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Jet Crew Forgets To Program SID, Triggering ATC Terrain Alarm

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A delayed corporate crew forgot to program their IFR departure procedure, resulting in a terrain warning. Here's how it happened, and how you can avoid the same mistake...

Report: Critical Step Missed During A Rush

The following report demonstrates how important it is to avoid rushing, especially when delays pressure you to depart quickly. Each pilot in the following NASA ASRS report was ATP rated, flying a Cessna Citation 680 Sovereign on a repositioning flight. They were departing a mountainous airport in California, on their way to Monterey (KMRY):

Our mission was to re-position the aircraft to the Monterey Airport. The conditions were VFR. On pre-flight it was noted the right battery voltage was below the minimum value for an APU or engine start; this necessitated the use of a ground power unit to start the APU and caused a delay in the time table we had established to meet clients in Monterey.

In the subsequent haste to start the mission, I did not properly program the FMS to include the assigned SID. On the radio hand-off to NORCAL, I was queried as to why we were not following the SID. I realized I had not entered it in the flight plan and had not reviewed it. The clear weather had lulled me into thinking we could proceed direct Monterey in visual conditions providing our own terrain avoidance.

I asked for a vector and was told that we were below minimum vectoring altitude, we were issued a climb to 5000 and then given a heading. We also communicated that we were in visual conditions with the terrain in sight. ATC let us know we had set off a terrain separation alarm.

Review: Minimum Vectoring Altitude (MVA)

MVAs are established for use by ATC when radar ATC is exercised. The MVA provides 1,000 feet of clearance above the highest obstacle in non-mountainous areas and 2,000 feet above the highest obstacle in designated mountainous areas.

Because of the ability to isolate specific obstacles, some MVAs may be lower than MEAs, MOCAs, or other minimum altitudes depicted on charts for a given location. While being radar vectored, IFR altitude assignments by ATC are normally at or above the MVA. In some cases, when aircraft dip below this minimum altitude, a terrain warning is given to the controller.

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Review: Standard Instrument Departure (SID)

SIDs are published to manage traffic and keep IFR aircraft clear of terrain. There are three types of SIDs:

  • First, in a radar vector procedure, ATC gives you vectors to your course. The procedure may give you an altitude to climb to, and provides instructions to follow if you lose your radios as well.
  • The second is a standard pilot-navigated procedure using ground-based navaids, like VORs and localizers, to help you navigate a course out of the terminal area. With these procedures, you can also fly them with a GPS or RNAV system if they're in your database. The LINDZ 8 in Aspen is a great example of that.
  • Third, RNAV procedures do the same thing as ground navaid based procedures, except they can only be flown by GPS or RNAV systems. And, they use waypoints instead of radials and navaids.

The pilot in the report above mentioned "maintaining own terrain and obstruction clearance in VFR conditions." Click here to understand this unique procedure.

What Mistakes Were Made?

The biggest mistake is obvious, and it can happen to all of us: rushing. Time pressure is a huge threat to pilots, especially when it involves deadlines to make an on-time flight. Fortunately for this crew, conditions were VFR and they were able to stay away from terrain. But what if it had been an IMC day?

An easy way to avoid this mistake is to verify the first fix in your clearance before you take off. If it doesn't match, you probably have something programmed incorrectly.

What do you think? What would you do differently? Tell us in the comments below.

Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and an Embraer 145 First Officer for a regional airline. He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota in 2018, holds a PIC Type Rating for Cessna Citation Jets (CE-525), and is a former pilot for Mokulele Airlines. He's the author of articles, quizzes and lists on Boldmethod every week. You can reach Swayne at swayne@boldmethod.com, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

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