Say Again?!

As I entered the downwind leg, the controller informed me he had visual contact, and cheerfully confirmed I was cleared to land … then, he did something that I had never encountered in my life – he said “Check Gear Down.” What followed would be one of the most confusing landings I have ever made. It happened at the Toronto Island Airport, in Toronto, Canada…

I was flying a Beech Debonair, a high-performance retract. In terms of hours, I was still fairly green in the Deb at the time, with only 50 odd hours in flight or so. I’d already thrown down the gear lever and checked the panel indicator — but immediately re-checked that it was still down, and continued with the pattern.

As I turned base, the controller again cleared me to land, and again reminded me to “Check Gear Down.” I had my wife take a look at the panel, and she confirmed my landing gear appeared to be down. Still, I was nervous – was there a problem with my landing gear? I had my wife and daughter on board, and didn’t want to take a chance. I told my wife that I was going to ask the controller what he meant if he asked me to check gear down again.

With my hands starting to sweat, I turned final at Toronto Island. The runway filled my windshield, as the controller AGAIN cleared me to land, and told me to “Check Gear Down.” It was becoming an episode from the Twilight Zone… I immediately keyed the mic and asked the controller ‘Is there a problem with my landing gear?’ He replied that no, from what he could see, my landing gear was down — he just provided the information as a service to inbound pilots.

Good intentions aside, his practice was not the same as controllers in the United States, and had me really worried for around a minute — although it felt like much longer than that. All that stress was relieved when I asked him what he meant.

And so it goes…

The chances are good that, if you happen to visit another country, the lingo used by the air traffic controller may leave you wondering. If for example, you were to visit Canada, the northern neighbor of the U.S.A, you would hear a great deal of English, but oddly enough, several words — or phrases — that you might not be all too familiar with.

Odds Bonkins old chap! What ever do you mean? When you are confused as a pilot, even for a moment, it can break your routine. While you spend moments pondering what the controller meant when he said you should “maintain a circuit,” your thoughts are broken away from what they need to be concentrating on – FLYING THE PLANE.

When the controller asks you to do something and you do not understand, TELL THEM. You will NOT be penalized for asking for a “translation” — even if it is from English to English. You CAN be penalized for making an assumption that you know what they controller asked you to do, if you are not completely sure. In cases where you are flying outside of areas where you are familiar, asking a few questions can help to avoid problems and misunderstandings, and by doing so, help to keep your flying safer and more stress-free.