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Awkward new ATC Policy at TZR and other airports with approaches in only one direction

Written By: Doug Carmody - Aug• 13•14

I agree!

Subject: Awkward new ATC Policy at TZR and other airports with approaches in only one direction

Gentlemen:

I want to bring to your attention a logical but hopefully unintended result of the FAA’s recent prohibition on opposite direction operations at controlled airports.

You’ve read about the prohibition and may have experienced it. Several months ago, I believe citing loss of separation in a few cases, the FAA handed down a blanket edict that controllers may no longer authorize us to land on a runway opposite the one officially in use. Even at 02:00 LCL with calm winds and clear and a million weather, unless TWR cuts a new ATIS and changes the airport around, you’re not landing on 5 just because you’re coming from CHA.

While perhaps such over-reaction is relatively benign in most cases, at certain airports and under certain conditions, this new policy seems to have the potential to reduce safety rather than enhancing it. I am writing because Columbus Bolton Field, TZR, where I know many of us go frequently, is one of those airports. Here’s the deal.

While approaching Bolton this morning in a Citation, the weather was 1000 BKN, 5 miles and haze. Winds were out of the southwest at about 12 gusting to 18 or so–not bad, but clearly too much for a downwind landing. Although there was no other traffic to or from the field at the moment, TZR was officially and properly using Runway 22 due to the winds.

Since I was coming from the South West, with reported ceiling and visibility well above the published circling minima, I requested the ILS RWY 4, CIRCLE 22. I was politely told that when 22 is in use, CMH Approach considers the ILS 4 to be an “Opposite Direction Operation”, prohibited by recent FAA rules.

“OK”, you may say, “Circling isn’t my favorite exercise anyway.” I wholeheartedly agree, which is why, as my highly trained fingers began flying toward the keyboard, I immediately and without hesitation keyed up the mic and requested the RNAV RWY 22 approach.

Apparently one of the first rules for sounding really cool on the radio is to request only approaches that actually exist. Unfortunately, upon even momentary reflection, it turns out the ONLY published approaches of any kind at TZR are to Runway 4.

As the reality of this situation began to set in, I was sure there must be a solution I was missing. Some code word or secret procedure I had slept through during the two full days of instrument school I took back in 1981. It simply couldn’t be that anytime the weather is less than basic VFR, any towered airport without a published approach to the wind-favored runway is de-facto, closed.

So having already tried MY idea (simply ‘willing’ an approach into existence out of thin air) I demurred next to the local expertise of the approach controller. With hat now metaphorically in hand, I simply asked, what was the plan was for getting me down in the legally circle-able but nominally IFR weather?

To my surprise, the President of the United States, responding to my inquiry by and through the Secretary of Transportation, the Administrator of the FAA and subsequent layers of bureaucratic efficiency, told me straight out “If you can’t get in on the visual, you’ll have to go somewhere else”.

Fortunately, as sometimes happens in aviation, at that very moment, the clouds magically parted ever so slightly wider than the wingspan of a Citation. Having previously come into possession of both decent ground contact and reported visibility greater than the required mile, I now had the remaining pre-requisite to request the much under appreciated Contact Approach. Thankfully, this controller was old enough to know what that meant, and a few minutes later, we were sitting comfortably on the ground–with a re-usable airplane no less. I knew there was an old trick or two hiding back there somewhere.

But since that kind of luck is never guaranteed, I decided to search for a more reliable solution for the future. After landing, I called the TWR controller on the phone. He was very forthcoming, and offered the following:

1. This issue is being discussed at various levels of the FAA for a solution.

2. Approach had in fact called and asked TWR to turn the airport around to accommodate my request (as they told me they had), but due to the winds being stronger than the limits for downwind operations, he was unable to do so. That was clearly right, of course, and if he had turned the airport, I would not have been able to land anyway due to tail winds.

3. The Tower controller also said he understood that when requested by a pilot for reasons of “Operational Necessity”, Approach is “supposed” to approve the circle. He said operational necessity (from the Controllers Manual) includes factors of wind, runway gradient, FMS capability and I think one other factor that I missed.

4. In a subsequent call to CMH Operations, a very helpful individual looked into the issue separately, called me back within 5 minutes, but with a more restrictive interpretation. He said that there is a big regional push from FAA not to authorize ANY opposite direction operations, specifically to include the published circling approach at TZR and other airports through the region. He also said that a pilot request of Operational Necessity won’t do it. Only in a declared emergency “or instance of significant weather” (which he didn’t further define), would the circle be allowed.

I think the “take away” here is that the issue is in flux, and until the FAA gets it sorted out, at Columbus and presumably other places throughout the country, you may not be able to count on getting a circling approach when the procedure itself is aligned with an opposite direction runway. This means even though you may have a relatively mild sounding 1,000 OVC and 5 miles at a towered airport served by an ILS, if the winds happen to be wrong, you may not even be allowed to try. As always, be prepared with both fuel and information to go elsewhere if you can’t work something out quickly and amicably with ATC.

While we’re on the subject of diversions, and I know I’m lecturing to the choir here, but my long standing practice is to look at both a road map AND the weather map when choosing an alternate. I like to find out where my passengers are going on the ground and if I can’t comfortably get them to the right airport, I can at least usually put them on the right side of the river/mountain/swamp/city/Gulf of Mexico or other impediment while still insisting on a safe and legal alternate. I also like to call ahead and give the rental car people at the alternate a “conditional” heads up before take off, or even the night before, when diversion looks like it may be more likely. I just tell them what I’m doing and they almost always say they’d rather cancel a car at no charge than try to hustle one up at the last minute in case we do have to land there.

Of course safety always trumps convenience, so do what you need to. I just find that diverting is much more pleasant and stress free, both in the decision and in the execution, if I know the PAX won’t have to sit and look at ME for 30 minutes while some strange FBO tries to get the hay bales unloaded from the loaner truck.

Thanks for reading this far. Apparently hotel rooms bring out unnecessary verbosity. Let me know if any of you have experiences or issues to add, but please keep Harbrace corrections to yourselves.

Don.

Don C Stansberry, III, ATP/JD
President
Big South Fork Aero, Inc
258 Woodland Place
Huntsville, TN 37756
Don@BSFJet.com
865-617-7000

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