ASAP 16302: High-Speed Approach Miscommunication


Recently, C-17 Instructor Pilot Major Evin Negron, Dover Air Force Base, DE, learned things do not always go as planned when requesting a high-speed approach during routine training. No stranger to the Airman Safety Action Program (ASAP), he knew the miscommunication with air traffic control should be documented and shared with fellow aircrews.

Initially everything went according to plan, said Negron. However, when they returned to home station some unexpected weather started to develop close by. They were able to avoid the inclement weather, which according to Negron is necessary for a smooth approach, complete the first landing, and perform the Full Stop/Taxi Back checklist. The flight crew planned to terminate the training exercise; however, after landing, the severe weather was rapidly moving away and conditions improved enough to continue, said Negron.

At this point Negron said they adjusted the training back to their original plan. The communication breakdown occurred, according to Negron, when one of the pilots mentioned that he had heard at a recent briefing that high-speed approaches could be approved on a case-by-case basis. The Federal Aviation Administration’s general rule in the national airspace, stated Negron, is that pilots cannot exceed 250 knots below 10,000 feet altitude unless their plane, like almost all their operations, requires it.

Under normal conditions, it is safe to fly a C-17 at the slower speed, so the higher speed is not requested as it is unnecessary; however, in uncertain environments it may become necessary to increase the plane’s speed to ensure a safe landing, so practicing the procedure is essential. At this point Negron decided to fly at the normal slower speed on the first takeoff and approach because he wanted to be sure the weather had cleared.

The clouds had gotten higher and they had the required airspace to fly faster, so on the second takeoff approach and landing Negron requested the high-speed approach below 10,000 feet, and the tower granted them permission. The flight crew then flew two high-speed approaches, which Negron said was good training because their turning radius is bigger, so the approach had to be revised accordingly.

Although this is one instance in which things did not go according to plan, progress was made by the ASAP that Negron submitted.

It was not until the third request for permission to execute a high-speed approach that the miscommunication occurred. Air traffic control told the crew to maintain Visual Flight Rules (VFR), which according to Negron was not an answer to the request. He was instructed to maintain clearance from the weather. Negron said they asked air traffic control a second time for permission to execute a high-speed approach, and he again was given direction to maintain VFR. During a third request the crew was told to maintain normal speed, which was an indicator that the air controller was apprehensive about another high-speed approach.

Coincidentally, that was their last planned approach so they landed and debriefed as a crew. “During the debrief, the crew discussed the events and agreed that prior to requesting high-speed work in the future they would confirm with tower that a formal policy was in place allowing speed restrictions to be deleted,” said Negron. The flight crew realized at that point that they should have obtained written approval before conducting the high-speed maneuver.

Negron also reviewed AIM 4-4-12 and 14 CFR 91.117 as the governing regulations for this situation. Because the guidance is somewhat ambiguous, Negron debriefed the crew that they should not request high speed below 10,000 feet until further clarification was gained. The crew discussed the case-by-case approval mentioned on board and realized it may have been erroneous word-of-mouth information.

After the debrief, Negron immediately spoke to his squadron Director of Operations (DO) and later discussed it with his squadron commander. Negron’s squadron DO contacted the tower supervisor and was informed that no formal policy existed, so Negron shared the valuable information with the crew and other squadron members.

Negron then submitted the ASAP and suggested “Clear communication to pilots that high speed (above 250 kts) should not be requested in airspace unless a letter of agreement is created and approved to allow for such training. I have contacted tower and informed them that pilots will not make such requests, and I will contact our counterparts and inform them of the same.”

Although this is one instance in which things did not go according to plan, progress was made by the ASAP that Negron submitted. There is now clarification that a letter of agreement must be created and approved to allow for high-speed (above 250 kts) training in the airspace.

Mr. Tim Grosz, Chief, Operations Risk Assessment and Management System, said, “Thank you for your ASAP. As was demonstrated, word-of-mouth information is not always correct and needs to be confirmed. Your ASAP will help other crews comply with the local procedures.”