Real Answers from Real Pilots

Unicom

Hi -

As UNICOM is privately owned air/ground station but available to VFR pilots, I have some questions I did not read in the Jeppesen guided flight book

  1. With a limited number of frequencies, are there considerations to getting through?
  2. Some airports have automated systems for weather, and advisories, are these listed in sectional maps or other advisories such as A/FD’s?
  3. Curious why this is a private operation, how its funded and if there will be any impact or changes when ADS-B is fully implemented across the U.S.?

Thanks for this community ~ as someone currently in ground school, it is a useful tool to add to my studies

I might be able to shed a little light on this:

  1. As a private pilot I haven’t really used traditional “UNICOM” for anything, many smaller airports have UNICOM and the common traffic frequency shared so you use the same frequency for any requests for airport advisory, etc. In the air you’ll primarily be using ATC via approach/departure frequencies (because you’ll be low in a small plane) for VFR flight following and IFR communication, and flight service for opening and closing flight plans, as well as CTAF and Tower frequencies when approaching and departing airport areas.

  2. Normally AWOS/ASOS/ATIS frequencies will be found in the Chart Supplement (no longer called the A/FD), usually only CTAF, Tower, and APP/DEP frequencies will be listed with airport information on sectional charts, sometimes flight service station names but usually not frequency, although you can occasionally find RCO (Remote Communications Outlet) frequencies and a few others scattered in there.

  3. I don’t think there is any funding really required for UNICOM channels, as the only use I’ve seen for them is to request airport advisory (usually done on CTAF at smaller airports anyway), and for possibly letting an FBO know in advance that you’re coming in and will be wanting fuel and/or parking (so that they can have a line-person ready to direct you in to where to shut down) and often at the places I’ve been the FBO’s are monitoring the CTAF or Tower frequency anyway so they’ll know you’re coming.

The other guys on here might have more to add, but that’s my limited experience anyway, I wouldn’t worry too much about UNICOM, hope it helps.

James

Gilbert,

Honestly it’s been a while since I’ve flown at airports small enough to use UNICOM but here’s what I know (or at least think I know?). Know while not correct, many pilots use the terms UNICOM and CTAF almost interchangeably.

  1. I’ve never had an issue since the very nature of the UNICOM use is that it’s only at small non-towered airports (or airports small enough that tower closes for CTAF). Since there’s minimum traffic congestion generally isn’t a problem. Biggest issue I ever encountered was getting pilots to use the frequency (or CTAF) rather than just fly around unannounced like it’s the Wild West.

  2. Since UNICOMS often share the same freq with CTAF you can often find them on Sectionals and yes the Chart Supplements.

  3. As far as I know UNICOM doesn’t require much “funding” as it’s usually just a radio in the local FBO. That and the govt likes to privatize things they can to save money. As for ADS-B I don’t see that impacting UNICOM. While it will definitely improve traffic awareness, at smaller airports it’ll simply be easier and cheaper to just keep the radio. I don’t see many pilots installing ADS-B equipment in their Cubs.

Adam

Adam,

Am sure whatever equipment you are flying ~ looks pretty large from your photo, likely not enough runways to accommodate. Right, CTAF and UNICOM seem to be used together - they referred to contacting a UNICOM operator, contacting FSS on the field or making a self-announce broadcast, too your point about wild west

The part thus far’s in my class (half-way through ground school) beyond trying to remember everything is that it reads as there are plenty of “optional” recommendations for private pilots (can’t think of ever NOT requesting flight following, if ATC had bandwidth) especially at smaller and non-towered fields when it comes to announcing intentions which seems rather loose and unsafe to me.

Makes sense about shifting funding ~ though does not always work out so well

Thanks,
Gilbert

Gilbert,

Pilots can be lazy and others are intimidated speaking on the radio. This is one of the reasons I’ve always been a fan of training in busier airspace. It forces you to get over any apprehension and to learn the importance of good communication. Years ago going into OXB this guy cut me off on final. No comm, no warning and flying “his version” of a traffic pattern. We had a heated argument on the ground after. Two weeks later the guy crashed his plane and died. Nothing related to his lack of comm but I believe you either have good habits and follow SOPs or you don’t, and he didn’t.

Adam

Although they often share frequency with CTAF and the CTAF is shown on charts in the airport information, I have never seen any “UNICOM” label on my area sectional (SFO) so I think you would have to know beforehand that they were the same by looking in the chart supplement anyway.

I’m pretty sure the 2020 ADS-B mandate will force those SuperCub pilots to install ADS-B equipment if they intend to fly in any controlled airspace, including E… Unless there’s an exception I am forgetting I believe it applies to all certificated aircraft, maybe there’s an exception for aircraft without electrical systems??

I live in an agricultural area, right next to several very large metropolitan areas, but on the occasion they need our runway the worst offenders I’ve ever seen are crop-duster pilots… Their “pattern” downwind is 100’ off the side of the runway at 100-150’ AGL, followed by a hammerhead turn onto the runway, all without a peep on the radio of course. We always keep our eyes on them when they’re anywhere nearby! They’re insane.

Robert,

Wild story ~ and recall reading, especially with new pilots the importance of speaking up and not being intimidate, - announce your call sign and add “student pilot” to provide ATC with more information how best to communicate with with pilots at that level. Fortunately, intimidation is not a development area for me

Gilbert

James,

Right now it is all theory ~ sure if I go all the way through flight school will come to understand what services, like traditional UNICOM are less commonly used in practice.

Sorry, thought the A/FD was the airport facility directory?

Thanks,
Gilbert

Completely understand Gilbert, just trying to give you the heads up on what I’ve found in practice (at least in North-Central California)…

It was called the Airport Facility Directory (A/FD) until some point fairly recently, and many people including myself still refer to it that way. Just adding the correct terminology since the FAA re-named it to “Chart Supplement” in the last year or so.

I’ll give it a stab. My ppl was at an airport with class g. The unicom/ctaf shared the same frequency. The only difference was in the call (traffic/unicom). Now if ya call unicom and someone answers its probably the person that sells gas. They will give you an airport advisory. They may check on the windsock and say active and perhaps other traffic but it is only an advisory. CTAF is, in my opinion, much more valuable. Always call in the blind. Say intentions and call all pattern positions. I was turning final one time and a Grumman announced that he was going to back taxi on the active. Don’t think he heard (or saw) me but I heard him and went around.
Moral: it’s uncontrolled airspace so stay in control.

James,

From the FAA 91.225 on ADS-B:
Class E airspace within the 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia at and above 10,000 feet MSL
AND from their FAQ
The rule requires ADS-B Out equipment by January 1, 2020, to operate in designated airspace.
If you never fly into ADS-B-designated airspace, then there is no requirement to equip.

As I said, I don’t see many pilots installing ADS-B in their Cubs, Super or otherwise :slight_smile:

Adam

Well that explains it, I didn’t have time to look it up and was going from memory, the exception is apparently 10,000 and below. Thanks Adam

Make total sense ~ as pilot in command all rests with you and your decisions, hopefully based on situational awarness

Thanks

Adam,

Likely will mostly be in class G, so not a factor - still wrapping my head around the airspace and how easy it will be to translate when in the air, how much will be charts and how much will be avionics to keep you in the correct space.

Gilbert

Gilbert,

To be honest that’s one of the factors that keeps me away from casual or recreational GA flying. I’ve become so reliant on the situation awareness provided by ATC and my equipment I’m afraid if I had to go old school with just charts and VORs I’d find myself being escorted by a pair of F-16s!

Adam

Gilbert, just curious, what are you working on? Recreational/ private?

I’m on the other end. The last time I flew gps was just getting certified and “line up and wait” was “position and hold”. My next BFR should be interesting. Can’t wait to get started and I’m sure I’ll have plenty of questions.

Richard,

I started ground school, initially wanting to get additional knowledge (beyond what typical drone users have) in the application for obtaining my Part 107, commercial drone license, mainly for cinematography/photography. However, as the weeks have progressed am almost equally interested in going to flight school and obtaining my private license. I do have questions, for example if I will have time to fly enough to keep my skills sharp and while I could join a club, it is mostly time - not so much cost at this point.

Thanks for asking

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Adam,

Sobering comments and certainly finding the ability (at this point/level) to read and translate in real-time, I find hard to comprehend keeping it all straight in the moment.

My instructor did just speak about how the move to all-glass cockpit and tablets has data which shows there are more incidents as result of those technologies verses old school however, perhaps that is also dependent on one’s comfort level with these technologies? Interesting question.

Gilbert

Gilbert,

I don’t believe it’s a matter of comfort level so much as overreliance on the technology or put another way, simply looking outside. The glass provides a tremendous amount of information, looking out the window can often provide better situation awareness. When I was a CA at ExpressJet, while not a check airman, I was a senior instructor and would often fly with new FOs. The vast majority would spend all their time looking at the glass and trying to interpret what they were seeing. I can’t tell you how many times I would see them flustered trying to figure out when to slow or descend to a runway. Best solution I would say “look outside, see the runway? Take me there”. Pilots are amazing at overcomplicating things :slight_smile:

Adam

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