TWA Lockheed Constellation L-1049G with tip tanks
The subject of Loss of Communications Procedures is not an unusual one for discussion in the cockpit. In most discussions in which I took part, it was almost always related to and limited to total failure of the radio transceivers. In addition, it was assumed Instrument Meteorological Conditions were being experienced at the time of the failure.
In my more than 50 years of flying, I never gave any thought to the question of how long to wait until I select code 7600. This question was brought to mind by a story told by a fellow pilot. He was approaching Teterboro to land during a busy afternoon. ATC directed him to change frequencies to contact Teterboro Approach Control. Teterboro Approach was really busy and the he was unable to establish contact.
He said he just selected code 7600 on his transponder and was shortly thereafter in contact with a controller. I really liked this thoughtful approach and the initiative he used to solve the problem.
Loss of communications was an important factor in the mid-air collision in Brazil 4 years ago between an Embraer Legacy 600 and a GOL Airlines Boeing 737-800. (Both airplanes were brand new and had all the latest collision avoidance equipment installed. Both were in radar contact in Brazil's modern, up-to-date air traffic control system.) Yet, the collision occurred with the loss of 154 lives.
The loss of communications resulted from the pilots not receiving a correct change of frequency instruction. This is not an uncommon event for pilots. The Embraer pilots made numerous calls to re-establish radio contact over the next 57 minutes with no success . During this period of time the pilots did not change their transponder code to 7600. What period of time would you consider as a maximum before selecting code 7600?
Another significant factor in the Brazillian mid-air collision was the fact the Embraer pilots had turned off their transponder about and hour and fifteen minutes into their flight. As a result, the Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS II) installed in both aircraft was not able to do its job. (TCAS II relies on an operating transponder to be installed and operating to function.) Had the Embraer pilots considered use of Loss of Communication Procedures earlier with the selection of code 7600, they probably would have recognized the transponder was turned off and turned it back on. This would than have permitted the TCAS II systems to provide Resolution Advisories to each pilot and prevent the accident from happening.
The main point of my post is to suggest to each of you to do some thinking about this aspect of Loss of Communications procedures. When are you going to select code 7600? After 3 minutes, 10 minutes or after 20 minutes have gone by?
Your comments are appreciated.
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