Saving ERAM -- Chapter 3

I’ll make a bet with you. If you’re a pilot with an IFR rating, you’re filing your flight plan wrong. If you’re a controller that puts flight plans in the computer (and virtually all do), you’re doing it wrong. If you’re a disinterested party, don’t worry (well, don’t worry too much). They aren’t acting in bad faith (at least the vast majority) and it isn’t really dangerous. But it illustrates what I consider a very important point about saving the ERAM project so I’m going to talk about it.

Let’s start with the correct way to file a flight plan. The rules are in the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) What’s that? The AIM doesn’t have rules? Sure it does. All those that just told themselves “The AIM is not regulatory”, give yourself a whack on the knuckles with a ruler for me. Let me put this in bold letters to make my point; I don’t care if you are legally right because you are wrong.

We’re talking about making the system work -- not whether you get busted because you broke some Federal Aviation Regulation. Do not write me with any legal arguments. I will not respond. I could care less. You are either following the AIM or you aren’t. I don’t care about your justifications or who told you what or what you can get away with. Been there, done that, don’t care to do it again. There’s a difference between “legal” and “right”. There’s a really big difference between “legal” and “safe”.

Go to the AIM. Chapter 5. Section 1. Paragraph 8.

AIM 5-1-8. Flight Plan- IFR Flights

b. Airways and Jet Routes Depiction on Flight Plan
1. It is vitally important that the route of flight be accurately and completely described in the flight plan. To simplify definition of the proposed route, and to facilitate ATC, pilots are requested to file via airways or jet routes established for use at the altitude or flight level planned. “

You don’t have to file airways. But if you don’t, you have to follow the other rules that govern Direct Flights or Area Navigation . Most don’t. (Please note that the rules for both are more complicated that the rules for flying airways.)

c. Direct Flights
1. All or any portions of the route which will not be flown on the radials or courses of established airways or routes, such as direct route flights, must be defined by indicating the radio fixes over which the flight will pass.“

Remember I mentioned controllers weren’t doing it right either? Read this.

d. Area Navigation (RNAV)
1. Random RNAV routes can only be approved in a radar environment. Factors that will be considered by ATC in approving random RNAV routes include the capability to provide radar monitoring and compatibility with traffic volume and flow. “

“Factors that will be considered by ATC...” If controllers were doing their jobs, nobody would ever get off the ground without a STAR into ATL, JFK, LGA, EWR, LAX, SEA, ad nauseam. But it happens. Every single day. So controllers aren’t doing their jobs. Nope. Y’all don’t get to whine at me either. I don’t want to hear it. I had to listen to it for years and I’ve heard every argument out there. It’s simple. Either you do your job or you don’t. If you can’t refuse to issue a clearance to an instrument rated pilot that files direct LGA, I question whether or not you have the backbone to be a controller.

You see, it was this attitude that “endeared” me to my fellow workers. If you’re not smart enough to understand the principle that the AIM and the 7110.65 have to agree with the FARs -- and that the FARs are the law -- I question whether or not you’re smart enough to be an instrument-rated pilot or a controller. You might not think of it when you’re young and stupid -- I didn’t -- but once you’re educated to the fact, it’s rather obvious. To enter some reality-denial trance to justify doing what you want to do -- “the AIM isn’t regulatory” -- doesn’t cut it with me.

Let me drag you back to the purpose of this repeated rant. Saving ERAM. I’ve said all of the above before -- if in a slightly different context. Today’s context is being able to process the data that makes up a flight plan so that we can design a decent data processing program. The term “garbage in” should be coming to mind about right now. What few fail to realize is that it has been “garbage in” for decades. Yes, decades.

Go back and think about when the data processing program for ATC was written. It was written for airways and VORs. Then people started flying -- and filing -- direct. Back when the program was written, computer memory and data storage was limited. People soon latched onto this as the culprit but it was only part of the problem. The other part of the problem wasn’t even a problem -- it was a logic check -- but that is another story.

A pause here for an explanation. I can only write about one path at a time. There are multiple paths in this story. Layers upon layers. Mistakes piled upon mistakes. I can only go down one fork in the road at a time. Just be aware there are other roads to travel. There are other tales to tell.

I question whether pilots ever truly knew how to file a correct flight plan. But they really didn’t have to be able to do it. Again, go back in time and think about how a flight plan got into a computer. There were three paths. A pilot filed with (1) a Flight Service specialist, or (2) an airline dispatcher or (3) a military operations specialist. In other words, they filed with a human that did nothing but file flight plans all day. The specialists were the ones that knew how to file a flight plan correctly -- into a system where (almost) everybody flew airways.

This was before DUATS and before (most) random navigation. The only example I’m going to write about (right now) is FSS. FSS spent years “fixing” flight plans. It was customer service. I bet for awhile they showed pilots how it was done. Then they probably just started fixing it. When random navigation came along, they just kept fixing things. Some pilots were probably never corrected. Bad formatting? FSS would fix it. Exceeded NAVAID limitations? They’d make it work. Somebody didn’t include a fix in each ARTCC’s airspace (read the AIM)? They learned to “make it work” by inserting Latitude/Longitude coordinates.

Then Flight Service got “automated” and they had less and less time for this stuff. Then DUATS came along. The story on that is hilariously sad. Then the FAA put in the 50,000-fix “fix”. Then FSS got contracted out. I can write another 1,000 words on each of those. I think I will. Later.

Don Brown
April 5, 2010

Thought exercise for those that haven’t been down this road before. Check the AIM sections noted above. “ route flights, must be defined by indicating the radio fixes over which the flight will pass.”

Question: Are airports “radio fixes”? Correct answer: “No. The HMV155023 is a radio fix. TRI is not. TRI is an airport, not a fix (radio or otherwise).”

From the AIM again: “...the random route portion of the flight plan to begin and end over appropriate arrival and departure transition fixes or appropriate navigation aids...”

Question: Is an airport an “appropriate arrival transition fix”? Correct answer: “No, it is not. Instrument Approach Procedures (for *IFR* flights) begin at Initial Approach Fixes -- not airports.”

ATL..LGA -- any airport direct airport flight plan -- is not a valid *IFR* flight plan. Yes, I know you see a hundred a day.



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