How/Why/When of Initial Contact w/ ATC (A look at COC)

Shane VanHoven

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How/Why/When of Initial Contact w/ ATC (A look at COC)
« on: January 03, 2017, 10:50:00 pm »
Hey everyone. I hope you all had a great and safe new years celebration.

I wanted to open a discussion about making initial contact with a controller. This is based on an experience I had while controlling yesterday evening.

First off, here's what happened. I was plugged in as Minneapolis center. It was slow, but steady. Definitely more than usual for a Monday night. I noticed a target flying eastbound over eastern Montana, eventually entering my airspace over the Dakotas. In the neighborhood of 30 miles from the border of my airspace, I sent the aircraft a contact request message. Seconds later, the pilot checked on my frequency. Great! Except what they had to say was the following: "I'm still outside of your airspace, and I will contact you when I enter it."

Folks, that isn't how this works. In a nutshell, the Code of Conduct says pilots shall watch out for Air Traffic services, and contact them when appropriate. But it also says that the bottom line is if the pilot receives a contact request message, the pilot should immediately contact that controller. Normally, I hardly ever send contact request messages. I put the responsibility on the pilot to make such contact, because, well, that's what the COC says. The reason I sent this one was because the pilot happened to be apart of a group flight. In order for me to maintain positive control of aircraft within my airspace, contact with the aircraft was required, albeit a little early.

I invite everyone to discuss below.
Shane VanHoven
Minneapolis ARTCC, VATUSA ACE Team | Instructor
Private pilot, Instrument, ASEL
FAA Air Traffic Developmental, Terminal

Camden Bruno

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Re: How/Why/When of Initial Contact w/ ATC (A look at COC)
« Reply #1 on: January 04, 2017, 12:36:49 am »
VATSIM Code of Conduct Section B, Sub-Section 3:
Quote
A pilot must at all times check for appropriate air traffic control coverage for the airspace he is crossing at any given time. If there is an appropriate air traffic controller available or upon request to make contact with an appropriate air traffic controller, then the pilot should immediately contact such controller.

Nothing wrong with what you did. Just someone who felt like being stubborn. If you need to contact someone who will be entering your airspace shortly to ensure separation, B(3) allows to you to so with what I have bolded above.

Ryan Parry

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Re: How/Why/When of Initial Contact w/ ATC (A look at COC)
« Reply #2 on: January 04, 2017, 12:42:23 am »
So, as far as a contact me goes. Does the controller not share the responsibility to send a contact me at an appropriate time? So for example, if I am in the flight levels descending down and a tower controller sends me a contact me, I'd be required to contact him despite clearly being well outside of his airspace? Should a controller send a premature contact me, does the pilot not have the right to refuse in that situation? Not saying your example was wrong, I'd say that was well within an acceptable range of your border, but this has to be thought about for all positions and situations.

I think it is fair to say it is up to the pilot to contact ATC when appropriate per the CoC, but should the pilot fail to do so it is up to the controller to send a contact me to avoid any potential conflicts within your airspace. That's why the contact me function exists. Should a pilot fail to respond to a few contact me requests you simply send it to a SUP. Lets be real about this for a minute, despite what the CoC says I'd bet big money on the majority of pilots not paying any attention while in cruise because they are on facebook, youtube, or whatever other site simply waiting to hear the vPilot/FSINN/Squawkbox ding at them with a contact me request.

Personally, I just send a contact me when I want them to call me up. It's one key stroke and slew, no big deal for me. If I need a SUP because somebody isn't responding, then I call a SUP.
Ryan Parry - 965346
ZOA Air Traffic Manager

Daniel Hawton

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Re: How/Why/When of Initial Contact w/ ATC (A look at COC)
« Reply #3 on: January 04, 2017, 08:54:00 am »
Ryan, by letter of the CoC the responsibility is completely on the pilot.  By spirit, it's shared for a multitude of reasons including helping the pilot figure out where your boundary is.  It's a horse that has been beaten to death several times on the VATSIM forums over the years.  But if you read the CoC, the letter clearly indicates it is the responsibility of the pilot to contact ATC and not the other way around... it's should be considered bad practice.  Local controllers, ground and clearance are easy to figure out who owns what, terminal radars are a bit different for non-primary airports, and enroute unless you know how to read charts is even more so.
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Charles Messina

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Re: How/Why/When of Initial Contact w/ ATC (A look at COC)
« Reply #4 on: January 04, 2017, 01:03:01 pm »
I've always wondered about pilots who don't call when a controller is online.  It seems completely antithetical to the purpose and spirit of VATSIM.  Typically, I chalk it up to either: A.) The pilot is scared to talk to ATC;  B.) the pilot is pooping; C.) the pilot doesn't know he is supposed to talk to ATC.  Or some variation of one of those three.

Assuming my airspace is not too busy and the nordo pilot is not in danger of causing an incident, I often like to just wait and see if they call.  It's almost a game, really!  How far across my ARTCC will DAL5722 get before he wakes up?  I've only had a few make it all the way, but why get annoyed about it?
Charles Messina
Cleveland ARTCC-ATM

Shane VanHoven

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Re: How/Why/When of Initial Contact w/ ATC (A look at COC)
« Reply #5 on: January 04, 2017, 02:06:23 pm »
How far across my ARTCC will DAL5722 get before he wakes up?  I've only had a few make it all the way, but why get annoyed about it?

I'm normally the same way. But in this particular case, my biggest issue was that the pilot in this case tuned my freq, and openly refused. It was about him not knowing, or being away, or anything other than the fact that he wanted to make a point.
Shane VanHoven
Minneapolis ARTCC, VATUSA ACE Team | Instructor
Private pilot, Instrument, ASEL
FAA Air Traffic Developmental, Terminal

Mark Hubbert

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Re: How/Why/When of Initial Contact w/ ATC (A look at COC)
« Reply #6 on: March 09, 2017, 07:15:13 pm »
I am a big supported of using the Contact Me feature.  I dont care what the COC says.  Why do people get online?  Either they want to fly in a simulated environment (meaning they want to be controlled) or they want to control aircraft.  I know that it can be argued that there are maps etc. that tell you when to contact ATC etc.  There is no simulator that I am aware of that will tell you who's airspace you are in when you are flying.  Everybody wants to talk about the real world this and the real world that.  In the real world an enroute controller would hand you off to the next facility, since we can not guarantee who will be on and who will not, this is not an area of realism that we can accurately simulate.

My thinking is if you want to control that aircraft, send a contact me.  On the flip side, I have had controllers who never contacted me and they were not online when I entered there airspace and when I realized that they were online and contacted them, i got an attitude; my thoughts STICK IT!!!  If you wanted to control me, then you should have contacted me and let me know you were online.  If a pilot does contact you before you contact him than Wooooo Hoooooo.  We are supposed to work together to have fun and make this hobby fun.  I applaud you for sending the contact me, if you do it again, I will applaud you again and if a pilot gives you any flack, give him a .wallop
Mark Hubbert
Division Director VATUSA

Krikor Hajian

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Re: How/Why/When of Initial Contact w/ ATC (A look at COC)
« Reply #7 on: March 09, 2017, 07:24:17 pm »
I am a big supported of using the Contact Me feature.  I dont care what the COC says.  Why do people get online?  Either they want to fly in a simulated environment (meaning they want to be controlled) or they want to control aircraft.  I know that it can be argued that there are maps etc. that tell you when to contact ATC etc.  There is no simulator that I am aware of that will tell you who's airspace you are in when you are flying.  Everybody wants to talk about the real world this and the real world that.  In the real world an enroute controller would hand you off to the next facility, since we can not guarantee who will be on and who will not, this is not an area of realism that we can accurately simulate.

My thinking is if you want to control that aircraft, send a contact me.  On the flip side, I have had controllers who never contacted me and they were not online when I entered there airspace and when I realized that they were online and contacted them, i got an attitude; my thoughts STICK IT!!!  If you wanted to control me, then you should have contacted me and let me know you were online.  If a pilot does contact you before you contact him than Wooooo Hoooooo.  We are supposed to work together to have fun and make this hobby fun.  I applaud you for sending the contact me, if you do it again, I will applaud you again and if a pilot gives you any flack, give him a .wallop

Agreed. As well, many programs such as VATSpy only show part of the airspace, sometimes committing important shelves, such as the one shared by ZBW and ZDC at or above FL240. Anyone looking at VATSpy who does not understand the airspace would wonder why they are not contacting New York Center, and indeed I've had many pilots who disregard the frequency I give and do just that.

IMO, if you want to talk to a pilot, send a contactme. Send it at the location where you would normally receive a handoff, radar identify the aircraft, and bring them in. I will add that I have seen an over-reliance on contactme's that can lead to issues. Earlier today, I had an aircraft depart an untowered field. They were filed IFR to a towered, class B airport in my airspace, however I was online before they departed, so I assumed they were proceeding VFR because they did not call me. Eventually, the aircraft overflew the airport by a significant amount, was actually into another ARTCC's airspace, and called saying he never received a contactme. Pilots also need to be aware who's online, especially if they're departing untowered ops and remaining in Class E airspace, where they are not required to contact a controller if VFR.


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Rick Rump

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Re: How/Why/When of Initial Contact w/ ATC (A look at COC)
« Reply #8 on: March 10, 2017, 07:49:58 am »
I actually did a little experiment the other night. I only sent contact me requests to immediately necessary (landing in or nearby), so overflights were the target here.
In 90 minutes I only had 1 out of 4 contact me on their own volllition. Low sample size but the lack of people paying attention when on a long flight is one issue.
Add to that when I do send s contact me, I get a PM 20% of the time saying "roger" or "ok" -- yet the contact me says do not respond via PM.  Reading comprehension :/
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Shane VanHoven

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Re: How/Why/When of Initial Contact w/ ATC (A look at COC)
« Reply #9 on: March 12, 2017, 06:44:08 am »
I actually did a little experiment the other night. I only sent contact me requests to immediately necessary (landing in or nearby), so overflights were the target here.
In 90 minutes I only had 1 out of 4 contact me on their own volition. Low sample size but the lack of people paying attention when on a long flight is one issue.
Add to that when I do send s contact me, I get a PM 20% of the time saying "roger" or "ok" -- yet the contact me says do not respond via PM.  Reading comprehension :/

That rate get's even worse when you work "overflight, USA" (ZMP being one of them). There have been days in the past were I will plug in for 3 hours, a literally only talk to 4 airplanes. Those 4 airplanes are the only ones that called me on their own, the rest flew right across the sky without talking.
Shane VanHoven
Minneapolis ARTCC, VATUSA ACE Team | Instructor
Private pilot, Instrument, ASEL
FAA Air Traffic Developmental, Terminal

Brin Brody

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Re: How/Why/When of Initial Contact w/ ATC (A look at COC)
« Reply #10 on: March 13, 2017, 01:51:40 pm »
I actually did a little experiment the other night. I only sent contact me requests to immediately necessary (landing in or nearby), so overflights were the target here.
In 90 minutes I only had 1 out of 4 contact me on their own volition. Low sample size but the lack of people paying attention when on a long flight is one issue.
Add to that when I do send s contact me, I get a PM 20% of the time saying "roger" or "ok" -- yet the contact me says do not respond via PM.  Reading comprehension :/
That rate get's even worse when you work "overflight, USA" (ZMP being one of them). There have been days in the past were I will plug in for 3 hours, a literally only talk to 4 airplanes. Those 4 airplanes are the only ones that called me on their own, the rest flew right across the sky without talking.

Exactly right...  Try working Alaska!  I've had guys go the full 500 miles across, give or take a few miles, that don't even think to call me, until I send them a request.

While it is officially our responsibility to send contact requests, I feel like I send quite a few too many, and some pilot participation in keeping the airspace running as intended would be much appreciated.

Just my humble take on things.  ;)
Brin Brody
Deputy Air Traffic Manager
Jacksonville ARTCC
datm@zjxartcc.org


William Anderson

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Re: How/Why/When of Initial Contact w/ ATC (A look at COC)
« Reply #11 on: March 13, 2017, 02:39:00 pm »

While it is officially our responsibility to send contact requests, I feel like I send quite a few too many, and some pilot participation in keeping the airspace running as intended would be much appreciated.

Just my humble take on things.  ;)

Looking at the CoC, B3: A pilot must at all times check for appropriate air traffic control coverage for the airspace he is crossing at any given time. If there is an appropriate air traffic controller available or upon request to make contact with an appropriate air traffic controller, then the pilot should immediately contact such controller.

It's not entirely our responsibility to send contact me's. The OR in the policy not only puts the responsibility on us but the pilots as well. I still think pilots, especially in Europe, have become so dependent on the contact me's that they come to expect it and if they don't receive one, it is entirely our fault.

This may be going into too much analysis of this policy, but it sounds like this was the initial intention for the policy, but then they had to add "or upon request" because no one was doing it on their own.

 "A pilot must at all times check for appropriate air traffic control coverage for the airspace he/she is crossing at any given time. If there is an appropriate air traffic controller available, then the pilot should immediately contact such controller."

This is the way I look at it: I have found that the pilots who are on the network to be controlled, will contact you on their own. In fact, about 75% of pilots contact me without the use of that feature. The only time I would send Contact me's is when the aircraft will be going into an adjacent ARTCC.

If people get angry about it, I educate them on the CoC and ways they can find out where they are in respect to the controllers online (VAT-SPY, vataware ETC).

I have been doing this system for about a year, and I haven't had any major issues. That being said, I control in a ARTCC where there are not many overflights, so that may have an affect on the above points.

Will Anderson
Atlanta Center
Air Traffic Manager

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Ira Robinson

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Re: How/Why/When of Initial Contact w/ ATC (A look at COC)
« Reply #12 on: March 13, 2017, 04:07:21 pm »
I don't see where the pilot has much cause to complain that they don't know when ATC is available.  I understand VATSPY isn't that accurate and there isn't anything else out there to tell a pilot exactly when they enter or leave a specific airspace, but VATSPY still gives you a good idea of where you are. And there are still other things that give a pilot good idea of what's going on.   

I haven't used any program but vPilot for a while now so my memory is a bit weak on this, but I do know that vPilot lists the ATC that is online and in range.  I seem to recall that FSInn and Squawkbox do that as well, right??  I also wonder that if you see someone online and you know your route well enough to estimate if and when you may be crossing into that controlled airspace.  Not to mention you have the opportunity to tune in a frequency and listen in to hear what the story is around you.

So where's the excuse I didn't know you were online?  That being said, I will absolutely send a contact me if I have to.  The pilot may not want to simulate live traffic but I sure as heck do and I will  not let some inconsiderate [person] ruin my time online if I can help it.


Ira Robinson
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Shane VanHoven

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Re: How/Why/When of Initial Contact w/ ATC (A look at COC)
« Reply #13 on: March 14, 2017, 08:53:07 am »
While it is officially our responsibility to send contact requests..

Strictly speaking, us controllers have no responsibility to send contact requests. The responsibility lies 100% on the pilot according to the language of the COC.
Shane VanHoven
Minneapolis ARTCC, VATUSA ACE Team | Instructor
Private pilot, Instrument, ASEL
FAA Air Traffic Developmental, Terminal

Daniel Hawton

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Re: How/Why/When of Initial Contact w/ ATC (A look at COC)
« Reply #14 on: March 14, 2017, 09:11:15 am »
While it is officially our responsibility to send contact requests..

Strictly speaking, us controllers have no responsibility to send contact requests. The responsibility lies 100% on the pilot according to the language of the COC.

Accurate Shane.  The pilot does have that responsibility. But, while not in the rules, VATSIM is a learning environment so controllers should aid the pilots with contact requests. While supping, I've been called by ATC for a pilot failing to contact, and when I ask when the contact me was sent got "never sent one". Turned into an education lesson for both. It takes a second to hit "home" and click to send that contact me request, really no reason not to. But, strictly speaking by the letter of the CoC the pilots are 100% responsible and, playing devil's advocate, a weak case of the CoR that not sending a contact me could blocks the pilot's ability to enjoy the network.
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