The last time i flew back to Baltimore from San Francisco, i came through Denver. Whenever i fly United, i like to listen to the air traffic conversations (usually on channel 9 on the in-flight system), and as we approached Denver i heard the pilots and the controllers sounding off altitudes, as they usually do, like “United 973, descend and maintain flight level one three zero.”
The thing is, though, that Denver, the “mile-high city,” is actually about 5000 feet above sea level. So, when my plane flew out of San Francisco and reached 5000 feet, giving a beautiful view of the bay and the ocean, it was still only at ground level, if measured from Denver.
What i want to know is, how do they describe altitude from high cities like Denver? Do they always talk about feet above sea level, or do they talk about altitude above the ground?
I’m assuming the former, but that would also require some thinking on the part of the pilot. After all, if you descend to 6,000 feet near San Francisco, you’ve still got plenty of wiggle room. If you do it at Denver, your ground proximity alert will be going off pretty quickly.
And, if the latter—if they measure altitude from the ground—where is the changeover place. That is, where, between SF and Denver, does the shift happen?
What sort of procedure do pilots and controllers use for taking into account the altitude discrepancies between different airports.