I’m writing this posting from the courtesy computer at the Esso FBO in Toronto City Centre airport (CYTZ). I just finished a Hope Air flight from Sault Ste. Marie (CYAM), my fourth consecutive day of flying. Fortunately, I was able to fly in along and through today’s cold front before much CB developed, and what there was, I dodged with the assistance of my eyeballs, ATC, and my StormScope.
Coming into City Centre from the north, in and out of scud at the cloud bases, I had a chance to pull out and dust off a rarely-used tool: the contact approach. I flew a contact approach in anger two years ago, after blundering into and escaping a small storm cloud — I had no desire for any further IMC that day, so I dropped low and followed the St. Mary’s River into Sault Ste. Marie. This time was much more benign: after turning over the lakeshore heading towards City Centre, I was still unable to accept a visual approach due to restricted visibility (I got out of the scud by descending to 2,000). To make both my life and the busy controller’s easier, I offered to fly a contact approach. I could see the Scarborough bluffs clearly below me, so I simply followed the shoreline in until I saw the runway about 3-4 miles back.
This is exactly the situation that a contact approach is designed for. The arrival controller was able to hand me off earlier to City tower, easing his workload. Visibility underneath was adequate (>3 SM), and the landing was a complete non-event. I knew the shoreline (and the two big smokestacks) well. In marginal VFR, a full approach would have been much more hairy, since I would have had to fly about 5-10nm out over the lake.
Controllers aren’t allowed to offer a contact approach, but it’s a useful thing to ask for sometimes. This afternoon, unfortunately, there’s a line of severe thunderstorms conveniently extending from here to my home base in Ottawa (CYOW), so I guess I’ll spend a couple more hours checking e-mail and refreshing the radar page.
[Update: I made it home late in the afternoon, by picking my way along a wide corridor that opened up between two storm lines.]