It was a beautiful Colorado morning beneath an enticing, sun-filled cobalt sky. Pikes Peak majestically cast us a nod of approval as Springs Tower cleared us for departure onto runway 13. The student pilot seated on the left side of our T-41C anxiously applied minimal power, crossed the hold line, and followed the yellow taxi line out to where it joined the centerline of the runway. In went the throttle, followed by the usual callout “airspeed alive,” and the Mescalero lifted off the runway and climbed easily away from the asphalt surface at 95 mph.
Shortly thereafter, the radio echoed a familiar voice into our headsets: “Cessna Six Six November, turn left heading one-zero-zero, contact Departure one two zero point six, good day!” The student complied with the requested heading change and following the call to Departure, we were cleared to the East Practice Area with a closing instruction to “resume own navigation and altitude.” A quick glance at ForeFlight revealed another few miles to go before we were clear of the Colorado Springs Class C airspace; then it was time to start working on fine tuning our planned air work.
Over the Christmas holidays, one of my students completely knocked me off my feet with an unexpected gift: a Stratux ADS-B receiver! Talk about surprises… As the airspace in what we refer to as the East Practice Area (about 10 miles east of the Colorado Springs Airport) is often filled with “multiple targets,” all working on various maneuvers and such, it does create a rather busy training environment. It turns out the Stratux receiver offers an additional layer of situational awareness with those targets being superimposed on ForeFlight’s sectional chart.
Having said that, however, one must give credit where credit is due. The vigilant Colorado Springs Departure Controllers seemingly do not miss a trick when it comes to providing traffic separation. On a typical training flight those folks can be heard bellowing out a continual litany of traffic alerts to what appears to be just about every aircraft in the immediate vicinity. One needs to listen intently for their own tail number to be called, as an immediate response is expected, and required.
On many of those days it can be quite challenging to provide instruction with one’s student, as the incessant traffic alerts can occupy the vast majority of the available “verbal airspace.” Prior to the Stratux, amidst that constant barrage of traffic alerts, it was often difficult to locate the converging “bogie” reported by ATC, necessitating a response of “looking for traffic.” Since introducing Stratux to the cockpit however, locating reported traffic in the immediate vicinity of our position seems to be much easier now.
Having heard another aircraft advise ATC that he has “negative contact but has target on ADS-B” ultimately created the temptation within me to respond to ATC in similar parlance. On one such flight my student (on a Flight Review) took notice of that exchange with ATC, where visual contact was not made but the traffic was spotted by virtue of the ADS-B and hence stated to ATC as such. A couple of days following that flight an interesting email arrived from that student along with a document authored by Jeff Kanarish from ATCCommunication.com. In short, the article stated that ATC doesn’t care what you see on your iPad (ADS-B) or on board TCAS. The only thing they want to hear back from you is either “negative contact” or “traffic in sight.”
After noodling on this statement for a period of time, I came to realize that Mr. Kanarish is 100% absolutely correct; we should not be advising ATC of our ADS-B/TCAS observations. They see the sane thing we do, only in a more enhanced format. That short lived practice I borrowed from another pilot abruptly ended during the next foray into the East Practice Area.
But wait a minute; there’s got to be some middle ground here, right? There most certainly is. Inasmuch as Mr. Kararish’s article is totally on spot, I am convinced that it is entirely possible to utilize our portable ADS-B receivers to enhance flight safety and improve our situational awareness.
Here’s the bottom line to this scenario: keep you eyes and ears open and pay attention to ATC’s traffic advisories, and respond accordingly utilizing the correct Pilot-Controller phraseology. If you have ADS-B In capability, use it to leverage your situational awareness. ATC is a trusted and indispensable resource to our pilot community, a veritable partner and eye in the sky. Together we can make our skies and training environment a safer place.