A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

November 7, 2012 by Bruce Landsberg

It was a superb Sunday in the Mid-Atlantic area, and I had the rare opportunity to just go flying. Most of the time it’s for business (business flying is fun—no question—but one doesn’t get to pick the times, places, companions, or weather—any one of which can make a potentially joyous outing seem more like, well, work.)

The skies were blessedly busy, and the tower was sorting out the traffic as we waited for departure. Some controllers keep you waiting even when the aircraft on final is still only imaginary, and others will approve an immediate departure when you might have preferred to let the other guy or gal play through.

Sometimes the flight plan needs a bit more tweaking or an overlooked checklist item needs attention—however, when you’re ready, it’s nice to be on the way. I’ve made mistakes in rushing which is always a bad idea, and then after hurrying to comply with the request, remembered thinking that was dumb. A simple, “unable” or “We’ll wait, thank you,” would have allowed things to be on my terms, which is always better.

The 30-minute cross-country flight was uneventful with lots of low altitude traffic. The traffic avoidance gear and my eyes were well exercised. I’ve really come to appreciate that equipment and hope that as it becomes more affordable and widespread, the incidents of close-calls and mid-air collisions will decrease. It’s true that just one really can ruin your whole day.

Accurate position reporting is essential for the tower to sequence everyone. On this day, several directionally-challenged pilots knew they were somewhere and dutifully reported it only to later figure out they were somewhere else. Surprises are great for birthday parties, but not so much in flying. The tower was not amused.

Tower: “62X I cleared you to land and you did a touch-and-go.”

62X: “I requested a touch-and-go.”

Tower: “Next time, if what you wanted isn’t what you got, let’s have that conversation—it just makes it easier for everyone.”

On returning home, the field was buzzing. Helicopters were hovering on the infield, gliders were gliding with the occasional tow plane returning for the next haul, and numerous transients were out and about. Add in practice IFR approaches and students doing circuits. The choreography was working pretty well until a Hawker bizjet, inbound from the east and going twice as fast as everyone else, needed the long runway, while the crosswind dictated the short runway for most of us. The Cessna we were following needed to go around because he was too high. The tower asked me for a position report (about a mile final) and was contemplating the complications with the jet. Racing him to the intersection is like racing trains to a grade crossing—the results could be both spectacular and discouraging (but what a thrill before impact!). A go-around might be good for the soul, and so that’s what we did and advised the tower.

Pulse rate in multiple aircraft and one ATC facility returned to normal. We followed the preceding Cessna, and as number three, were cleared to land. All-in-all, a very satisfying day and lots of subtle lessons.

So, how are things in your high-density VFR neighborhood?

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Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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