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"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."

PHD. MBA. MHS. Type rated on A350, A330, B777, B747-400, B747-200, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration. Fighting for Aviation Safety and Airline Employee Advocacy. Safety Culture and SMS change agent.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Who is Flying The Plane?

Pilots Are Responsible! 

As a newly rated instrument pilot years ago, still a teenager, I learned the hard way to never allow ATC to fly my plane. Thankfully this event became experience instead of death. Thereafter, during the decades of training pilots, I have always told them, "Do not allow ATC to fly your plane. You are in command." 

During my ERAU law course I learned that if ATC provides a vector into a mountain, the pilot is still responsible. ATC is not required to know the performance of your plane or Federal Regulations. Therefore, when ATC tells you what speed to fly, you must know your aircraft's performance capability, as well as your personal limitations. 

This morning I received the memo posted below and deep concerns that Delta is telling pilots to follow ATC's directions: 

"They say coordinate with ACT, 
but ATC is always way too busy 
when they are issuing 180 kts to DEPOT!... 
Subliminal Pilot Pushing again"
Anonymous Delta Pilot

The underlying threat in the Delta memo to the pilots was that this would be a violation:

"ATL TRACON and other approach facilities 
are processing pilot deviations for these 
speed violations. "

And the Order: 

"When cleared for any approach with a speed assignment, pilots must comply."

In speaking with an A330 check airman this morning, he stated he always tells pilots DO NOT accept a 180 knot clearance of DEPOT or you WILL become unstable. The A330 cannot accept this approach. That message is coming from one of the best.

Do you think you must comply
Because they said so?

MEMO to pilots everywhere: 

If ATC issues you a clearance that your plane cannot comply with, and they are too busy to discuss the issue,  you simply respond, "Unable!" You do not have to comply. 

The skies are saturated, but that is not your problem or concern. Your only responsibility is to know your personal limitations, understand the limitations and operation of your aircraft, and ensure that you and your passengers land safely. If the industry is trying to cram too many planes into the same target too quickly to increase profit, then maybe the system needs to be fixed. 

Delta's Weekly Flight Ops Update MEMO: 

Safety & operations  

Thinking about slowing early? 

Not so fast Recent ASAP reports have shown an increase in speed-related pilot deviations on approaches. Consider the scenario of being vectored and cleared for a visual or ILS to 27L in Atlanta. The controller instructs a Delta aircraft to maintain 180 knots to DEPOT and tells them to contact Tower. After intercepting the approach course, the pilot decides to slow early to create additional space from the preceding aircraft using their TCAS as their guide.  

As a result of the speed reduction, the pilot has created a loss of separation with the aircraft in trail, resulting in a go around. Not only that, but the early reduction was unnecessary – spacing was just fine. Remember, a speed assignment of 180 knots to DEPOT is an ATC clearance. When an approach clearance is received with a speed assignment, it is the pilot's responsibility to comply with the speed restriction or request an amended clearance. Recently, and with ever-increasing frequency, ATL TRACON and other approach facilities are processing pilot deviations for these speed violations.  

When cleared for any approach with a speed assignment, pilots must comply. Failure to do so may result in a pilot deviation unless the pilot has communicated with ATC the inability to comply with the issued clearance. Please continue to submit ASAP reports if you experience any issues related to the above. Delta has a close working relationship with many ATC facilities and can work with them to address any concerns. 


Be Safe and Stay in Command! 

Dr. Karlene Petitt
A350, B777, A330, B747-400, B747-200, B767, B757, B737, B727


  1. It depends partly on final approach speed for the aircraft. I had several go arounds of following aircraft flying Citation Vs. Once I got a phone number, and they said they were going to pull the tape but no, they didn’t give me a speed.

    On the Global Express ref plus 10 is usually a little over 120 and if you select landing flaps while descending it pitches kind of dramatically to get the speed so I prefer to do it just after glideslope alive. That’s close enough to FAF for me.

    If your final approach speed is 140 and you get 170 to the FAF and it’s VFR that’s doable, but 180 is not reasonable with any transport category jet I’m familiar with.

    1. So true. Unfortunately, If they don't know the performance of their plane, or have the ability based on their own performance , pressuring them to fly speeds they aren't comfortable should be question. An airline telling they should of will be violated, is another question... especially if this issue is the result of their training. One would think this data would induce more training, verses a newsletter. Thanks for your comment!!

  2. It was an interesting post. Thank you for sharing

  3. As an NSLI instructor at Delta I teach my students they are never required to accept an ATC clearance if it makes them uncomfortable, exceeds their or the aircraft's capabilities, or is unreasonable. One word puts an end to the clearance and that is "unable."

    1. That's a good thing to teach! Next it takes the confidence of the pilot, in front of those other pilots to be able to say that. But also, if they don't know their personal ability, or the limitations of the plane, they may not know what they don't know. Keep telling that!


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