Close Calls: Getting Back on the Horse PDF Print E-mail
Written by Anthony Nalli   
Thursday, 24 February 2011 09:57

Our pilot was a student pilot who experienced his close call during a flight lesson. The occurrence was enough to have him seriously consider the acquisition of a portable collision avoidance device immediately … the very next day, in fact, with little time to spare before his next flight!

Our pilot (and instructor) was practicing forced approaches in the southeast portion of a practice area near Calgary, Alberta. In the same practice area was another club airplane doing its work in the northeast portion. After sharing the same general area for a little while, the pilot of the other aircraft announced he was headed back to his base airport at an altitude of 5,500 feet proceeding just west of the highway commonly used to guide pilots back.

Our pilot immediately responded that they too were heading back from east of the highway with plans to intercept it and follow it back. There was no reply but our pilot and instructor assumed their message was heard and that there wasn’t a response because there was no conflict.

Upon reaching the highway a few minutes later and turning south, our pilot suddenly spotted the other aircraft at his two o’clock position “no more than a few hundred yards away!” Our pilot instinctively took evasive action to avoid what he believed would be a collision.

With both aircraft not yet in controlled airspace, our pilot’s instructor called out to the other airplane on the en route frequency but there was no response. Despite the apparent close call, both aircraft carried on back to the airport and arrived safely.

A short while later on the ground, the details of the occurrence began to present themselves. Evidently, the other aircraft had already switched from the en route frequency to the outer tower control frequency. Given their position at the time, this was earlier than would be usual practice. They were also directed by air traffic control (ATC) to steer left directly to the runway. The instructor of the other aircraft noted that they did see our pilot’s airplane, but only after he had taken his evasive action.

Says our pilot, “I don't know yet how blame should be apportioned. If ATC had my colleague on radar, he should have had us too, as we were at the same altitude. While we were both in uncontrolled airspace, apparently ATC directed them into our flight path.”

He continues, “At this point I am shaken and considering giving up my childhood dream of flight. Perhaps there will be some follow-up debriefing before my next lesson.”

My gut (unqualified though it may be) tells me that the controller probably had both aircraft on the screen and didn’t believe there to be any elevated risk. And if that was indeed the case, then our pilot was merely taken aback by having been surprised by the sudden appearance of the other aircraft at his two o’clock.

Whether or not any real danger existed in this particular case, it doesn’t make his being surprised feeling any less surprising! And it doesn’t make his thoughts of stepping away from his dream of flight as a result any less real.

Close calls are all very subjective. What any given pilot feels within themselves as the result of their own close call really can’t be fairly judged. We all feel what we feel. And we all react how we react. For some, nerves can invigorate and challenge us. For others, they can take us down.

With the added security he thought he’d get from a $500 collision avoidance gadget he can pull out of his flight bag before every flight, our pilot got back on his winged horse and returned to flying a few days later. The dream lives on.

Fly safe(r).

From the July 2010 issue of Cessna Owner