Everyone seems excited about the upcoming AOPA Homecoming: members and staff alike, along with local residents. It’s been many years since the last AOPA Fly-In, when the association opened its doors for tours and talks, when exhibitors and food vendors filled the parking lot, and aviation-minded folks who flew or drove in bustled about the field.
At the time of the last AOPA Fly-In, Frederick Municipal Airport was an uncontrolled field, but there a temporary tower and notam procedures for the fly-in. Today, we have an established air traffic control tower at the airport. It is staffed and operational seven days a week, but not 24 hours a day. If you’re planning to fly into Frederick on that first October weekend, you’ll need to be sure to fulfill your pre-flight obligations in familiarizing yourself with the operating times of the tower and any special procedures for arrivals and departures at the airport. Remember, for all of our flights, 14 CFR 91.103 requires that each pilot in command become familiar with all available information concerning a flight, before that flight is begun. This prompts me to remind you of a few other regulations affecting flights into controlled airports.
When an airport has an operating air traffic control tower, the airspace surrounding the airport is usually either Class B, Class C, or Class D airspace. In the case of Frederick Municipal Airport, the airspace is Class D. 14 CFR 91.129 governs operation in Class D airspace and generally requires that two-way radio communication be established with ATC prior to entering the airspace and that the ATC communication be maintained while within the airspace. The regulation also prohibits you from operating on a runway or taxiway and from taking off or landing at the airport without an ATC clearance. A transponder/encoder is not required in Class D airspace. And, when the tower at the airport is not in operation, the airspace around the airport becomes Class E or G, depending on the location; 14 CFR 91.126 or 14 CFR 91.127 apply to flights to and from the airport.
In addition, when the tower is in operation and ATC is exercising control over the airport traffic area, whether Class B, C, or D airspace, 14 CFR 91.123 requires that you follow ATC instructions. You are not permitted to deviate from those ATC instructions, except in an emergency in which case the PIC may be authorized under 14 CFR 91.3 to deviate from the ATC instruction but only to the extent necessary to meet that emergency. It’s good practice to read back all ATC clearances and instructions to the controller, to the extent practical, to help ensure a correct mutual understanding of the direction being given by ATC. While a readback is not ordinarily a regulatory requirement, it may sometimes be made a requirement when specified within a clearance or an instruction, such as when you hear “read back all hold short instructions.” And, if you’re not sure of an instruction or a clearance, it’s good practice to ask the controller to repeat the transmission rather than assume what the controller said, and even read back what you thought the controller said, because the controller may not correct an incorrect read back and you’ll be left with the responsibility for any deviation.
Keep in mind that when approaching and landing at any airport, you may expect a lot of activity but especially so if you know that there is an event that is drawing in pilots and their airplanes, so don’t forget the fundamental rule governing the operation of an aircraft in flight—the see and avoid rule in 14 CFR 91.113(b). It’s a simple and instinctive rule: When weather conditions permit, regardless of whether an operation is conducted under instrument flight rules or visual flight rules, vigilance shall be maintained by each person operating an aircraft so as to see and avoid other aircraft. Remember your instructor’s advice of “keep your head on a swivel” and “monitor radio calls”? It’s not just advice that applies during primary training. The see-and-avoid rule applies to all pilots, from the most experienced pilot in the most elaborately equipped jet to the beginning student pilot in a modestly equipped trainer. It applies in all airspace regardless of the air traffic control services being provided, even when a controller is actively providing separation from other aircraft. Following the see-and-avoid rule is the responsibility of each aircraft operator in every aircraft in every aircraft operation.
Fly safe out there. See you at homecoming.