The Sunday of Semana Santa might be one of the busiest, maybe the busiest day of the year on the streets and in the air in Guatemala. It was so busy that it was hard to place a call on the radio. On my first flight coming into Guatemala City I circled outside the 10NM class C airspace at least 3 times before being able to establish 2-way communication with La Aurora Tower (118.10). La Aurora is a class C airspace and you cannot fly within the 10NM before the tower has repeated your call sign. I wish pilots would be more professional in these situations, stop complaining about waiting times, instead remember the correct phraseology and only say what is needed. This was a very challenging day for air traffic controllers and surely at limit of what the frequency can handle at times.
The second flight was even more interesting. Flying back into Guatemala City from Chiquimula, there was a lot of traffic from and to Rio Dulce. We established initial contact with Guatemala Radio (126.90), but Guatemala Radio must have some technical issues and they were not able to respond (or provide a transponder code). This created a lot of confusion on the frequency. We decided to deviate towards the south to be away from the Rio Dulce route. We also started to do Unicom type position reports, assuming Guatemala Radio and all other aircrafts would at least hear us.
Then someone on the frequency “instructed” to change to 121.50 until Guatemala Frequency radio would be fixed. We did that, but when did initial contact where asked if we had an emergency. Obviously this is the emergency frequency and should be used for that. Not sure where that suggestion came from at the first place. Very questionable…
We switched back to Guatemala Radio with no success. Then decided to enter the Guatemala airspace from the south east (runway 02 was the active). We tuned the transponder to 1200 in ALT mode, this is the North America standard VFR code and would allow them to see us on the radar, without knowing who exactly we were. We switched to Guatemala Tower frequency and tried to communicate with them but only at around 12NM we were able to establish 2-way contact. Everything from there on was normal and event-less.
I would love to hear the perspective from Guatemala ATC. What happened that day and what they would have recommended the pilots to do. Generally, on very busy days, what would ATC recommend?
The one thing we could have done differently, we could have tried to connect with La Aurora Control (the radar and IFR frequency). Any other suggestions?