Fear of Flying
Sunday, 26 July 2009 07:39
Capt Lim, love your website!
Back in the mid 1990's I was on a flight from Washington National Airport to Norfolk International - a short hop of about 45 minutes. The plane was a Boeing 737. I had flown numerous times in the past, and have a decent understanding of flight dynamics.
Normally, when you take off you are cleared to fly the runway heading up to a predetermined altitude. This initial "climb-out' usually lasts for several minutes - but this flight was very different. Within 30 seconds of take off, there was a sharp left turn during which the engines were significantly throttled back. Then a sharp turn back to the right during which the throttles went to full power.
This seemed odd to me and the other passengers. It was all over in a few minutes and then it hit me. We were flying out of Washington National on the north-bound runway. This put the plane on a direct course over the Washington Monument and the White House. These rapid turns and throttle shifts were required to prevent the plane from entering it.
Why didn't the pilot explain this to the passengers before takeoff? A short announcement such as, "30 seconds after take off, we will begin a series of sharp turns to avoid airspace restrictions over Washington. These series of turns will last about 2 minutes, then straight and level on to Norfolk"
A simple announcement like this could have prevented 100 people from going in to a state of panic that something might be wrong with the plane, or that we were attempting to avoid a collision.
If a pilot knows well in advance that something "unusual" is going to happen, shouldn't he make the passengers aware?
I agree with you that an appropriate announcement would definitely ease the fears of some travelers who are not used to such maneuvers or “noise abatement procedures”. Most airlines have some guidelines on how and when to communicate with their fare-paying passengers.
A well-organized captain would try to get the announcement across prior to take off but sometimes, there are more pressing safety procedures or important check list that needed be carried out first. Perhaps, through an oversight, the announcement might have been omitted.
Yes, the Washington National Airport is one of the most stringently noise-controlled airports in the United States. If the noise limitation is violated, whichever airlines involved would be subjected to a civil penalty up to $5,000 per violation.
The airport procedures in Washington National specify that pilots departing to the north must fly northwest over the Potomac River corridor or fly northeast over the Anacostia River corridor.
Further, pilots are also urged to cut back on the amount of power during takeoff. At an altitude of 1,500 feet, the thrust is reduced to a level that would allow the aircraft to climb at approximately 500 feet per minute and normal climb power is reapplied when the aircraft is 10 miles from the airfield.
These procedures may cause some concern to some passengers not used to them and obviously some announcements to this effect would have been very helpful.