Tips For Flying

 

Tips For Flying The Airspace

Welcome to the Miami ARTCC’s Virtual Airspace on VATSIM! We’re glad you’ve chosen to fly our skies. We’re extra delighted that you’ve elected to take a look at the tips we’ve compiled for flying in our airspace and into or out of our airports.

Introduction

In order to keep the skies and our airports safe and collision-free, governing bodies such as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have spent countless resources developing rules, procedures, and best-practices that govern the movement of aircraft from departure gate to arrival gate.  As an Air Traffic Control organization, we train our controllers to follow those procedures developed by the FAA as closely as possible in our virtual environment.  Our trained controllers, however, are only half of the equation.  In order for ATC and pilots to effectively work together, the pilots should also be following applicable rules and best-practices.

While basic pilot procedures are beyond the scope of this document, we have compiled a number of tips which are aimed at not only answering questions about our airspace, but pointing out the most common mistakes that pilots make when interacting with our controllers.

We hope that you find this to be a valuable and useful resource, and welcome any feedback you may have.

Quick Links

General Tips

Here are a few general tips which are applicable in all airspace on VATSIM.

  • Have Charts Available

There’s no excuse for not having up-to-date charts when flying in the United States.  They are all publicly available at the following two websites:

Airnav Excellent for airport information, taxi diagrams, and instrument procedures
Skyvector Draggable Enroute (and VFR) Charts for the entire Conterminus U.S.
  • Know how to control your aircraft.

With the speeds at which modern aircraft move, it’s important that you are familiar with the controls of your plane and how to operate them.  This is especially true when it comes to headings, altitudes, and air speeds.  When the controller gives you a heading to fly or  an altitude to hold at, there’s usually a very good reason.  You should be able to execute these instructions without a problem.  We are aware that this can be difficult to do manually, thus at an absolute minimum, you should be intimately familiar with your autopilot.

  • Calm Wind Runways

Each of the major airports in the Miami ARTCC have runways that will be used if the wind is calm or less than 5 knots in any direction.  See the Airport Information page for more details on all airports. Listed below are the calm-wind runways for a few of Miami’s major airports:

Airport Direction Possible Runways Airspace Type
KMIA East 8R, 9
8L, 12 (Until 22:00 ET)
Class Bravo
KTPA North 01L, 01R Class Bravo
KFLL East 10L, 10R Class Charlie
KPBI East 10L, 10R Class Charlie
KRSW East 6 (Until 22:00 ET) Class Charlie
KSRW North 32 Class Charlie
  • Use voice instead of text if available.

Since Miami is a popular destination for South American and Carribean pilots, we see a lot of pilots who have voice capability, but chose not to use it. Perhaps this is because their English isn’t perfect, or the controller is talking too fast.  If you let the controller know that he needs to speak slowly, he will be happy to accommodate you.  I’ll be candid about this: Providing ATC services via text places an additional load on the controller, especially when things are busy.  Unless you have a physical disability or mitigating circumstance, we kindly request that you use voice rather than text.

  • “Fly then reply” … especially for “text pilots”

When issued instructions by a controller, begin executing those instructions immediately, preferably before the controller is even done speaking.  This is true in the real world, and should be true on VATSIM as well.  For text pilots, this is particularly important as it may take several seconds to type your response.

  •  Keep radio communications as short as possible.

 Not everything must be repeated back to the controller.  It is almost never appropriate to repeat wind or altimeter settings.  For example, if the controller says “Delta 1234, Miami altimeter 30.12, wind 080 at 5, runway 8R, cleared for takeoff”.  You only need to respond “Cleared for takeoff 8R, Delta 1234″.  This is an unusual example as altimeter is rarely given at takeoff unless it has changed, but you can get the idea.

  • Private Messages

Please do not use private messages (PMs) to ask what runway you’ll be assigned, or for obtaining a clearance, or for any other ATC-related purpose.  These things should be carried out on frequency.

  • Pushback and Taxiing

Always check to see if ATC is online before moving your aircraft.  If ATC is on, be sure to contact the controller before pushback or taxi.  Follow taxi instructions carefully, including routing.

  • Slewing and Replaying

 Please be aware that slewing or “playing back” that perfect landing while connected to VATSIM causes this action to occur on your controllers’ scopes as well.  You may cause a crash or at the very least, interfere with the controller.  Please make sure to disconnect before slewing or using the playback function.

  • “Roger” and “Roger That”

First, “Roger That” is never appropriate phraseology.  It doesn’t mean anything to the controller, who is likely to repeat what he just said in order to get a more firm response. “Roger” is appropriate under a few circumstances, but never in response to instructions.  “Roger” only means that you heard what the controller said.  It doesn’t carry any additional connotation such as your willingness or ability to comply.

  • Flight Levels

In the United States, Flight Levels start at FL180 and go upwards.  For foreign pilots, this means that the Transition Altitude is 18,000ft and the Transition Level is FL180.  We will adjust the “lowest usable flight level” as pressure changes so that there is a buffer zone between high and low aircraft.  When speaking to your controller, using the term “FL120″ means nothing to him since there is no such thing.

  • Speed Limits

In the United States, the maximum indicated airspeed below 10,000ft is 250 knots.  In the unusual case where you need to exceed 250kts under 10,000 in order to reach a minimum clean speed, you should notify your tower or approach controller as early as possible.

Departing

Any flight that you intend to undertake as a pilot begins with good planning.  Departing out of the Miami ARTCC is no exception.  This means that you should have your charts available and be prepared to fly a Standard Instrument Departure (SID) or Departure Procedure (DP) if  assigned.  Better yet, you should select a SID or DP and file it in your flight plan.

Departure Gates

Flights departing from KMIA, KFLL, or KTPA that have not filed a SID or DP will be initially routed to one of several departure gates.  As stated in our Pilot FAQ, this is done to separate departing traffic from arriving traffic and traffic patterns associated with nearby airports.  Below is a list of Departure Gates with their respective airports:

KMIA: WINCO HEDLY PADUS VALLY SKIPS EONNS MNATE
KFLL: THNDR ARKES ZAPPA PREDA MNATE
KTPA: SZW CTY TAY GNV OCF ORL PIE LAL PHK RSW

If you are confused as to which departure gate to use, you might try looking on FlightAware to see if there is a pre-made route for your flight.  FlightAware is good for finding a route anytime your departure and destination are within the United States.

Your Clearance

Your departure clearance will always come in the same order.  In fact, there’s a “format” to it.  Once you know what to expect, you can efficiently copy and read back a clearance.

The order of clearances is beyond the scope of this document, however we’ve identified an excellent resource for learning how to do this here.

When using a SID or DP, it is important to read the textual notations on the DP for items like altitude restrictions. For example, all of the DPs leaving KMIA say “Maintain 5000 or assigned ATC altitude. Expect further clearance to filed altitude within 10 minutes after departure“. Because nearly nobody actually reads this, we always make it a part of our clearance. It is your job to jot down this altitude restriction and not exceed 5000ft when you depart.  When you read your clearance back, we would appreciate it if you would read back the intermediate altitude so that we know you got it.

Taxi and Departure

The most common problem we experience at this phase is people moving their aircraft without contacting the ground controller (or the person who is providing ground services). When you do this, you can cause a collision or interrupt the flow of traffic.

Once instructed to taxi, be sure to read back all hold-short instructions.  If you don’t read back the part about “Hold short of runway xx”, we will have to ask you to read it back.  This is true in the real world, and is true here at the Miami ARTCC.

Also during your taxi, you must squawk “Mode C” at some airports.  This includes KMIA, KFLL, and KTPA.  These three airports use a technology called “Airport Surveillance Detection Equipment”, and squawking Mode C during taxiing is required.

When you approach the departure end of the runway, you need not wait for the ground controller to “hand you off” to the tower controller.  You just call tower.  There is no need to say goodbye to the ground controller.  This is one of the very few instances where you simply switch frequencies without  an explicit instruction to do so.  If you happen to see an aircraft close to landing on the runway you are planning to depart from, it does no good to call the controller and tell him you are ready to go.  This will only result in the controller having to tell you to hold short.   In this case, wait until the aircraft passes over the numbers and then call.  You’ll likely be told to “Line up and wait“.

One item that bears mentioning is that jets and turboprops are expected to be ready for immediate departure at the end of the runway.  If you aren’t ready, you will almost certainly disrupt the flow of traffic.  When given clearance for takeoff, you are expected to enter the runway and begin your takeoff roll immediately.  Any delay may result in a cancellation of your takeoff clearance, or worse, a landing aircraft will be required to go around.

Once airborne, fly runway heading or ATC-assigned heading until given further instructions.  The only exceptions to this are:

  1. The controller gives you a different heading to fly prior to your takeoff roll, or
  2. If your SID or DP gives a different heading to fly, or
  3. You are on an RNAV DP that does NOT require vectors to the first fix.  In this case, you simply fly the RNAV DP from wheels-up (since you’ve already been cleared on the DP)

 

Do not forget to level off at the intermediate altitude given in your clearance if you haven’t been cleared to a higher altitude.  Also, it is unnecessary to let the controller know you are airborne, unless you have reason to believe that he/she has forgotten about you.

When departing in a turbojet aircraft, you should not put the throttle to the firewall.  Most jets depart using an N1 setting of 92% or thereabouts.  We often see very large aircraft which are airborne after 1000ft of runway and have achieved their intermediate altitude in a matter of a few seconds.  This is completely unrealistic.

In the United States, the maximum indicated airspeed under 10,000ft is 250kts.  You are expected to adhere to this regulation.

Finally, we’d like to address non-RNAV SIDS from KMIA and KFLL.  These SIDS depict several departure gate fixes which are identified by radials from ground-based transmitters called VORs.  When you file one of these SIDS, you are saying that you know how to intercept a radial and fly to the fix.  We see about 60% of pilots who are told “Fly heading 320, join the WINCO transition” go direct to WINCO.  In this case, you should fly heading 320 until you’ve intercepted the radial, and THEN turn on course to the fix. Flying anything other than the heading you’ve been assigned is absolutely incorrect and in the real world, might result in your pilot privileges being suspended.   If you re not familiar with VOR navigation, you should not file a non-RNAV departure.  Charles Wood has an excellent Tutorial on VOR navigation for those interested.

Arriving

When arriving to a Miami ARTCC airport, we want to get you there in the most expeditious way possible.  Here are a few tips that’ll help speed things along.

When possible, file and fly a Standard Instrument Arrival Route (STAR).  This really makes the controller’s job easier.  Sometimes, we see aircraft whose last known fix is actually outside of our airspace and they are simply proceeding direct to the airport.  The controller must now “manually” descend the aircraft and provide vectors to the approach sector entry points.  This really does put an extra burden on him, and for no good reason.

Your arrival runway

Please do not contact the CTR controller asking what runway you’ll be assigned.  It’s not his airspace, and he won’t know.  Even if he is providing approach services to the airport you are arriving at, he won’t know what runway you’ll be assigned until you’ve reached the approach sector, which is usually 35 to 50 miles from the airport.  This is normally where the approach controller takes over, and gives you the local altimeter setting as well as an expected runway.  See the Enroute section for more on this subject.

The Approach

The approach controller will always tell you what approach to expect.  If you are unable to accept the assigned approach or you simply want a different approach, you should let the controller know as soon as possible.

When flying a visual approach, you should still tune the localizer if available, as you may be told to intercept it.  It is important to remember that a visual approach is an Instrument (IFR) procedure conducted in visual conditions.  Tuning the localizer gives you some backup that you’re in the right place.

Finally, it’s important to keep in mind that the approach sector is dynamic.  We might change runways on you if it will serve to get you and/or others down quicker.  It’s good to keep your charts handy, and even tune the localizer for other runways in your backup NAV radio, just in case.  The approach controller will really appreciate it if you are prepared for such eventualities.

Enroute

Whether you are overflying, departing, or arriving in the Miami ARTCC airspace, you’ll almost certainly talk to one of our enroute controllers.  These controllers have the responsibility of keeping you separated from other aircraft by at least 1000ft vertically and 5 miles laterally.

If you are flying with your VA and you have more than one aircraft flying together, we ask that you enter our airspace (if from uncontrolled airspace) with 10 miles separation between you and your company traffic.   This will really help, and keeps us from having to issue speed restrictions or change your altitudes.

Our Enroute controllers encounter quite a number of “AFK” pilots when they first sign on.  This is to be expected and we will usually give you several minutes before we attempt to contact you a second time.  Please remember that the VATSIM code of conduct gives you a maximum of 30 minutes during your enroute phase to be away.  This is an absolute maximum and we ask that you monitor your flight more often that this.

Finally, if you are arriving at a Miami ARTCC airport, we ask that you do not call the CTR controller and ask what runway you’ll be assigned.  As states in our pilot FAQ and in several other places in this document, the approach sector does not belong to the CTR controller.  He will not likely know what runway you’ll be assigned.  You will get this information when you arrive at the approach sector, which is normally about 35 to 50 miles from the airport.  You can get a good idea of what runways are active though, if there’s an ATIS posted.  Failing that, try typing “.metar KMIA” into your radio box.  You can get the winds from this and determine in what general direction aircraft will be landing and departing.