Despite the required snickering when somebody says the FAA is here to help us, that is sometimes true.
An example of absolutely essential FAA help for us pilots happens every year at Oshkosh. The special procedures that the FAA has worked with EAA to develop allow more than 10,000 airplanes to get in and out of AirVenture each year. Sticking rigidly to the air traffic procedures used the rest of the year just won’t work.
At Oshkosh the FAA doesn’t break its rules, but it finds unique ways to apply them to a special situation. The key to the success of AirVenture flight operations is both pilots and controllers knowing what is expected of them. For example, pilots need to be able to touch down on or near the colored dot assigned to them on final, and then turn off the runway immediately. Pilots also need to space themselves with the airplane ahead to avoid unworkable crowding on final.
Oshkosh works because pilots study the NOTAM and know what to expect from controllers, and what flying skills are demanded of themselves. Once in a great while some bozo doesn’t read the NOTAM and really hacks everything up at Oshkosh, but that is the rare pilot. That kind of performance – or really lack of acceptable performance – is exceedingly rare, so the Oshkosh procedures work year after year.
Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, located just a few miles west across the Hudson River from Manhattan, is not as busy as Oshkosh during AirVenture. But Teterboro runs at, or over, capacity virtually every day. And Teterboro is probably the most important business aviation airport in the country. A few other general aviation airports handle more total traffic, but none is as essential for delivering people to and from the world’s financial center that is New York City.
Teterboro has all kinds of traffic problems being stuffed in just a few miles north of Newark and just a few miles west of LaGuardia. Then there is JFK just a few miles farther east, and White Plains just northeast. Throw in other nearby busy general aviation airports such as Morristown, Caldwell, plus others, and threading airplanes into and out of Teterboro through the maze of traffic is a nightmare.
But far and away the biggest constraint at Teterboro is the presence of Newark not quite 10 nautical miles south. Teterboro’s primary runway is 1/19, and at Newark the most used pair of runways is 4/22. The really big traffic problems for Teterboro occur when the airports are in a south operation. The airliners on final to Runways 22L-R at Newark fly almost directly over Teterboro. Airplanes departing to the south off Runway 19 climb almost instantly into direct conflict with the airliners overhead.
With both Newark and Teterboro landing and taking off to the south, the only way to make it work is to find a gap in the airline traffic over Teterboro to fit in a departing airplane. You can imagine who has to wait for that gap to occur, and every pilot who has flown into Teterboro more than a few times has a tale of multiple hours just waiting for clearance to start the engines, and then more hours of sitting on the taxiway.
Several years ago the FAA and the authorities that operate Teterboro came up with a pretty effective solution to get airplanes out of Teterboro to the south. The procedure is called the Dalton Departure and it combines a noise abatement procedure that the airport authority wants with a unique VFR to IFR departure that allows the FAA to fit departures into the Newark landing flow.
If a pilot departing Teterboro accepts the Dalton Departure procedure from Runway 19 he or she climbs on runway heading to 800 feet and begins a right turn to 280 degrees, stopping the climb no higher than 1,300 feet at an airspeed of 190 knots or less. The Dalton is a VFR procedure and the weather must be at least ceiling 3,000 feet and visibility of 3 miles or more for it to be used.
The magic of the Dalton is that the pilot is departing on an IFR flight, but is departing Teterboro VFR. Once New York departure control clears the departing pilot to climb from 1,300 feet, the flight automatically becomes IFR.
The reason for the initial VFR is that spacing between IFR and VFR airplanes can be less than for two IFR airplanes that have not accepted visual separation. That means that at 1,300 feet and turning no more than 2 nautical miles DME south of Teterboro, the departing airplane maintains required VFR separation from any Newark approach traffic overhead. Like AirVenture, the Dalton does not break any rules, or make new rules, but applies existing rules to a unique situation.
In general, a pilot departing Teterboro to the south needs to ask clearance delivery to fly the Dalton Departure procedure. Sometimes clearance will ask a pilot if they are familiar with Dalton. In any event, the Dalton is never issued as a “routine” part of an IFR clearance without confirming that the pilots are aware of its unique requirements.
Despite these precautions, not every pilot is flying the Dalton properly. Some don’t start the turn at 800 feet, some blow through the 1,300-foot limit without the required clearance, and some just bumble around. These few pilots are causing problems, and if pilots don’t start all flying the Dalton correctly it may go away, and the delay prevention it provides would go with it.
Flying the Dalton, just like flying the procedures at AirVenture, are within the capabilities of any pilot who should be flying at all. The only ingredient occasionally missing is simply paying attention to what the procedure requires.
At AirVenture, and at Teterboro, the FAA is really trying to help us. All we have to do to thank the FAA is read the procedures and follow them. I think that is a very good deal.