Avoiding Cruise Control
Tips for maintaining situational awareness
COMPARED TO THE EXCITEMENT of takeoff or the tension of arriving in
a high-traffic-density airport, the time we spend in cruise flight can
often seem like a walk in the park. There is a tendency to sit back,
relax, perhaps chat with air traffic control, or just watch the world
Accident statistics reveal that cruise flight poses a lower risk than
other parts of a flight, owing no doubt to the lower pilot workload.
But rather than get too comfortable and set our brains on “cruise
control,” we can use that time to tend to more productive ends than
sightseeing. By focusing our mental energies on situational awareness, we can help make the rest of our flight safer and less stressful.
A small circle with the letter “H” in the upper right corner of the VOR information box indicates
that HIWAS is available through the VOR. Just tune in the frequency and turn up the volume on
the nav side of the radio to hear the broadcast.
WATCH THE WEATHER
Regardless of what we learned in our preflight briefing, we should always take the
time to stay on top of the weather situation,
and the relatively low workload during
cruise is the perfect time to recheck the conditions, forecasts, and pilot reports. If your
cockpit is equipped with downlink weather
capabilities, the job might be considerably
easier, but don’t underestimate the utility of
traditional weather sources as well.
Checking the automatic terminal information service (ATIS), automated surface
observing system (ASOS), and automated
weather observing system (AWOS) broadcasts along your route of flight can help
maintain a mental image of conditions
ahead, or at potential alternates.
Recorded weather information is also
available through the hazardous in-flight
weather advisory service (HIWAS), which
continuously broadcasts in-flight aviation
weather advisories selected VORs. To get
up-to-date weather information from a live
specialist while in flight, contact the FAA’s
en route flight advisory service (Flight
Watch) on 122.0. If you’re too low or otherwise unable to contact Flight Watch,
consider contacting an automated flight service station (AFSS) for an update. Contact
can be made directly via radio or via remote
communications outlets (RCOs) and
VORs as indicated on sectional charts.
Finally, air route traffic control centers
(ARTCC) can sometimes provide weather
data to pilots if they aren’t too busy with