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How do you become familar with unfamilar airspace?

Asked by: 3251 views , ,
Airspace, Student Pilot

My question concerns flying into an airport I've never visited. When I'm flying around my local airport/area, my CFI is always mentioning things like "we need to stay west of this road" or "we can't go north of that highway".

What I'm wondering is: how do I get this information for airports I might fly into without a CFI knowledgeable about the area? I've noticed that the A/FD has some of this information, but definitely not to the extent I've gotten from my instructor. The sectionals are pretty light on road information outside of highways or interstates. I've noticed common reporting landmarks annotated on TACs, but know that I've been asked to report over a particular road intersection not listed on the chart and which I'd have no idea of if I were not from that area.

This may seem silly, but is there such a thing as requesting progressive approach instructions like you would with taxiing at an unfamiliar airfield? I've never heard of such a thing but am wondering how you handle these issues in unfamiliar airspace.

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1 Answers

  1. Matthew Waugh on Jul 30, 2010

    I suspect when your instructor is telling you the things about west of a road and north of a highway he is referring to the local practice area. You don’t need to know the local practice area when you are flying in and around other airports, it would be nice to know, but local practice areas are generally know only to the local CFI’s, maybe local ATC and a few local pilots.

    If your instructor is using those terms when you are flying the traffic pattern then she is using them as a crutch to help you determine where the turns are made in a normal traffic pattern. For example when I was initially learning to fly we turned base over the nunnery and reduced power to idle crossing the power lines (a round of applause please for Marlboro, NJ). Turned out when we went to some other airport the lack of a nunnery was confusing to me initially. I guess I thought all airports came with a nunnery.

    When ATC asks you to do something that you cannot do then you use the magic phrase “unable” or if you want to be slightly more helpful say “I am unfamiliar with the area”. They will give you alternative instructions. For a while we had a controller who’s last turn to final was “head for the fairgrounds”, which for the locals was fine, but for the 50 weeks of the year the fair was not in operation wasn’t very useful for non-local pilots. After a couple of months she stopped doing it.

    “Progressive Approach Instructions” are called radar vectors, and 99% of the time that’s just what you’ll get anyway, so I wouldn’t worry about it. If they try to send you to a landmark you are not familiar with and you tell them you can’t get there then they’ll just give you a vector in the general direction.

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