Keeping the transmission concise can
help reduce the chatter and allow all players
to get into the game. Rather than, “Block
Island traffic, Cherokee 2359 Papa, turning
left base for a full stop on Runway 28,” we
might say something like, “Block traffic,
white Cherokee, left base 28 full stop.”
LOOKING FOR TROUBLE
While position reports are a key element in
traffic pattern collision avoidance, not all
aircraft are radio-equipped, so keep a sharp
eye out. Consider the case of the student and
instructor making a practice instrument
approach to Fort Collins-Loveland
Municipal Airport in Colorado. The instructor made a concise sequence of position
reports as the two completed each step of
their practice approach procedure. Nearing
the airport, the instructor suddenly came
nose to nose with an oncoming ultralight.
He grabbed the controls and barely evaded
disaster. The ultralight pilot, operating sans
radio, never even saw him.
All the best position reports in the world
do nothing to increase awareness of our
position for those who are on a different
frequency (or wavelength!), but there are
steps we can take to make ourselves more
visible to others. Perhaps the simplest is to
turn on the landing light for daytime flights.
Especially when haze or poor lighting
conditions tend to obscure our position,
a brightly burning landing light can help
others pick us out of the haze.
We all know the standard aircraft traffic
pattern: 1,000 feet above field elevation with
left-hand turns, and a recommended entry
made midfield at a 45-degree angle to the
downwind at pattern altitude. While following standard procedures minimizes the risk
of a midair collision, not all pilots follow this
procedure—nor should they!
The way in which aircraft enter the pattern often depends on their type, as well as
the rules under which they fly and what
they’re doing. Turbojet aircraft typically fly
their patterns at 1,500 feet AGL and make
considerably larger patterns than the typical
trainer. Many aircraft—large and small
alike—will follow an instrument approach
procedure that puts them on a straight-in
approach from 7 to 10 miles out or brings
them into the pattern at a lower-than-stan-dard altitude. Those are the ones to listen
for, and for whom we should be looking.
For our own part, we should avoid flying
into the pattern until we’re ready to enter it
properly, and we should watch for those flying the pattern wider, closer in, or at a slightly
different altitude. Above all, we should never
enter a pattern in a descent, as this is the classic setup for a midair collision—particularly
when a low-wing aircraft is descending into
the path of a high-wing aircraft.
We should never enter a
pattern in a descent, as
this is the classic setup for
a midair collision.
At the busier towered airports, some of
the “standard procedures” can go out the
window. Controllers are likely to have us
enter standard or non-standard patterns
from any point, sequencing us in with
other fast-moving traffic. Some of the
challenges we face come in the form of
requests to “expedite,” to “keep your speed
up,” or to “land and hold short.” We’re
often faced with simultaneous approaches
to parallel runways and spacing that
makes us worry about wake turbulence.
Complying with controller requests
requires a high degree of skill, and what
trips pilots up is granting a request that
requires performance beyond our capabilities or those of our aircraft. The important
point for pilots to recognize is that the
tower request is simply a request. If we
can’t safely comply, we should respond
with a phrase that includes the word
“unable.” While this may cause us a delay,
and foul up the controller’s otherwise
great plan, it can prevent a serious incident or accident.
ABNORMAL AND EMERGENCY SITUATIONS
Any time we’re in the pattern, we should
be ready to cope with abnormal and
emergency situations. Remember that
an aircraft in distress always has right of
way, so be prepared to yield to others.
Keep in mind that an aircraft might do
something unexpected, such as pull onto
the runway and initiate a takeoff when
we’re on short final. In this case, it might
be appropriate to go around, and sidestep
into a parallel flight path so we can keep
the traffic in sight.
WHERE COURTESY COUNTS
Especially when a non-tower-controlled
airport is busy, we can help maintain safety
and efficiency by extending courtesy to our
fellow pilots. For example, where a short
runway requires a back-taxi to use its full
length, an arriving pilot could extend his
downwind leg to allow a departure or two
ahead of him.
Likewise, an aircraft departing a busy
airport should not tie up the pattern performing a run-up on the runway in use. We
should be ready to go when an opening is
available to us. The run-up (pre-takeoff
checklist) should ideally be completed
before taxiing to the departure runway to
avoid undue delays.
While strobes and landing lights can
help make us more visible to other pilots
in the pattern, care should be taken when
using these on the ground at night.
Flashing strobes and brightly burning
landing lights can distract or blind a pilot
attempting a takeoff or landing, so be
courteous and turn them off when not
on the active runway.
With the coming of warm weather, we
should expect to see an uptick in the traffic
count wherever we go. By knowing what to
expect and having a plan to deal with it, we
can cope with the madness that comes
when May turns to mayhem.
Robert N. Rossier, EAA 472091, has been flying for
more than 30 years and has worked as a flight instructor,
commercial pilot, chief pilot, and FAA flight check airman.