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Is it appropriate/legal to radio ATC in case of civil unrest?

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Is it appropriate/legal to radio ATC in case of civil unrest?

Old 16th Dec 2013, 17:01
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Is it appropriate/legal to radio ATC in case of civil unrest?

What are the legalities/implications of contacting an ATC by radio if you are not flying but see a potentially hazardous situation?

Late morning there was a full-on, milspec shootout in Brazzaville with mortars, 12.7mm machine guns, lots of AK47 fire, an Mi24 circling for three hours. Even though I am across the river, I could clearly see and hear the explosions and gunfire and see the smoke. The event was taking place to the E of FCBB, and was later ascribed to a disaffected colonel.

During this time ATC operated as if nothing was happening, providing clearances to all departures and arrivals with no warnings or any other notices about potential hazards. I was shocked when I heard a clearance delivered to a KQ flight to FZAA, and couldn’t believe that this aircraft was departing from 05, and thus flying right over the trouble. Only a Rwandair flight was turned around, its dispatch instructing the crew to return to Libreville, giving only “security issues” as the cause.

So I wondered: I watching/listening to all of this with my handheld VHF (I’m a PPL), do I call ATC and ask if they know what is going on? If they are telling other pilots that they should turn and burn, or depart on 22 to avoid the troubled areas? But I demurred because I am wary of causing an incident, and because maybe ATC knows something I don’t so just chill.

But to return to the question raised in the opening para, reagrdless of how one judges the situation, what are the legalities/implications of calling ATC or an aircraft directly in a similar (or worse) situation?
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Old 16th Dec 2013, 17:14
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Best to telephone them and not use radio except in extreme emergency. ATC communications are for a particular purpose and should not be used for any other reason. Of course, things maybe be different in your country......
Old 16th Dec 2013, 17:58
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Hi Indalo.. It all depends upon which you think is most important.. Saving Lives or Saving your Radio License. I would think that situation could have merited a Mayday Call, especially if loose rounds were being directed towards aircraft.

Whilst undergoing my FRTOL Exam, the examiner had the scenario that we were flying over a Dis-Masted Yacht, in heavy seas, some miles from land.
This required a Mayday call to be made, as there was a potential for loss of life.

In the UK we are also required to report oil-slicks on the sea, and I have done so, whilst crossing the Severn Estuary... Cardiff was not very busy at that time so lots of details were passed.

Also in the UK the use of Icom Handhelds was not allowed, but now the latest 8.33 KHz Icoms are legal to be used.
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Old 16th Dec 2013, 18:37
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"Also in the UK the use of Icom Handhelds was not allowed, but now the latest 8.33 KHz Icoms are legal to be used"

The Icom A20 has always been and is still legal as is the A3 in flight.
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Old 16th Dec 2013, 22:10
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are they? I was unwrapping a couple for some airborne work this summer and the paperwork made it clear they weren't certified for airborne operation.

I wasn't sure whether this meant they could be used in the air or not? I asked a colleague and the consensus was that it is tolerated, mainly as it's for backup rather than routine.

Regarding the situation described above, I think that while it would be tempting to call ATC or advise the aircraft directly...due to potentially being taken for a pirate transmission or interference it's probably best to telephone emergency services or ATC and explain. While it might take a relatively long time, by the time you got through on RT and they actually took any notice etc I think it'd probably be quicker and more certain (and they would have gotten it from a source they wouldn't question).

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Old 16th Dec 2013, 22:40
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Flying in the western half of the US, especially during summer it's not uncommon to radio in fires when there's a question of them being unreported. Some controllers say roger, others get a lot of info,such as radial/DME, lat/long, etc
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Old 19th Dec 2013, 00:18
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I remember a trans-Atlantic flight, [ex-Heathrow], reporting a forest fire in mid-Wales. What's wrong with that?

Communication (from Latin commūnicāre, meaning "to share") is the activity of conveying information through the exchange of thoughts, messages, or information, as by speech, visuals, signals, writing, or behavior. It is the meaningful exchange of information between two or more living creatures.
One definition of communication is “any act by which one person gives to or receives from another person information about that person's needs, desires, perceptions, knowledge, or affective states. Communication may be intentional or unintentional, may involve conventional or unconventional signals, may take linguistic or non-linguistic forms, and may occur through spoken or other modes.”
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Old 19th Dec 2013, 01:17
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What's wrong with that? Nothing. I have had aircrew report many "non operational" events. The point here is if a person on the ground can use a handheld to do the same.
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Old 19th Dec 2013, 01:36
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The point here is if a person on the ground can use a handheld to do the same.
the answer to that one is simple. NO.

if you must talk to them phone them.
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Old 19th Dec 2013, 07:13
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From CAP 413:

Military Safety Broadcast – Securité
10.78 Military ground stations may commence a broadcast message with
to inform all traffic that the message contains information affecting
safety, but not an emergency situation. Aircraft acknowledgement is
not required, however aircraft may contact the ground station to obtain
further details.

I would say that the OP's scenario fits the bill here, but would a civil pilot/ATCO be familiar with the proword SECURITÉ?
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Old 19th Dec 2013, 10:02
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Radio legalities will vary with the Country issuing the actual license to operate. In the few which I know about, mode-specific licenses (air, marine and railway) are quite clear that transmitting is only for those actually engaged in the mode, with approved activities and allowances clearly spelled out. Sometimes emergency contingencies are specifically allowed and sometimes not, but the best legal approach is to not transmit unless you are certain that it's legal. If you have alternate means of communicating, use them instead.

Still, most licensing authorities will not be overly harsh with you if there was an absolute need for the transmissions to directly save immediately imperiled life and there was no other way to communicate available to you. In the US you'll get a letter from the FCC anyway wanting you to explain yourself in writing and a verbal scolding if they deem it wasn't warranted on first offense. If after this you later disregard what the FCC said they can get very nasty with fines of $50K and up! And if your illegal transmission caused any loss or duress to someone else you can be held liable for those losses too.

Here in the US, Ham operators like myself are legally allowed to transmit on any frequency in dire emergencies but we are still bound with the "immediate peril only and no other means possible" circumstances. They won't cut Hams any slack if we screw up doing this and they make that very clear to us from the start!

In this case, I'd ask the local ATC head what they would like you to do the next time you encounter such circumstances and then verify that you could do it legally with your licensing authority. Here's to hoping you never need to do that
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Old 19th Dec 2013, 17:39
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We're talking about The Congo here. I think you stiff shirted Brits need to consider that.
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Old 20th Dec 2013, 09:11
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You need that radio license to legally fly so you don't risk it. The government agencies who issue them are like any other bureaucracy- the less you have to deal with them, the better, even in the Congo. Getting an answer on legality from them may be troublesome, but if you have a letter saying OK that should keep you in the clear with them- then it's just a chat with the ATC guys whose want safety as much as you do.

If I were "indaloamman" I know what I would do and how I'd do it- but it isn't legal so I won't recommend it. If the guys in ATC know what's up and agree, then it would be an easy job regardless of whether the government agreed or knew about it, but without an understanding with ATC, just don't- use the phone instead.
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Old 20th Dec 2013, 10:58
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I think you stiff shirted Brits
Love it. I bet a few G&Ts were spilled!
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Old 20th Dec 2013, 12:55
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I remember at Heathrow in the early nineties when a Clipper Captain on departure said "you'd better tell your Queen her castles' on fire"
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Old 21st Dec 2013, 00:38
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To OP, even if it's not legal, I'd suggest it would still be appropriate
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Old 21st Dec 2013, 03:29
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As a mate of mine in the RAF used to say..."Tis better to ask forgiveness than permission"

One of my old bosses called mayday when he was in a UN mission in Timor...they were being shelled by the next door neighbours and he raised an Aussie P3 to pass the message along to.
I remember the story well, I don't remember him saying that he was agonizing over whether he should or should not be calling attention to their plight...

BTW second what Plazbot said ;-)
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Old 21st Dec 2013, 07:16
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BTW second what Plazbot said
You would 'cos you're an Aussie!

Have a good Christmas, Duckie.
Old 21st Dec 2013, 13:10
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My point wasn't for "appropriate". Transmitting outside of the intended realm (like the OP on the ground with a handheld) may cross over from "inappropriate" to "illegal" with more dire consequences, and I don't want to see him stuck on the ground unable to fly until he gets it worked out with a governmental bureaucracy.

I gave a subtle hint in my last post and the subtlety may have been lost to a few If the ATC is not offended then nobody else will be offended either. If nobody is offended the licensing authority will not much care about it.. </end subtlety> Work something out with the ATC off-the-air beforehand and everybody wins. If someone seemed to be a ground crew person from the airfield at work, nobody would suspect a thing. <begin anonymity for a better outcome>
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Old 23rd Dec 2013, 05:20
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Seems to me that his radio license would only be jeopardized it he were to identify himself sufficiently that the transmission could be traced to him, unless of course, the Congo has DF tracking crews roaming the streets full time.

I'm sure some are sitting at their computers screaming; "Why, it's simply not done to transmit without proper station identification, Old Chap"

I guess my priorities would fall in this order:

Protecting others' lives

Protecting Certificates I needed to fly.



following proper Arhhh Tee procedures.
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