Saturday, January 30, 2010

Weather deviations while in radar contact with Air Traffic Control

FedEx deviations around line of thunder storms Memphis 2003
48 seconds YouTube

I would like to suggest a better, more professional way for pilots to conduct weather deviations while in radar contact with air traffic control. First of all, it is the pilot-in-command's prerogative as how he accomplishes the deviation, not the air traffic controller's. After you have evaluated your situation simply inform the controller that you are going to deviate.

If your initial deviation is going to be to the right of course, simply inform the controller you are doing to deviate to the right. As it may not be possible to know how many miles or how many degrees you are going to deviate, there is no requirement to give him that information. You do not require the air traffic controllers approval to deviate.You are only required to inform him you are going to deviate. The air traffic controller can not deny you the right to deviate.

I have listened to too many pilots asking the air traffic controller for permission to deviate. Permission to deviate is not a requirement.  I have never expected air traffic to issue me "permissions" for my flight operations but instead I expect to receive "clearances." In my opinion, this is very unprofessional on the part of the pilot. It appears to me by using this type of "permission transaction", the pilot is appearing to allow the air traffic controller to take command of his flight.

Any time a pilot permits this to happen, he has done a terrible disservice to himself as well as to the piloting profession. If enough pilots manage weather deviations in this incorrect manner, there is a possibility in the future of the pilot loosing his pilot-in-command authority. The command authority rightfully belongs in the cockpit, not on the ground.

Just to reinforce this point, I feel the term air traffic controller is inaccurate. The pilot is in control of the aircraft, not the controller. Perhaps a better term for the guy on the ground would be "air traffic talker" or "air traffic clearance delivery."

I do not want to berate the guys in air traffic facilities with this post but want to encourage both the pilot and the air traffic controllers to expect each to act and deal with one another professionally.

Thanks for taking time to read this lengthy post and I want to encourage you to post your opinion as well.


  1. I just received this e-mail form Lou Burns:
    Thanks Lou...Dick Siano

    I LOVED your blog on deviations while under radar. When I was a fairly new f/o on the 707 out of BOS, I was on a trip one time, and the Capt told me to advise ATC that we were deviating south of course. I requested a deviation, and promptly and correctly, caught hell. He then explained to me just what you said, that he was going any way, he didn't need their approval, and it was their job to figure it all out (or words to that effect, it was one HELL of a long time ago.) I never forgot that, and right to the end would explain that to f/o's when they made the same error that I had made.


  2. Why does "sex" appear in the headline for this?
    Don Siano