Recently I had the honour of being invited to “plug in” at the Air Traffic Control Centre at Tullamarine Airport. In all my years of involvement in aviation, I thought I had a reasonable understanding of how Air Traffic Control worked. How wrong I was. The first thing I noticed are that the controllers were just normal people (like us) doing their job to the standard that is required of them. They aren’t the “Stormtroopers” who are out to make life difficult or create stress for your operation, they are there to keep everyone safe and there are regulations in the AIP for us to follow to allow the Controllers do that.
The second thing that I noticed, is just how busy they are when they aren’t transmitting. The amount of mouse clicks they need to perform to coordinate one aircraft is quite a lot. Multiply that 10 or 15 times and they are very busy. They are also busy coordinating with other controllers to keep separation between aircraft, so a lot goes on. But they are still more than happy to help where they can. One area is through Flight Following. Flight Following is available to any VFR aircraft with a transponder or ADS-B (workload permitting) and is extremely useful when navigating the “Western Lane” between Altona and Bacchus Marsh and also between Kilmore Gap and Sugarloaf Reservoir. It is also very valuable in reducing the risk of inadvertently entering Controlled Airspace. All you need to do is announce your callsign with your request and then give your position, altitude and intentions.
It was also noted how often pilots become ‘geographically challenged’ and inadvertently penetrate controlled airspace. If you are near CTA/CTR and are unsure of your location, the best thing you can do is contact ATC. They will be able to give you immediate guidance. In the event that you have inadvertently entered controlled airspace, you will be receiving paperwork regardless of whether you spoke to a controller, so the sooner it is resolved or prevented the better. It is important to understand that every major airport has specific inbound and outbound corridors, and these will depend on the runway in use. If you accidently enter controlled airspace, then you maybe forcing aircraft that are being controlled closer together to stay away from you. Communication is the key to resolving this error.
As we enter the new year, I wish you happy and safe flying. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask one of the Instructors in Flight Ops for advice.