Fort Worth Meacham (FTW) Departure Procedures Notice Number: NOTC0768
There have been several instances of aircraft deviating from their ATC clearance when departing Fort Worth Meacham airport (FTW) over the last few months.
The pilots involved have generally been experienced instrument pilots flying technically advanced aircraft. In these instances, all of the aircraft have been cleared to fly runway heading for radar vectors to a published departure procedure in their clearance from departure control. Each of the aircraft has made an inappropriate turn after takeoff either to join the course for the departure they were assigned or in following a procedure that is printed on the chart.
When ATC issues a clearance to fly a heading for vectors to a departure, the vectors will supersede any other navigation related instructions printed on the chart. You are not authorized to fly the departure until ATC either issues a heading to join a published course or clears you direct to a fix on your routes and issues instructions to "resume own navigation." Pilots are reminded to be vigilant in following ATC issued clearances and urged to ask to have the clearance clarified if the instructions are not fully understood.
Having never flown out of Fort Worth Meacham, I went to the NACO site and discovered that all of the departure procedures there are vectored procedures and they all have the same, two-page format. The first page of each FTW SID has a graphical depiction of the procedure (the Worth Five departure is shown here).
The second page contains a narrative description of the procedure, including a clear statement at the top that this is a vectored procedure.
It seems reasonable to assume that a fair number of pilots have made the mistake of looking at the first page, but not reading through the entire procedure. For their part, the FAA might help reduce confusion by putting the phrase "... fly assigned heading and altitude to appropriate route" somewhere on the first page of the procedure. That could help some pilots avoid making the mistake of reaching 800' AGL and then, as Jim put it, just allowing the autopilot's GPS steer to put them in harm's way. I don't have access to the Jeppesen versions of the procedures, so I don't know if they do a better job or not.
Even a departure chart isn't clear, 5-2-6(a) of the Aeronautical Information Manual is:
When a departure is to be vectored immediately following takeoff, the pilot will be advised prior to takeoff of the initial heading to be flown but may not be advised of the purpose of the heading. Pilots operating in a radar environment are expected to associate departure headings with vectors to their planned route or flight. When given a vector taking the aircraft off a previously assigned nonradar route, the pilot will be advised briefly what the vector is to achieve. Thereafter, radar service will be provided until the aircraft has been reestablished "on-course" using an appropriate navigation aid ...
When a departure procedure's graphical depiction just shows a bunch of VORs without much (if any) any routing, it's pretty easy to realize that it is a vectored procedure. Another tip is that when you try to load one of the departures in your Garmin G1000 or 430/530, you won't find it in the database.
But sometimes a routing is shown that is either the initial path after takeoff or the route to be flown if radio communication is lost. Consider this SID, which I flew countless times as a freight dog. The dotted line is the course to fly in the event of lost communication and should not be mistaken for a depiction of a course a pilot could fly on his or her own navigation. Once you are vectored to the Sausalito 168 radial or some other routing, only then you can resume your own navigation.
The clearance usually sounded like this: "... Nuevo 5 departure, SHOEY transition ... Climb and maintain 7000 feet ..." In addition to the vectored routing, notice the restriction to remain at or below 2000 feet until beyond 4NM of the Oakland VORTAC. Some pilots mistakenly think they can climb to their assigned altitude after reaching the Oakland 4DME, but that would be incorrect. Since departure controllers have to know a bunch of departure procedures, I found the best way to avoid confusion was to remind them of the altitude restriction when I checked in:
NorCal, Barnburner 123, eight hundred, climbing seven thousand, with restriction.This reminded the controller that my altitude was restricted and the usual reply was:
Barnburner 123, NorCal approach, radar contact, climb and maintain seven thousand, unrestricted.
Even on a pilot nav departure procedure (like an RNAV SID), ATC can assign you altitudes or headings to fly and those instructions trump the depicted procedure. When ATC assigns headings and altitudes, they assume legal responsibility for terrain and obstacle clearance. When this happens and you're flying an aircraft equipped with terrain awareness features, use those features to maintain situational awareness and don't be bashful about asking for a higher altitude or a different heading if you don't like what you see.