by Harvey Penner, President, Harv’s Air Pilot Training, Steinbach, Manitoba, AB.
Most experienced pilots have had the unsettling experience of seeing an aircraft in close proximity to their aircraft. Unannounced and unaware until the pilots see the conflict, and either resolve the conflict or perhaps the conflict resolves itself. Certainly it raises your heart rate and you make a renewed vow to be more vigilant. Being able to read the registration on the other aircraft or worse yet seeing what type of headset the pilot was wearing are all signs that this was way too close.
How did they get so close and can this be avoided? What follows are some observations I have made in flight training and on charter flights;
1) While performing training exercises students are taught to perform safety checks prior to each maneuver. We use the acronym CALL check. When using this it is essential that when this check is completed that the exercise be completed right after. You may have cleared the area but how long is that good for? You are moving and another aircraft moving toward you could easily be closing at 3 miles per minute or more. Since spotting an aircraft at a distance of more than 3 miles is unlikely your clearing turns and lookout are not valid more than 30 to 60 seconds.
2) Pilots taught these safety checks often do them more out of a sense of duty than need. They become less than effective when they are stressed from the standpoint of “you must do this on the flight test because the examiner is looking for this”
3) The lookout needs to be appropriate to the maneuver you are doing. Looking around prior to a steep turn could require a different lookout than doing a spin.
4) The acronym CALL stands for cockpit or cabin, altitude, location and lookout. When you think of it, is this not something you are/must be aware of at all times? It is true that when doing some of the training exercises the attitudes of the plane will be a bit more unusual therefore requiring a bit more vigilance but overall you need to do a continuous “CALL” check thru out your flight.
5) ATC does a great job of pointing out conflicts of traffic but in no way does this relieve the pilot of doing their own lookouts to confirm no conflict. In a control zone I occasionally see pilots making turns in the circuit without checking for traffic. “The controller has said I am number one therefore I don’t have to look” is not ok.
6) I regularly fly in Northern Manitoba and North Western Ontario. VFR or IFR the enroute frequency 126.7 is monitored. At the heights that I fly all this airspace is uncontrolled. Pilots are generally good at advising position and intent. It is common though for these calls to be made quickly and for some very routinely. You hear one of these calls and determine that this traffic could effect you. So you reply with your own position and flight path only to hear nothing coming back. I have had this happen numerous times where I had to make several calls before the potential conflicting aircraft would acknowledge. Perhaps a sense of complacency has developed where even though you make the call you don’t really listen for a reply
Technology is available for us to see other traffic electronically, certainly not wide spread in light general aviation aircraft yet it will become more common in the future. But this does not change our responsibility to look effectively.
So is see and be seen enough? I believe it is but only if we are actively looking and aware at all times.