Vegas area was uneventful, but the arrival at KSEZ (video below) illustrated the need for clear communications and standard traffic pattern procedures at busy non-towered airports.

Sedona, AZ (KSEZ) on a sectional chart

KSEZ is famous for its runway located on a mesa above the town, which is surrounded by spectacular red rock formations and supposedly is home to at least one spiritual energy vortex. Some wags call KSEZ the USS Sedona, because landing there is as close as most pilots will come to landing on an aircraft carrier (the other famous candidate for landlubbers is Catalina, CA; KAVX).

Closer view of the airport on a sectional chart

The airport is at 4830 MSL elevation; traffic pattern altitude is 6003 for piston aircraft, per the remarks in the Chart Supplement. It has one runway, 3-21. Runway 3 slopes up, and it is the preferred choice for landing when winds are light. Runway 21 is usually the best choice for takeoff. Left traffic is designated for both runway ends; downwind and base west of the airport when using runway 3; downwind and base east of the airport when using runway 21.

The recently updated AC 90-66B–Nontowered Airport Operations describes the recommend procedures for entering and flying the traffic pattern at a non-towered airport, and it provides examples of best practices for communicating on the Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF) assigned to each airport.

The airport was busy on that Sunday morning, mostly with arriving traffic as we approached at about 1100 MST.

Arriving at KSEZ

But the problem during this approach and landing wasn’t really the number of airplanes trying to use the airport. Instead, it was difficult to develop a good picture of the traffic around the airport and to anticipate the actions of other pilots because:

Some pilots overflew the airport to enter the downwind directly or entered downwind directly rather than flying a 45-degree entry. Now, the 45-degree entry isn’t required, and AC 90-66B discusses two options for joining the downwind if you overfly the airport.

Traffic pattern entry after crossing overhead at midfield.

But the advisory circular also notes that:

11.3 Traffic Pattern Entry. Arriving aircraft should be at traffic pattern altitude and allow for sufficient time to view the entire traffic pattern before entering. Entries into traffic patterns while descending may create collision hazards and should be avoided. Entry to the downwind leg should be at a 45 degree angle abeam the midpoint of the runway to be used for landing. The pilot may use discretion to choose an alternate type of entry, especially when intending to cross over midfield, based upon the traffic and communication at the time of arrival. [Emphasis added.]

Note: Aircraft should always enter the pattern at pattern altitude, especially when flying over midfield and entering the downwind directly. A midfield crossing alternate pattern entry should not be used when the pattern is congested. Descending into the traffic pattern can be dangerous, as one aircraft could descend on top of another aircraft already in the pattern. All similar types of aircraft, including those entering on the 45 degree angle to downwind, should be at the same pattern altitude so that it is easier to visually acquire any traffic in the pattern.

AC 90-66B

The other issue that sunny Sunday morning was confusing or confused radio calls and position reports. Using local landmarks like “the high school” doesn’t help folks who aren’t familiar with the area. As AC 90-66B notes:

Transient aircraft may not know local ground references, so pilots should use standard pattern phraseology, including distances from the airport.

AC 90-66B

The recommendations in the AC also note that:

When referring to a specific runway, pilots should use the runway number and not use the phrase “Active Runway,” because there is no official active runway at a non-towered airport. To help identify one airport from another when sharing the same frequency, the airport name should be spoken at the beginning and end of each self-announce transmission.

AC 90-66B

Finally, some of the transmission where confusing, perhaps because the pilot simply misstated a runway number, pattern leg, or intentions. For example, one pilot said, “Cirrus xxx, on a straight-out departure runway 21, coming back for a straight-in departure runway 3.” Those were slips of the tongue, but they certainly didn’t help others understand the pilot’s plan.

Other pilots reported entering the downwind from the north, probably via a direct entry (without a 45-degree leg), but it was hard to be sure, and at least one aircraft apparently flew inside another as they entered the downwind.

As you can see in the video, I made a 360-degree turn while on the 45 leg to create more space behind the Baron that joined downwind ahead of me after crossing over the airport at midfield. We were a little too close for my comfort, and I didn’t want to extend my downwind behind the twin, which needs more room to maneuver.

In the end, we all arrived safely, but the traffic pattern was more chaotic than necessary. Flying a few extra miles to set up west of the airport for a 45-degree entry would have allowed everyone more opportunities to develop good situational awareness, to minimize last-minute maneuvering near the airport, and to adjust the pattern to accommodate arrivals and departures.

Another note for pilots: My Bonanza is equipped with an altitude-compensating fuel pump. It adjusts the mixture based on ambient pressure, so even at high-altitude airports such as KSEZ, I set the mixture to full rich for takeoff and landing, and I check for the appropriate the fuel flow based on a table in the airplane flight manual. If your aircraft doesn’t have such a system, and most don’t, you should refer to the performance data in your POH or AFM and set the mixture according the the information in that handbook when operating at high density altitudes.

Equipment Required Notes on IFR Procedure Charts

FAA and members of the aviation community have almost completed a long process for updating the equipment required notes on IFR charts. In particular, FAA is consolidating and adding detail about performance based navigation (PBN) requirements.

For background on this topic, see New Equipment Required Notes and the topic 13-02-312: Equipment Requirement Notes on Instrument Approach Procedure at the Aeronautical Charting Meeting.

But FAA still hasn’t clearly addressed the confusion that many pilots have about when and how an IFR-approved GNSS (i.e., a “suitable RNAV system” as described in the AIM and various ACs–specifically, AC 90-100, paragraph 7) supplants the need for conventional avionics, such as DME and ADF.

For example, see the KBEH ILS or LOC RWY 28 approach chart.

The equipment notes say that RNAV-1 GPS (i.e., either a non-WAAS or WAAS GNSS) is required to fly the procedure. A second note says that DME is required if you fly the LOC-only procedure, a non-precision approach to an MDA with a missed approach point identified by a DME fix. Other waypoints along the final approach segement include WESUG and the visual descent point (VDP), each defined as a DME fix.

The notes seem to imply that if you fly the LOC-only version of this procedure, you must have DME. That is, if you have an IFR-approved GNSS, you must also have DME to fly the non-precision version of the procedure—you can’t use GNSS to substitute for the DME requirement unless you have a second GNSS that you can use to load the I-BEH localizer as a fix to provide distance information from the location of that DME transmitter. But that interpretation would make it impossible for most new aircraft (which don’t typically come with DME) or aircraft retrofitted with GNSS avionics and no DME to fly the LOC approach.

If you load that procedure into an IFR-approved navigator such as the Garmin GNS 750, the flight plan includes the following fixes:

You can use the distances shown relative to the FAF and the RW28 MAP to determine your along-track distance (ATD) to the VDP and the MAP, as described in the AIM and other references. You don’t need DME to identify the key fixes (and VDPs aren’t included in databases, so you must use ATD, either from a GPS or DME, to determine your position relative to a VDP).

Both AIM 1−2−3 Use of Suitable Area Navigation (RNAV) Systems on Conventional Procedures and Routes and AC 90-108 (it has the same title as the AIM paragraph) state:

Use of a suitable RNAV system as a Substitute Means of Navigation when a Very−High Frequency (VHF) Omni−directional Range (VOR), Distance Measuring Equipment (DME), Tactical Air Navigation (TACAN), VOR/TACAN (VORTAC), VOR/DME, Non−directional Beacon (NDB), or compass locator facility including locator outer marker and locator middle marker is out−of−service (that is, the navigation aid (NAVAID) information is not available); an aircraft is not equipped with an Automatic Direction Finder (ADF) or DME; or the installed ADF or DME on an aircraft is not operational…

NOTE−

1. The allowances described in this section apply even when a facility is identified as required on a procedure (for example, “Note ADF required”).

That guidance apparently is too subtle. AOPA has flagged this issue at least three times in written comments to FAA about the PBN requirements box. As an AOPA representive confirmed, “It is not necessary to add a ‘DME required’ note if RNAV-1 GPS is also required to fly the approach.”

AOPA has more information on this topic here and in a fact sheet.

FAA is aware of the confusion current notes cause, and my contacts at AOPA are checking with FAA to see if the agency is making progress on clarifying the language used in the notes and guidance such as the AIM and ACs.

AIM Update: Approach Categories

FAA has released the January 30, 2020 update to the AIM. (Link to PDF and HTML editions here. You can read the explanation of changes here.)

The update includes several items of interest to IFR pilots, but one is of particular note here:

5−4−7. Instrument Approach Procedures
This change provides pilots with additional options when it is necessary to conduct an instrument approach at an airspeed higher than the maximum airspeed of its certificated aircraft approach category. It explains the flexibility provided in 14 CFR and emphasizes the primary safety issue of staying within protected areas.

Here’s the new text in that section:

a. Aircraft approach category means a grouping of aircraft based on a speed of Vref at the maximum certified landing weight, if specified, or if Vref is not specified, 1.3Vso at the maximum certified landing weight. Vref, Vso, and the maximum certified landing weight are those values as established for the aircraft by the certification authority of the country of registry. A pilot must maneuver the aircraft within the circling approach protected area (see FIG 5−4−29) to achieve the obstacle and terrain clearances provided by procedure design criteria.

b. In addition to pilot techniques for maneuvering, one acceptable method to reduce the risk of flying out of the circling approach protected area is to use either the minima corresponding to the category determined during certification or minima associated with a higher category. Helicopters may use Category A minima. If it is necessary to operate at a speed in excess of the upper limit of the speed range for an aircraft’s category, the minimums for the higher category should be used. This may occur with certain aircraft types operating in heavy/gusty wind, icing, or non−normal conditions. For example, an airplane which fits into Category B, but is circling to land at a speed of 145 knots, should use the approach Category D minimums. As an additional example, a Category A airplane (or helicopter) which is operating at 130 knots on a straight−in approach should use the approach Category C minimums.

c. A pilot who chooses an alternative method when it is necessary to maneuver at a speed that exceeds the category speed limit (for example, where higher category minimums are not published) should consider the following factors that can significantly affect the actual ground track flown:

1. Bank angle. For example, at 165 knots ground speed, the radius of turn increases from 4,194 feet using 30 degrees of bank to 6,654 feet when using 20 degrees of bank. When using a shallower bank angle, it may be necessary to modify the flight path or indicated airspeed to remain within the circling approach protected area. Pilots should be aware that excessive bank angle can lead to a loss of aircraft control.

2. Indicated airspeed. Procedure design criteria typically utilize the highest speed for a particular category. If a pilot chooses to operate at a higher speed, other factors should be modified to ensure that the aircraft remains within the circling approach protected area.

3. Wind speed and direction. For example, it is not uncommon to maneuver the aircraft to a downwind leg where the ground speed will be considerably higher than the indicated airspeed. Pilots must carefully plan the initiation of all turns to ensure that the aircraft remains within the circling approach protected area.

4. Pilot technique. Pilots frequently have many options with regard to flight path when conducting circling approaches. Sound planning and judgment are vital to proper execution. The lateral and vertical path to be flown should be carefully considered using current weather and terrain information to ensure that the aircraft remains within the circling approach protected area.

The Value of Upset Recovery Training

Mac McClellan recently wrote a provocative article, “Why Upset Training Just Doesn’t Work” for Air Facts, an online aviation journal. Mac was the long-time editor of Flying Magazine. His arguments against URT, however, rang hollow to me and other aerobatic pilots and instructors, and the International Aerobatic Club asked some of us to respond.

My rebuttal, “VALUE OF URT,” is on the IAC website, here. That article includes links to several incidents that support my argument, and to several videos on my YouTube channel that illustrate key points.

A video that demonstrates recoveries from inverted.

I also addressed URT in an article in the November 2017 issue of AOPA Flight Training magazine: The Right Formula.

New T-Routes in the PNW

FAA added several new T-Routes in the Pacific Northwest on January 30, 2020, and other routes there and throughout the U.S. were expanded.

T-routes are described in AIM 5−3−4. Airways and Route Systems and elsewhere in the AIM, ACs, and other documents. They are low-altitude RNAV routes (shown in blue on enroute charts) similar to the victor airways based on VORs, but T-routes require GNSS and are available to aircraft with a suitable RNAV system–viz., an IFR-approved GPS. T-Routes originally were intended to provide efficient paths for IFR traffic through busy Class B airspace (see this briefing from AOPA), but as FAA shifts from VOR-based navigation to PBN, T-routes are becoming more common throughout the national airspace system.

For example, here’s a segment of T268 (click the preceding link to see the route at SkyVector.com), a new route from the Seattle area across the Cascades to Spokane, WA and beyond.

T268 from Seattle to Spokane

This new route closely parallels the V2 airway, but because it can zig and zag a bit around high terrain, it offers lower MEAs, which can be helpful when avoiding ice. Compare the GNSS-based MEAs (in blue) below with the MEAs for the VOR-based V2 airway.

Another section of T268 provides an efficient route from the area around Paine Field (KPAE) north of Seattle east across the Cascades while remaining clear of the increasingly busy airspace that surrounds Seattle.

Another excellent example of how a T-route can offer advantages over VOR-based airways is the stretch between the Redmond-Bend area in Oregon south toward Reno and Las Vegas.

A segment of T274

The new T274 closely follows V165, but well-placed bends allow the MEA to drop, for example, from 14000 ft to 10100 ft. That’s potentially a big help, both for avoiding icing and for reducing the need for oxygen.

Compare the MEAs for the T-route and victor airway

If you fly IFR and haven’t closely reviewed the low-altitude enroute charts recently, take another look. You may find new T-routes that give you new options in the areas where you fly.

FAA publishes T-routes and other changes to airspace in the Federal Register. You can find the complete list of the January 2020 changes here.

Proposal to Change VOR Equipment Test

A pilot has proposed removing the requirement to log the results of the VOR equipment test required by 14 CFR § 91.171 for operations under IFR.

You can read the original proposal, docket FAA-2019-0739, and comments at the Federal Register, here.

The change wouldn’t repeal the test itself, only the detailed requirements for recording the results as described in paragraph (d).

AOPA filed detailed comments in support of the proposal, here. The organization notes in part that: “The logging requirement is not a positive safety argument when a failed check is what is clearly the concern. A failed check is fully and effectively mitigated by the placarding requirement of 14 C.F.R. §91.213 and the obligations under 91.171(a).”

I support the proposal, but in comments that I submitted to the docket, I suggested additional changes, viz.:

  • Expand the current 30-day limit to a more reasonable interval, such as every three calendar months or six calendar months. Using the calendar month criterion would synchronize the interval with other regulatory requirements, such as the valid periods for medical certificates, annual inspections, flight reviews, and so forth.
  • Allow the use of an IFR-approved GNSS (i.e., a suitable RNAV system, as described in AIM 1−2−3 Use of Suitable Area Navigation (RNAV) Systems on Conventional Procedures and Routes, and as defined in various ACs, including AC 90−100A) to verify the accuracy of VOR equipment.

As I explained:

For example, a pilot tracking an airway or a course to/from a VOR with an IFR-approved GNSS could confirm that the VOR course shown by a CDI or bearing pointer is within the limits specified by the regulation. As other commentators have noted, FAA is gradually decommissioning VORs, and accomplishing the VOR equipment test will become increasingly difficult as navaids are removed from the NAS. Even given the inherent differences between the courses shown by GNSS and conventional navaids, as described in the AIM (1−1−17. Global Positioning System (GPS), Paragraph k. Impact of Magnetic Variation on PBN Systems), checking the accuracy of a VOR in this manner would be well within the six-degree error long permitted for airborne checks. Using GNSS would also be in keeping with current FAA policy about PBN in general, and specifically about using GNSS to fly conventional procedures while monitoring guidance from ground-based navaids.

AOPA Proposes IPC Changes

AOPA has asked FAA to remove two tasks from the requirements to complete an instrument proficiency check (IPC):

  • Demonstrate a circle-to-land approach and
  • Landing from an instrument approach

Eliminating these two tasks would make it possible to accomplish an IPC entirely in an ATD or FTD. You can read AOPA’s detailed proposal here.

The change would also complement the update to the IFR currency rules that FAA published in 2018. The items required for an IPC are listed in a task table in Appendix A of the Instrument Rating ACS, and the update to the regulations caused some confusion, which I wrote about here and here.

IPC Requirements Table