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CTAF Calls as an Act of Survival: AV web flash

Discussion in 'Airport News, Talk & Discussion' started by Lord Leighton, Oct 22, 2016.

  1. Lord Leighton

    Lord Leighton Hangar Gold Member I

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    Guest Blog: CTAF Calls As An Act Of Survival
    By Jim Gilbertoni

    As a variation of the old and bold pilots cliché, there’s an old Sicilian saying: You can be arrogant; you can be ignorant, but you can’t be both at the same time. It’s appropriate for flying in Alaska, where I live.

    Every year we revisit the world of midair collisions and year after year, they happen again. Funny thing is, years ago, pre-GPS, my sloppy flying probably kept me safer. We all know Big Sky theory, which works great in cruise. Then we leave that safe space to deliberately funnel into a procedure called the traffic pattern. It’s the same for everybody from a turboprop down to a Super Cub—same direction, same altitude, but different speeds. One shoe size fits all. How dumb is that?

    The original traffic pattern was designed almost 100 years ago. Maybe it’s time to make some changes. Maybe two or three different patterns one inside the other, separated by speed and categories. I have flown targets for the Air Force in Red Flag missions for about seven years now. I have seen more than 60 military aircraft operating in a simulated war in a very small area with zero midairs. So, how on earth do they do that? Two words: discipline and communication.

    At present, ADS-B in Alaska is a joke and probably will never circumvent the midair risks at airports. And besides, we need to stop looking for some stupid gadget to fix this. I’ve sat on the ground in Alaska at bush strips and you’re lucky if the pilots make one call in the blind before landing or taking off. I can prove that this is simply complacency.

    My personal airplane has a Garmin GNS480W. Technically, my airplane is a TAA. When I’m flying from point A to Point B and I want to switch from the last CTAF to the landing CTAF, I go to next airport, push info, push freq, push CTAF, and then activate. This takes the proper frequency out of the current database and places it into the active frequency. That’s the benefit of a flight management system. I have copilots that about a third of the time hand crank in the incorrect frequency. You don’t get any points for making a CTAF call on the wrong frequency. This is a common mistake.

    A few years ago, I landed at Galena, VFR, at about noon. I was supposed to meet a buddy flying in a different airplane. I had to drop some supplies and my next stop was clearing but not yet good VFR. So I decided to wait on the ground and eat my lunch. Sitting on my tire, I turned on my handheld to listen for my friend. Three planes involved here: a Super Cub—Part 91 hunting guy—a Navajo and a 16-passenger Part 135 turboprop.

    The weather was 5000 feet broken and 10 miles vis. No control tower. As I’m digging into my lunch, I hear this: “Galena traffic, Super Cub landing ski 25.” The Cub lands on the ski runway parallel to the paved runway. Looking east about 10 miles, I saw a turboprop pop out of the bottom of the ceiling into VFR. At that exact moment, I hear a Navajo announcing on the CTAF that he's about to enter the downwind for runway 25. Textbook perfect. By the way, the Navajo made an earlier announcement 10 miles out from the west. Immediately after the Navajo made the downwind call, the turboprop made its one and only call for a 9-mile straight-in final to 25.

    By this time, the Cub pilot had dropped off two moose quarters, started up, rolled 200 feet and while taking off, announced he’s departing ski 7. He crosses 25 with the turboprop on a 3-mile final and passes under the Navajo by 500 feet. Great lunch entertainment! After the turboprop landed and shut down, I casually chat up the crew who asks if I saw the Cub pass in front of them. The Navajo driver saw everything and his comment happens every day.

    What really transpired may be typical. The turboprop was cancelling IFR with center when it popped out at the same time the Navajo made the first CTAF call. So they never heard it. The Navajo had the right of way because he was in the pattern before the turboprop made its call and was lower. The Navajo pilot saw and heard the Cub and the turboprop and simply extended his downwind, staying outside the mix.

    To the Cub pilot, the CTAF call is just a chore; he’s on a mission. The turboprop crew was oblivious to what was happening in front of them. Do you think two pilots at a non-towered airport who are both landing or taking off and who both talk to each other on the CTAF and both properly understand their positions and intentions would run into each other? I don’t think so.

    In Alaska—and everywhere else--a CTAF system is in place to serve aircraft from 19 passengers down to Super Cubs. Less than half of the traffic uses an actual traffic pattern. Here comes Fat Albert at 170 knots straight in with one CTAF call that’s so fast you barely catch two syllables. This is not an ADS-B, FAA or NTSB issue; the buck squarely stops at just us pilots and the way we’re sometimes doing it is not conducive to a safety culture.

    CTAF is a safety system if the chain of custody is unbroken. Otherwise, it’s an act in futility. Which means pilot A’s brain must properly state aircraft type, location, altitude and specific intention. That voice then goes into the headset of everyone else listening, so that pilot B and pilot C know what to expect and where to look. I believe that all straight-in finals require three separate CTAF calls at three equally spaced locations: 10 miles out, 5 miles out and a 2-mile short final. I know it may be difficult for us to change our bad habits and make three CTAF calls each time, but do it by thinking of it not as a chore, but as a means of survival.
     
  2. Richard Wyeroski

    Richard Wyeroski Hangar Gold Member I

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    .....yep I would like to say it is not systemic through out our aviation system. But, it is.....improper pattern entries and poor radio edicate and the result is a midair.....
     
  3. Shawn White

    Shawn White Hangar Silver Member I

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    It's such a good skill to have. Consistent, standard pattern entries, departure procedures, and traffic calls. Announcing your position 10 miles out, 5 miles out, turning base/final while scanning for traffic etc. It greatly increases safety when everyone just does that. 4/5 pilots following procedures will only help so much if the 5th guy just goes straight in without talking or looking:)
     
  4. Rotorruss

    Rotorruss Hangar Silver Member IV

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    ..... Or like Quincy, IL? All the hardware in the panel won't fix the software glitches between the headset!
     

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