Too Close For Comfort

Throughout 2019, RAAus received 22 reports relating to near miss or loss of separation occurrences around Australia. 90% of these occurrences occurred within the circuit, however there is one surprising common element within all of these events – All aircraft were fitted with a radio.

A radio, whilst extremely valuable for building situational awareness by identifying position of other aircraft, must not be the sole source of traffic information. It is essential pilots maintain an active lookout by using effective scanning techniques.

Be heard, Be Seen, Be safe 


The following elements will assist pilots in avoiding near miss events:

Maintaining an active lookout

During our training we are taught that during VFR flight our eyes should remain outside the cockpit 70% of the time, however in a changing world full of additional avionics, GPS devices and electronic flight bags (EFBs), we have an increased number of distractions leaving our eyes inside the cockpit more than ever before.

Despite improvements in radios, GPS and traffic information, it is still just as important, if not more important, that we fight the urge to play on our ipads, and turn our eyes outwards. Of course our ability to identify other aircraft is only as strong as our scanning technique.

The human eye requires 1-2 seconds once stationary in order to focus. When conducting a visual scan of the horizon the eyes are unable to focus if one continuous sweep is made. It is therefore important that pilots divide the sky up into 10 to 15 degree blocks, stopping to allow the eyes to focus within each block.


(Image source: https://www.aopa.org/training-and-safety/online-learning/safety-spotlights/collision-avoidance/the-scan)

Communications
Most modern aircraft are fitted with two-way radios in order to maintain effective communications. Radios increase awareness of other aircraft by pilots, however can also lead to pilots building an expectation that just because they have not heard a radio transmission that there are no other aircraft in the area.

The following points should be referenced in relation to the use of radios:

  1. Conduct a radio check
    The best way to confirm your radio is operational is to first conduct a radio check - Simply confirming you are receiving radio calls does not confirm you are capable of transmitting.
  2.  Avoid temptation to turn the volume all the way down
    A number of occurrences have been reported due to pilots turning the radio volume down in order to communicate with passengers or students. The risk of turning the volume all the way down is that it is easy to forget this resulting in pilots returning to the circuit without receiving radio calls. If you need to turn down the radio, ensure it is left at a volume that can still be heard to prompt that the volume is turned up again.
  3. Make standard radio calls even when there is no other traffic in the local area
    A recent occurence received by RAAus involved a near miss between two training aircraft in the circuit. This was investigated and it was identified that an aircraft was conducting circuits without making appropriate radio calls. Another training aircraft then joined the circuit unaware of the other aircrafts position resulting in a near miss downwind. This emphasises the fact that just because you think you are the only person operating within the circuit does not mean this is necessarily the case!
  4.  Practice active listening
    How often do we listen to a radio call only to realise we weren’t really listening to the content? Take the time to stop and listen to radio calls, process the information being communicated, then process where the aircraft is in relation to you.
  5. Make accurate radio calls
    Pilots regularly make incorrect or vague radio calls which do not provide the relevant information, or may even provide incorrect information to other pilots.
    A common example of this is when a pilot is tracking in a northerly direction they are located to the south of their destination. Rather than making a call located to the south, they incorrectly report to the north based on the direction they are tracking. This provides incorrect location information.
  6. Use standard phraseology
    Standardised radio calls avoid unnecessary radio clutter, whilst providing essential information. Standard calls should include:
    To whom you are addressing (e.g Temora Traffic), who you are (e.g. Tecnam 1234), location, altitude, intentions (e.g “Temora traffic, Tecnam 1234, 5 miles south of the airfield at 3000ft, inbound, expect circuit time 30”)
  7. If unsure – Ask!
    Did you miss a radio call? Request that the pilot “Say again”
    Unsure of traffic in the local area? Request traffic report location “any traffic in the circuit, Temora?”
    Unsure if your radio is working? Request a radio check
  8. Use radios for awareness
    Confirm information visually and don’t let radio use replace the need for maintaining a thorough lookout!

Situational Awareness
Situational awareness refers to being aware of what is happening around you and can be broken down to what has happened, what is happening, and what might happen in the future.

In order for pilots to maintain situational awareness, it is important that they are not overloaded to the point where they are unable to accept any new information. Have you ever failed to hear the information contained within a radio call because you were busy focusing on something else? This is a common situation faced by pilots within the circuit when presented by a number of competing priorities. Maintaining your lookout, making radio calls, conducting downwind checks all while trying to listen out for other traffic.

Unfortunately, a breakdown of situational awareness within the circuit is a common cause of near miss events and has likely contributed to a number of mid-air collisions.

In order to maintain situational awareness, pilots should ensure they sufficiently plan ahead during each phase of their flight, starting from on the ground. Ensure you take advantage of quiet phases of flight to plan ahead, complete checklists and prepare the aircraft so that as much as possible is completed prior to busy phases of flight. Within the circuit avoid the temptation to rush, conducting thorough checks, and making clear radio calls. Ensure you take the time to stop and listen to other radio calls which may offer improved situational awareness for additional traffic joining, established in or departing the circuit.

Pilots should pay particular attention to situations where they know they are more likely to become overloaded. This may include when operating at an unfamiliar location, when operating an unfamiliar aircraft, when operating in a busy environment or when you are still learning (such as during flight training). These situations may lead to pilot overload where a loss of situational awareness leads to failing to identify important information. This can be avoided by thorough pre-flight planning, or visualisation.

Watch the following video as Red Bull Air Race world champion, Matt Hall, explains situational awareness.


Hemisphericals

In an age where GPS allows us to fly more accurately than ever, it is more important that we maintain proper altitudes when flying to avoid collision with opposite direction traffic.

Remember, in Australia, for VFR flying a track of 000-179 degrees, fly odds plus 500 (e.g. 3500ft); 180-359 degrees, fly evens plus 500ft (e.g. 4500ft).

 

 

 

Take the time to plan each flight, maintaining situational awareness, lookout and communicate. Doing so may just save your life!


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