Letter to Airmen

Purpose

This Letter to Airmen is designed to provide pilots flying within the Oakland ARTCC on Vatsim (ZOA ARTCC) with the recommended practices and procedures pilots can expect from air traffic controllers, as well as procedures pilots are expected to know when flying within ZOA, that will help make their flight experience as realistic as possible.

General Recommendations
We highly suggest you keep the following in mind when flying not only within ZOA, but anywhere on the Vatsim network.

  • Only accept what you can perform – If you are assigned a SID, STAR, or anything else complex that you can’t perform, please speak up. It is better we provide radar vectors than you flying a procedure incorrectly.
  • Do not leave the flight deck or pause – If you need to leave, please ask first, do not just get up and walk away. Additionally, do not ever pause on the network unless given permission.
  • Know your aircraft before you fly – Make sure you know how to operate your aircraft before you attempt to fly it in complex airspace. Additionally, when given an instruction please execute it as quickly as possible. Any delay in executing an instruction, especially within one of our tight “final sectors” can cause you a large delay for resequencing or potentially cause a crash.
  • If you are unsure, ASK! – If you are unsure of what to do, or unclear about an instruction, something on a chart, anything really, please ask! ZOA controllers would love to help you.
  • Give us your feedback! – If a controller does well, we want to know about it! Please fill out our feedback form located here to give them the credit they deserve.

TEC Routes
If you plan on conducting a flight between two airports within NCT airspace, please make sure you file the appropriate TEC route. Flights within NCT airspace must follow a stricting routing structure to ensure that all operations continue as smoothly as possible. To search our TEC Route Database please click here.

Scenery
Many airports within our airspace have been significantly changed since the initial release of most flight simulation platforms. San Francisco has had gate changes, runway extensions, and significant taxiway changes, Oakland has had runway changes, San Jose has closed a runway and changed some taxiways, Sacramento International has open a new terminal and destroyed the old one, Fresno has widened a runway and changed some taxiways, and Reno has added an ILS system to a runway which is not available in any sim by default. As I am sure you can tell, the need to update your scenery is important. We at ZOA have compiled a list of scenery updates, both payware and freeware, and posted them on their own page which you can visit here.

Notices to Airmen
ZOA has taken the liberty of occasionally sifting through the NOTAMs posted by the FAA and bringing the relevant ones to you in an easier to read format. The NOTAMs posted on this page are typically the ones controllers will be simulating. You can find these right here on our website by going under “Pilot Info” and then selecting “NOTAMs”. Alternatively you can always click here.

Clearances
We utilize the PDC for IFR clearances at all of our Class B and C airports, except Fresno. What is a PDC? A PDC, otherwise known as a Pre-Departure Clearance, is a text form IFR clearance sent from the controller to the pilot. If everything in your flight plan checks out, you will receive a PDC from the controller containing the details of your flight plan and departure information such as your beacon code, initial altitude, and departure frequency. Once you get your PDC you do not need to respond to the message, simply follow the instructions written in the PDC and make sure you have entered your assigned beacon code before push back.

Northern California TRACON
The Northern California TRACON is an air traffic control facility that provides radar services to all of the major airports in Northern California, as well as Northern Nevada. It is an enormous and complex airspace, stretching from roughly 50 miles north of Sacramento to as far south as Big Sur California, which is roughly 30 miles south of Monterrey. It also has an additional sector which is separate from the main body of NCT which covers the Reno area. For day to day operations our controllers can operate what we call “NORCAL Combined”, which covers the main body of NCT only. You will know a controller is operating this large combined sector if you see NCT_APP online. This controller will be covering all operations at KSFO, KOAK, KSJC, KMRY, KSMF, and the surround area airports. To see a diagram of the airspace click here.

The exception to this rule is if you see a specific sector online which will indicate what airport(s) they are covering. For example, if NCT_APP is online, and SMF_APP is online, then NCT_APP will cover all airports except for those in the Sacramento area, which will be covered by SMF_APP. As always, if you’re confused or curious as to what airports a NORCAL controller is covering you can always right click on the callsign and select “controller info” which will display text information that should define what airports they cover. Of course if it doesn’t, you can always ask through a PM.

Taxiway and Runway Changes
Since the release of most major flight simulation titles San Francisco has under gone several runway and taxiway changes. It is important pilots know what changes have occurred so that they may plan their arrival or departure accordingly with ATC.

Please observe the major changes located in the following diagram. As you can see, many significant changes have been made to taxiways near the end of runways. Runway 1L has been extended and there is the addition of taxiway M1, and A2. On the other side, runway 1R has also been extended and taxiway A1 has been completely remade. At the end of runway 28L/10R the runway has been extended and taxiways Z1 has been created. Taxiway E has been adjusted near runway 19L/R. All runways now have EMAS as well. Both the freeware AFCAD for FSX and the Flightbeam KSFO HD scenery listed on the ZOA Scenery page contain all of these updates. If you do not wish to update your scenery, be sure to notify your controller you have an old scenery.

Southbound Departures
When San Francisco is operating in its “normal flow” (departing runways 1L/1R, landing runways 28L/R) you can expect to fly the SSTIK RNAV departure, PORTE departure, or OFFSH departure if flying to the south. These departures will all be assigned runway 1L for departure. All of these departures make an immediate left hand turn and eventually loop around the airport and fly south. It is imperative that pilots make these left hand turns as published on the charts. This is done to prevent SFO departures from conflicting with the departures from Oakland, as well as allowing us to conduct “simultaneous departures” from runway 1L/R.

East and Northbound Departures
When San Francisco is operating in its “normal flow” (departing runways 1L/1R, landing runways 28L/R) you can expect to fly the TRUKN RNAV departure, or SFO departure if flying to the north or east. These departures will all be assigned runway 1R for departure. Both of these departures make an immediate right hand turn on departure. It is imperative that pilots make these right hand turns as published on the charts. This is done to prevent SFO departures from conflicting with the departures from Oakland, as well as allowing us to conduct “simultaneous departures” from runway 1L/R.

Simultaneous Visual Approaches
When SFO is landing runways 28L/R and the weather is VMC, we will often conduct simultaneous visual approaches, you know, those cool approaches of aircraft side by side landing at SFO? When we are conducting these approaches it is imperative that you follow the instructions given by ATC. The controller will point out the traffic you will be next to and indicate that they are for the left side or for the right side, and to either not over take the traffic or maintain a speed until a certain distance from the airport. If ATC requests you do not over take the traffic, make sure you stay behind them. If you pass them you will have to go around and try again. If ATC requests you maintain a certain speed (SWA123, maintain 170 knots until a 5 mile final), please make sure you do so. If you slow down to your final approach speed too early you may cause delays for yourself and other traffic. Additionally, it is important you “stay in your lane” so to speak. If you cut across the path of another aircraft it could result in a crash or lengthy delay for your as we re-sequence you.

Taxiway and Runway Changes
Since the release of most major flight simulation titles Oakland has under gone runway and taxiway changes. It is important pilots know what changes have occurred so that they may plan their arrival or departure accordingly with ATC. If you have an outdated Oakland scenery, you will not have the same taxiways, and runway 30 will be labeled runway 29 and not as long.

Please observe the major changes located in the following diagram, they are circled on the old chart in red. Recently, Oakland re-numbered all of its runways. Runway 29/11 became runway 30/12, runway 27L/9R became 28L/10R, and runway 27R/9L became 28R/9L. Additionally, runway 30/12 has been extended by 520 feet, and the taxiways connected to it have been re-labeled as W-1, W-2, etc.

Taxiway and Runway Changes
Since the release of most major flight simulation titles San Jose has under gone runway and taxiway changes. It is important pilots know what changes have occurred so that they may plan their arrival or departure accordingly with ATC. If you have an outdated San Jose scenery, you will see a now closed runway labeled as runway 29/11. That runway is now taxiway W1.
Terminal Update
Since the release of most major flight simulation titles Sacramento International has built a new terminal B and decommissioned the old one. Pilots are urged to use caution when taxiing on the ramp if they have not updated their scenery. Aircraft may spawn around taxiways B1, Y3, and Y4 in what would appear to be the ramp. If pilots wish to update their scenery to have the new terminal, there is both freeware and payware options for FSX/P3D linked on the ZOA Scenery page. ZOA highly recommends this update if you are planning to fly to or from KSMF. Refer to this chart to view the changes.

Departing RWY 16L/R
When departing Sacramento International’s runway 16L and 16R pilots are urged to use caution as McClellan Airfield, Sacramento Mather, and Sacramento Executive all lie within 15 miles of the departure on of these runways and can generate substantial traffic. Pilots must fly the appropriate heading or course as defined on their filed SID, otherwise they must make a turn to their assigned heading as soon as practical. If ATC is not online and no SID is filed, it is suggested pilots fly heading 120 for southbound and east bound departures, or heading 010 for northbound departures.

Runway 34L ILS
In both Flight Simulator 2004 (FS9) and Flight Simulator X (FSX) Runway 34L does not have the ILS procedure available, however it is available in Prepar3d (P3D) and X-Plane. Additionally, many add-ons and AFCADS also do not include the procedure. The high MVA’s of the Reno area can make it difficult to assign a visual approach (weather permitting) so it is suggested that if the pilot is not able to accept or perform the ILS procedure they instead request the RNAV (GPS) Y 34L or RNAV (GPS) Y 34R approach, equipment permitting. If they are not RNAV capable the controller may try to coordinate a ILS Z or X 16R Circle to Land 34R/L approach. There is an airport scenery that can be used in FSX and P3D available on the ZOA Scenery page.