It’s too quiet


Did you ever get the feeling that it is too quiet on the radio frequency you are on? You should be hearing something. You are in or near the control zone and there is other traffic around.

A PA 12 was observed on a low down wind for runway 30 and it proceeded to land on runway 30. Radio contact was established with the pilot after he had taxied off the runway. He had been on the wrong frequency.

A C-172 was observed by the Flight Service Station Specialist to be on a straight in approach to runway 19. Radio transmissions to the aircraft were not acknowledged. A C-150 on the ground was given the traffic information and asked to hold short of the runway until the NORDO aircraft was down and clear.

A Bell 206 helicopter was observed by a FSS Specialist to be in its final stages of landing at the helipad at the helicopter company base. No radio transmissions had been received from the pilot.

A C-172 pilot with transmit only made a straight in approach on runway 25 at a busy airport where runway 19 was in use. You can imagine how busy the Tower Controller got getting other aircraft out of his way.

The instructor on board a C-152 made several radio calls to the Tower Controller without any response. He could hear other aircraft on the frequency and his transmissions appeared to be getting out. He tried calling on the ground frequency and was able to make contact with the Control Tower. The Tower frequency had failed.

A C-182 was observed to be performing a NORDO procedure at an airport. His position and apparent intentions were passed on to the inbound helicopters and a departing Grumman G21. All aircraft held away from the circuit or on the ground until the NORDO aircraft had landed.

A C-177 Cardinal on a short cross-country flight was advised by ATC that his transponder was no longer working. A few minutes later, the pilot tried to call the Tower Controller at his destination airport and found he could not transmit. He checked his ammeter and saw there was a large drain on his battery. He then called the Tower on his cell phone and informed them of his problem and advised them that he would perform a NORDO procedure for landing.

We may not be able to contact a Tower Controller or FSS Specialist for a number of reasons. The PA 12 was on the wrong frequency. Sometimes we forget to change frequencies. We may miss-set the radio frequency. We may not check the CFS for the correct frequency and rely on our memories.

We may have a radio transmit failure as did the C-172 pilot who performed the straight in approach. We may have a receiver failure as did the C-172 pilot who performed a straight in approach to the wrong runway. We may simply forget to make any calls as did the Bell 206 pilot. The Tower frequency may have failed. The C-182 lost both of his radios after passing through a shower. Both radios started functioning again after the antennae had time to dry off on the ground.

The C-177 had an electrical failure due to a failed alternator. Unfortunately he did not discover the failure until the battery had been drained to the point where he could not make or receive any radio transmissions.

If we find that we cannot make contact with an ATC unit, we should try to trouble shoot immediately to try to restore contact. If we cannot restore contact we should follow no radio procedures.

The C-177 pilot was a little slow in detecting his electrical failure, but once he did he used his head and his cell phone to make contact with the Tower and inform them of his intentions. He then followed NORDO procedures.

The C-182 pilot followed NORDO procedures and his intentions were assumed and other traffic informed.

The C-172 and Bell 206 pilots did not follow NORDO procedures and created a safety problem. An alert FSS Specialist was able to avert a possible conflict in the case of the C-172.

If we do find ourselves in a NORDO situation, we should squawk 7600 on the transponder and transmit in the blind. We may only have a receiver failure. Use a cell phone if you have one and can get a signal. Fly to an appropriate airport and conduct a mid-field crossing to determine the runway in use. Fly a standard circuit and land if the runway is clear.

At a controlled airport, flash the landing light on final approach and watch the Tower for light signal for clearance to land.

An appropriate airport is an uncontrolled airport if at all possible. If you must land at a controlled airport, be selective. Trudeau, Pearson International, and Vancouver International are not good selections even if one of them is your destination. A satellite airport nearby is a better option. ATC will note the 7600 squawk and watch where you are headed and warn the new destination of the situation.

Being NORDO requires a good look out for other traffic even at very quiet airports. A good look out is recommended even with an operational radio. There may be NORDO aircraft around. Many older aircraft, many ultra light aircraft and most paragliders are not equipped with radios.

A few years ago, a PA 28 on the wrong frequency (effectively NORDO) collided on final approach with another PA 28 whose pilot had performed a circuit on the wrong side.

We sometimes get complacent that all other pilots are like us and will make all of the appropriate radio calls on the right frequency and will follow the correct procedures as outlined in CARS just like we do. All other pilots are not like us.

Dale Nielsen is an ex-Armed Forces pilot and aerial photography pilot. He lives in Abbotsford, B.C., and currently flies air charters. He still freelances as a flying instructor and seminar facilitator. Nielsen is also the author of seven flight training manuals published by Canuck West Holdings.

Got an aviation safety story to tell? Dale Nielsen would like to hear from pilots who have educational aviation experiences to relate. Excerpts from these stories will be used in upcoming safety articles. Dale can be contacted via e-mail: