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Diverting? Canceling IFR or not.

So here is what happened to me yesterday. I flew IFR from LFHN to LFMT (Montpellier Mediteranee). We had a lot of snow on Saturday but having carefully watched the weather evolve over the week that should have been the last of it for the weekend.
Filed route was : LFHN DCT DEPUL IFR G5 LSE A6 MTL DCT MOLEN DCT NG (FL 100) Picked up my IFR clearance with Lyon Radar in the air before DEPUL with cloud base being at 5500 FT – managed to sneak through the gap in the mountains which avoided having to fly to Chambery TMA to pick up my clearance, stayed at 4500FT was then cleared direct MTL with a 45KT tailwind and -10C. Shot the ILS 30R with a 35KT wind (almost) straight down the runway. Total flight time (incl. procedure) 1h…Had nice lunch with the misses, taxi back to LFMT for TO at 13.30UTC.

Filed route was LFMT DCT NG DCT MOLEN DCT MTL A6 ROMAM B16 BELUS VFR DCT at FL100 (technically incorrect I know) – got the NG6R departure with a nice headwind to take off into. Stopped my climb at FL090 as I already had a 48KT headwind and got direct MTL crossing FL070 at -6C. Cloud tops at this stage are at 6000ft and the bases around 5000ft. Happy days though progress is slow to a varying headwind between 35kt and 65kts at one stage.

When being handed over to Marseille radar (before MTL) I ask for the latest at Annecy LFLP (my alternate) as I can see the Alps now firmly covered in cloud. Automated weather service is – Visibility is more than 10K, temp 4 dew point -2, FEW 2800ft OVC4500 and TCU’s, joy…it’s -9C at FL090 at this stage and the clouds are 500ft below me – what I would call BKN… there are holes I can sneak through… and I can see the moderate buildups to my north east…

I think about the long (with the headwind even longer) RNAV approach into LFLP and the fact that I will be in freezing cloud for probably 10 minutes as I fly the whole procedure and think the better of it. Even though I am going to be descending I do not like being in IMC below 0C over the mountains (if you have flown the RNAV approach for 04 from MTL in VMC you will understand why I am nervous about the mountains – you are really very close as you drop to 5000ft and I certainly don’t want to be carrying any ice for that)

So…

I cancel IFR near ROMAM and duck below the clouds as “it’s looking good below”. Initially I announce 5000ft, then need to drop to 3500ft then 3000 to stay clear of clouds as I get closer to Lyon airspace (I have been handed over to LFLS crossing their airspace DCT LTP which was the last point I was cleared to on my IFR flight plan and also the most direct route home to LFHN). The barnstorming then starts being very careful near Morestel to not enter the P zones and “skilfully” (with the help of my moving map) navigating between both of them and the mountains that are stopping me from getting into the Rhone valley to get home. It looks like it is raining now below the clouds (it is 1C where I am at 3000ft) and it becomes clear that I am not going to make it through. By now it is 14.45UTC (its getting dark in 45mins) – straight in (there are no lights in LFHN) is less than 15 mins but I can’t make it because of the mountains (up to 5500 ft) and divert as I try to sneak in via the motorway above LFHS… things are worse here… I try both options again – fly back towards Belley – can’t make that, fly back towards LFHS – can’t make that… (all with the help from a very helpful controller from Lyon)

long story in short…I tell my wife our only option is diverting and landing somewhere else as I now cannot make LFHN or LFLP… I pick LFHS and land on RWY 36 there in solid rain and leave the plane there for the week… We get a taxi and it is now solidly snowing as we drive over the mountains towards LFHN to pick up my car.

In this case the weather was worse than what the AFS announced (or the TAF’s predicted) – even if it only was for a couple of hours. I am serene with my decision to divert and cancel IFR, given how bad the weather ended up being on the ground and once I made it back to LFHN. So I would make the same decision again (I think). Am genuinely keen to know what other people would do…

Wim

LFHN - Bellegarde - Vouvray France

Sounds like you made the right decision and were on top of things.
Worst thing you can do is to continue into worsening weather and running out of options.

VFR is a very valuable tool for the IR rated pilot. You didn’t mention which type of aircraft you were flying. I assume it is a Non-Deiced SEP?
At this time of the year you are very limited because of icing risk. Especially with terrain around you, switching to VFR is a sensible option…

In my experience (VFR only) when you start trying different options to get around some weather, and those options start to fail, you usually end up having to make a diversion. You might keep trying to find a way, but more often than not when plan A fails, and you try plan b and it fails too, it’s rare that plan c or d works

EIWT Weston

There is a saying in English which I like to pervert into “best to quit while you are still losing” and IMHO you did exactly the right thing. You evaluated the options, continued to evaluate them, and then made a decision to cash them in.

Especially with your wife present. Many wives or girlfriends never flew again after just one (1) scary event. After almost 10 years of flying, Justine stopped doing long trips with me after 1 flight on which nothing actually happened, where there was a lot of headwind and we were facing a possible landing at Lille, descending through some buildups.

Administrator
Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

Peter wrote:

Especially with your wife present. Many wives or girlfriends never flew again after just one (1) scary event. After almost 10 years of flying, Justine stopped doing long trips with me after 1 flight on which nothing actually happened, where there was a lot of headwind and we were facing a possible landing at Lille, descending through some buildups.

My girlfriend has had an emergency landing at Gander with an airliner after a partial engine failure and she still flies commercial as well as with me. I’m curious to see how she will react after some intense flight, which we hadn’t had yet.

Essen-Mülheim (EDLE), Düsseldorf (EDDL), Paderborn (EDLP), Mönchengladbach (EDLN), Germany

My mother and I once experienced an airliner engine failure on takeoff due to bird ingestion, which happily didn’t affect the other engine! She still likes to fly and genuinely wishes I’d take her for motorcycle rides (in her mid-80s) But that said, I think Peter’s point is a very good one. Until non-pilot passengers have flown a great deal, they are often in bliss when nothing happens and in terror if anything unplanned occurs. Fear is such a funny thing, not rational but very real.

lenthamen wrote:

VFR is a very valuable tool for the IR rated pilot. You didn’t mention which type of aircraft you were flying. I assume it is a Non-Deiced SEP?

Yes apologies should have mentioned that – PA24 non de-iced. With a FIKI aircraft I would have continued IFR to LFLP and landed there.

LFHN - Bellegarde - Vouvray France

I felt your story quite dramatic (hallettante in French).
Your decision making skills seem impressive. I would be proud of you if I was your IRI.
Having your wife onboard can make trings trickier too.
Well done !!

As a potential future IR student, I reckon I am far from this level of multi-factor, quickly changing, decision making
For sure, onboard weather like SiriusXM or ADL would have been great in a flight like this.

I heard some IR pilots saying : in winter, an IR is unusable because of icing. Is that true ?
Note : the same guys say “in summer, an IR is unusable because of CBs” . Maybe they are a little bit pessimistic

Thanks JuJu for your comments. I think it all depends on the lens you look at these things through. I don’t want to fall into the trap of IR vs non IR pilots as I think it is in a way irrelevant. Simply put, I would not have left the house without an IR given the info I had prior to leaving the house. (Taking the whole icing factor into account)
That being said, I had few hours when I started my IR (200) and now still have relatively few hours, as you can see from my handle (LFHNflightstudent) I consider myself to be the eternal student. I am not into flying for the risk taking, my former “occupation” as an ex professional sportsman, in what the millennial generation likes to call “extreme sports” these days which is a complete BS term on itself, has made me very well aware of my (limited) capabilities and at no times did I consider our flight to be unsafe. I don’t feel like I have anything to prove by killing myself or my loved ones – if there is one thing I have learned from some of the things you read around “get thereitis” is that “to quit while you are losing” is most likely a winning strategy. As for my misses she is a total badass who is happy to sort the taxi to get home when you cannot make it. To have had lunch on he beach in the sun when we were going for a hike in he snow the precious day was totally with it. Her words…

LFHN - Bellegarde - Vouvray France

Great story and learning opportunity for us….btw I’m really impressed either with your copious note taking during flight or your fantastic memory skills! (As well as your English, if it is not your mother tongue!)

EGPD / OMDW / YPJT, United Kingdom
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