Head-to-head on Base

May 27, 2009 by Bruce Landsberg

This note came from a reader who flies a Piper Arrow

“Last night I was approaching XXX from the east, sequenced behind a PC-12 approaching from the south, both operating under IFR clearances. He canceled airborne; I heard him call “an extended left base for 34″. This seemed a bit odd, since 34 is published as right traffic. I waited until I saw him on short final, apparently in good position to land, before cancelling IFR and announcing my intention to enter a right base for 34.

The next thing I knew, he was calling his crosswind turn, again in left traffic, for 34. I asked at that point if 34 wasn’t right traffic, but got no answer.

So — what was I supposed to do now? Flying a right base toward converging traffic obviously wasn’t going to work. Circling until he got down again wouldn’t help if he was doing pattern work, perhaps for night currency. I asked if he was “closed traffic,” and he affirmed. Flying left traffic on what I knew to be a published right pattern didn’t appeal to me much, either.

I’d be interested to hear what your readers would have done.”

So, Readers:

1. Advise the PC12 Pilot in stronger terms (politely)

2. Go someplace else to practice

3. Take his tail number and report him to the FAA

4. Set Phasers to ‘Stun’ and blast him

Hate to put more verbiage on ASOS or AWOS on traffic patterns but that might be one solution.

I think this helps to make our case that right traffic patterns should be identified on IAP charts. There are some government types who are not yet persuaded but we’re working on that.

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • Montana Jim

    I would opt for option 1, but in a friendly polite voice. If I inadvertantly enter the pattern in the wrong way, I would like to be told = but in a friendly polite voice.

  • http://flighttimeradio.com Milford

    The next time I mess up won’t be the first. I would have politely questioned him about flying against the published pattern. I suspect he would have given an embarassed mea culpa and flew right hand patterns.

  • http://none Sam Beale

    My first thought would be to tell him my distance out on right base and ask him to extend his upwind or downwind if necessary to avoid conflict, and then mention again (in a friendly polite voice) that the published procedure for 34 was a right pattern. Then he could stew in his own juice or not.

  • Daniel

    At my home airport (KMGJ) we host many visitors, due in part to a wonderful airport cafe – but also have 2 of our 4 approaches Right Traffic to accommodate a nearby towered field with ‘heavy’ traffic. It is therefore common to find a visiting aircraft calling positions appropriately, but approaching from the wrong side. On one or two occasions I’ve even encountered a silent visitor face-to-face on base leg. Simple rules we all should follow:
    Check traffic pattern direction on the Sectional or elsewhere before flying into any new field
    Always announce “Right Traffic” as part of any radio call when in such a pattern
    Remain extra vigilant when flying Right Traffic for non-conforming planes
    If encountering a non conforming plane I will remain silent until the plane has landed or is again upwind and only then gently mention the direction of the pattern, since I really don’t want to upset a pilot’s routine at a critical phase of flight. I’d rather he land wrong pattern, successfully, than initiate corrective measures while close to the ground and end up a statistic!
    Two notes – the new AOPA iPhone airport download fails to mention Right Pattern when appropriate – I have brought this to the attention of the support team. At one nearby field I intentionally land wrong pattern, due to the presence of a large hill uncomfortably close to the ‘correct’ downwind leg – and so announce multiple times while in the pattern. Any thoughts on this?

  • Mike Honer

    Depends on the wx conditions for me; with a low ceiling or vis, I’d be tempted to get clnc back into radar coverage to circle safely until the Pilatus full stopped. If he continued with T & G’s I’d try contacting him again and if that resulted in the same no response, try to contact anyone else on that freq, including FBO personnel, to see if maybe the pattern was changed temporarily that day. The Pilatus should hear that and hopefully respond…Then I’d be tempted to have speaks with the offending crew on the ground if it just turns out they “prefer” the right hand pattern. Talk with the FBO personnel anyway; it may turn out that that particular plane/crew has history doing this very same thing in the past. If so, file a NASA report and let the feds sort it out.

  • Mike Honer

    Depends on the wx conditions for me; with a low ceiling or vis, I’d be tempted to get clnc back into radar coverage to circle safely until the Pilatus full stopped. If he continued with T & G’s I’d try contacting him again and if that resulted in the same no response, try to contact anyone else on that freq, including FBO personnel, to see if maybe the pattern was changed temporarily that day. The Pilatus should hear that and hopefully respond…Then I’d be tempted to have speaks with the offending crew on the ground if it just turns out they “prefer” the left hand pattern. Talk with the FBO personnel anyway; it may turn out that that particular plane/crew has history doing this very same thing in the past. If so, file a NASA report and let the feds sort it out.

  • Ryan

    Please keep in mind that those of us who fly for hire (charter and corporate) often only have approach plates for a particular airport. Our owners and bosses have a hard time parting with more money for AFD’s and VFR sectionals. It would also be more stuff (and more weight) that we would have to lug along. Flight times, plans, and destinations often change at a moments notice for us. We do not always have the time or availability of internet to look up the AFD info before we have to depart. This may seem irresponsible to some who don’t do this kind of flying, but it is what it is. Bottom line is it would be very nice to put “right traffic” on our approach plates where applicable.

    On a related subject, please also keep in mind that we may be on an instrument approach and ATC may not switch us over to unicom until quite late. When you are single-pilot you can try to monitor #2 radio to see what is going on, but your first priority is making sure that you can hear ATC’s instructions. I have found that this type of situation has drawn much criticism from other pilots at some airports I have visited. Trust me… I don’t like to tick people in the pattern off, but if I don’t get switched over until a two mile final, it can cause some problems.

  • Leroy Cook

    This is a common problem at our airport, where an instrument approach and a popular VFR arrival path both conveniently lead to a right base arrival, even though the FAR and courtesy require conforming to left traffic. I generally make one short advisory, “left traffic at #^$^”, and if that’s ignored I’ll visually acquire the offending traffic and fall into line behind them.

    A couple of public-flogging techniques is to (1) make an advisory call to “all traffic in the #^$ area, be advised to avoid the traffic pattern until a rogue airplane completes its illegal right hand arrival” or (2) fly final a comfortable distance behind the offending airplane, then go around or turn off within noticably close spacing and ask them later, “did you fly a pattern? I sure didn’t see you when I flew my left-hand pattern.” Then we can discuss the merits of flying the same pattern as other airplanes.

    In the final analysis, there are always going to be people who think the world should be arranged for their convenience, who only obey rules and practices that suit them. All we can do is advertise them widely and be prepared to deal with them.

    Emergency authority, of course, allows any type of pattern necessary to get the plane on the ground.

  • Carolyn Carlson

    Our airport is left traffic. If transient traffic comes in and is announcing right traffic, they are politely informed on UNICOM that traffic is left hand. Unfortunately, we have a couple “rogue” pilots on the field that think the rules are for all but them, and will use right base instead of entering an upwind to get into left traffic. Frustrating, but what can be done.

  • Joe

    This has happened. I was getting ready to announce “Left downwind for 25″ when I heard the call “Right downwind for 25″. I looked to the left and saw a plane on parallel course. I then radioed “Left traffic for 25″ and he immediately turned North and left the area.

  • M. T. Monteiro

    I thought uncontrolled meant just that. Sometimes on a LPV approach I am on a 15 mile straight in final. Nothing illegal about that or doing a non standard patern.

  • James Holtom

    Toronto Buttonville (CYKZ) is a congested GA airport with two flights schools, and corporate and personal aircraft serving Canada’s largest city. Although runway 33 is published as left circuits, it is common for left and right circuits to be used concurrently. Arriving traffic merges into left or right downwind depending on the approach side. Traffic remaining in the circuit generally flies the left side. The objective is for left and right base to merge onto final like a zipper. Pilots are advised of their sequence number and where the other traffic is located, i.e. “you’re #4. Turn right base when you see #3, a C172 on left base turn final.”.

    The closest I’ve ever come to a mid-air head-on collision was at Buttonville, when I became confused about the sequence. I was #4 on right downwind and saw #2 turn final from left base, but I thought he was #3. I turned right base to a head-on course with #3 on left base and never saw him until he turned final just in front of me. It was my own fault. But I will never again turn base until I’m darn certain there is no conflict with traffic on the other base.

  • Gennaro

    With regard to Daniel deliberately flying the wrong traffic pattern to avoid some terrain, this is a violation. Mr. Montero is correct in that a straight in is not illegal, but non standard patterns are illegal.

  • Mike

    A little different twist on the same issue, but on a recent $100 hamburger run (or is that $250 now??), my Saratoga and another Saratoga were approaching Rwy 20 at a Class D field, me from the Northwest and he from the Southeast. Both of us contacted twr correctly, but when I heard his clearance I was amazed as the controller had put us on a collision course on our turn for final by clearing me for a Rt Base and he for a Lft Base at the same altitude from approximately the same pattern entry distance flying the same aircraft. I immediatley initiated a left turn out of the pattern back to the North just as my windshield was starting to fill with the other Saratoga. The other pilot and I de-briefed in the restaraunt and concluded that it was an unfortunate mistake caused by the controller, not the pliots this time, and avoided disaster through good piloting and a little luck.

  • Cory

    First, to answer the initial question, I would choose option 1. I do not see anything wrong with the initial extended left downwind coming off an IFR clearance. Sometimes those are the vectors you get. However, following the first T&G, the plane should follow the appropriate pattern and fellow pilots should feel free to point that out. Innocent mistakes happen but we all need to work together to correct them.

    My second comment is a response to Ryan, the corporate/charter pilot. Very few people are getting rich flying – but at least you are getting paid to do so, It costs me about $100/hr to fly yet I still manage to purchase every new AFD. Sets me back a whole $35 a year in my area – $5 more if I leave the North East. I gotta eat Ramen a few nights a week, but a small price to pay for a little added safety information. Even purchasing all 7 AFD’s every cycle only adds up to $250 over a year. If your flight department is too cheap to buy the AFD then I suggest you take responsibility as a professional and purchase them yourself or print any that you might need off the computer on your time. Sorry to be snotty about it, but it is exactly that attitude that kills (possibly literally) me and, I believe, many other non-professional pilots.
    As for the weight issue, give me a break. I manage to fill my little Warrior with fuel, dog, passengers, luggage and can still squeeze in the 1lb AFD.
    Finally, I believe flying without the appropriate AFD could be considered a violation of good ole FAR 91.103, “Each pilot in command shall, before beginning a flight, become familiar with all available information concerning that flight.” Vague and broad, we all know, but I don’t think knowing the TPA and traffic pattern is a big stretch under “all available information.”
    Oh yeah, I do also agree that right traffic should be on approach plates but we all know about common sense and the FAA/NACO…

  • http://www.yellowstonetreasures.com Beth Chapple

    I vote for #1: Don’t ask the other pilot “isn’t 34 right traffic?” but tell him it is and that he had better switch for safety.

  • David Heileman

    I’m not sure that any of Bruce’s four options are “right”, although option 1 seems best. The PC-12 had the right of way until he landed. After that he was supposed to share the airport with everyone else. Touch-and-go’s are not an IFR procedure, so the PC-12 pilot should not have done them unless he knew “all available” information for VFR flight in the vicinity of the airport, including traffic patterns. If I couldn’t engage the PC-12 pilot in enough radio dialog to resolve the conflict, I probably would have tried to time my pattern entry so that I could land just after he took off, thus avoiding conflict. BTW, it seems to me that the issue of right vs left pattern for the SAME runway (as in this case) is not nearly as dangerous an issue as right pattern for one runway and left pattern for the OPPOSING runway (i.e., left for 09 and right for 27). In the latter case, you stand a good chance of colliding head-on on the downwind, or on the runway!

  • Larry Burson

    Our AWOS says: “Remarks. Fly right traffic for runway 14. In addition, preferred calm wind runway is runway 14.” This is due to a hospital & school located near the airport. I have noticed that often the same person who forgoes a walk-around, also turns left immediately after takeoff. Recently I observed a pilot in such a hurry he forgot to untie the right wing tie-down. We can almost predict which pilots will do what, can’t we?

  • sam ferguson

    Well at least it was a Pilatus and not a Baron! May be the same attitude toward a little Piper though. Myself, I would have reminded the Pilatus of right traffic and got on the ground and out of his way as soon as possible. It would be nice, since ADF or not, we sometimes dont get the information due to diversions or whatever, if the ASOS had the information under remarks.

  • Charity

    Completely agree with Cory. Coming off an instrument approach to a field under VFR, you are supposed to observe the flow of traffic and conform to that. I also don’t have a problem with the an extended left downwind if vectored that way unless circling wasn’t authorized on that side by the IAP, but if staying for closed traffic he should have definitely used the published procedures, especially if there was another airplane in the correct pattern. I don’t usually have a problem with this at the uncontrolled fields I fly it; the problem I have seen is when a runway is published as a calm wind runway for noise abatement and the other pilots use a straight in on the reciprocal runway. I’ve landed RWY 15 calm-wind only to have a non-communicating airplane land RWY 33 only a few minutes after me, and despite looking for traffic never seeing the other airplane. That got my attention for sure.

  • Ryan


    I figured that I would get blasted for what I said, but I am just trying to help. This IS a forum to try to help air safety. I should also say that I am not offended by your comments, I am just going to respond to your argument.

    As far as added weight, I was not referring to a problem with the aircraft carrying it… I was referring to me. Think about how many states a jet can cross in a few hours. If I have a problem, I want to have charts (approach plates) available for the areas that I am flying over as well as my destination. I also need to have both high and low enroute charts. Let’s not forget my ops specs and company manual. As you can imagine, my chart bag is rapidly outgrowing the area in which I need to place it. I flew for the airlines for quite a while and I can assure you, I never once saw a little green book in the cockpit.

    For the issue of money, you had better believe that it gets expensive. If a flight department has 15 pilots, that full set of AFD’s will cost over $3500 for the year. If it comes down to (another) paycut for me, or getting an AFD, you can imagine what my response will be. They have us sharing most of the IAP’s from the “library” already.

    I just want to state again that I am not defending cheap operators or careless pilots. I myself DO try to look up and print off the AFD info for my destination 99% of the time. (flightplan.com is wonderful!) There are times where passengers making last-minute changes or availability of internet make that difficult. I just want to use this safety forum to get an active discussion going on about changes that would make things safer for all of us.

  • http://xaminmo.livejournal.com Josh-Daniel S. Davis

    FAA requires the pilot in command to “become familiar with all available information for the flight”. There are many free internet terminals where AFD and chart information can be pulled up.

    As for the best actions, first, take your exit to a safe place. Trying to turn about in the pattern is not safe maneuvering. There might be NORADO planes in the area, etc.

    Second, advise the other pilot of published right traffic, and ask if the other pilot is willing to change to right traffic on the next loop.

    Then, re-enter the traffic pattern based on his reply. If he stays left, then you should stay left as a matter of safety.

    If you were going to do pattern work, and if he exits the pattern, then you should move back to the published pattern.

    If you could spot him, you could extend your downwind so as to ensure you came in behind him on final, but that sort of thing assumes matched speeds, or someone keeping an eye out for you. Probably best to avoid doing that at a non-towered airport.

    Basically, published or not, you as the PIC must do what is required to maintain the safety of the flight. As PIC, you are specifically authorized to do so.

    It’s recommended to send an entry to NASA’s ASRS with details of the encounter.

  • http://AOL.COM FlyingRoscoe

    The pilot should have questioned the A.T.C. about the landing Pattern if not familar with the area. The second Pilot should have let him know he did not follow the published requirements. If not only for the safety of ohters who might be comeing into the area of the airport to practice touch an go landings. An as for straight in aproaches. It is not safe or fair to the pilots that are in the pattern for You to come barreling straight in just because you called in Your position. This is a sure way to get yourself an others hurt. Let alone ruin a $250.00 Hamburger run.

  • Tom

    I would think that the no answer you got from the PC-12 was acknowledgement of his mistake. I would just keep a close eye on him as he is at least reporting his location and should be easy to avoid by extending downwinds.

    I do not think changing the ASOS or AWOS would help. During a recent trip to Big Bear, I saw a pilot ignore the wind reportings and land the wrong way. No one said anything until he was on final (the volunteers in the office) and he proceeded to land the wrong way. He reached the end of the runway to find 3 planes waiting to take off, only then did he acknowledge his mistake and apologize to everyone as he turned around on the runway.

  • echo golf

    Unfortunatley it’s the wild wild west out there. Set phasers to stun and blast him this way he won’t be an unsafe burden to others in the future. To all pilots who wish to avoid being blasted by Cory the armed pattern police, become acquainted with all available information…seems like I’ve seen that before somewhere.

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