One of last month’s really sad accidents involved a Piper Malibu that for reasons unknown decided to land counter to established traffic at a nontowered airport. There were five fatalities including three children.
Preliminary reports, which are just that, noted that there were several aircraft in the pattern when the pilot approached to land on Runway 33. Winds were reported to be 160 degrees at six knots. Another aircraft was departing on Runway 15. The Malibu made an evasive maneuver to avoid the departing aircraft and appears to have lost control and stalled.
According to the FARs, landing aircraft have the right of way. Now, we get into a hash over when one becomes a “landing aircraft.” Could it be a one mile final, half mile final, when below pattern altitude, other? If the winds favor the opposite runway where does one draw the line? How much wind is “drawing the line”? If a calm wind runway is designated, how does one find out and when is calm not really calm? When does exercising my prerogative to land cross the “careless and reckless line?”
Manufacturers do not provide landing distance information beyond a 10-knot tailwind. For light aircraft you may see something like “increase landing distance by 10 percent for each two knots of tailwind up to 10 knots.” The cleaner the aircraft, the worse it gets. In the PA-46 POH, Piper only gives guidance for up to five knots of tailwind—if I read it correctly. That adds more than the length of a football field: He’s at the 30, the 20, past the 10; he’s into the end zone. It’s a touchdown—but it’s not on the runway. There is nothing good to say about tailwinds on landings. (I do approve of them
en route, however!)
The attorneys will get into this in great detail, but our interest is denying them the opportunity because loss of life is usually involved.
When approaching the runway at right angles it’s pretty easy to go either way. Ditto if coming from the “wrong” end. Merely angle out a little and then set up for a standard entry. My rule is to generally go with the established flow, and if the tailwind is even slightly significant I suggest on the CTAF that I will be waiting for the others to clear and then land the other way.
Pattern etiquette is one of those sure conversation starters, and we have some suggestions in ASI’s Nontowered Airports Safety Advisor. Playing chicken in cars is dumb—so it is with airplanes.
A core tenet of the Air Safety Institute is to help pilots improve their skills and enhance GA safety through free educational programs. AOPA membership dues don’t cover these programs—donations do, but only six percent of AOPA members actually donate to the AOPA Foundation. Whether you’re a member or a friend of GA, please consider contributing today to support the institute’s important work. Imagine if GA operated on only six percent…www.airsafetyinstitute.org/PSA-sixpercent.