We’ve all been in the pattern at non-towered airports where there is more traffic than can be comfortably handled. This typically happens on a flying season weekend, between the hours of 1000 and 1800 in good VFR weather. That, not coincidentally, describes exactly when and where most midair collisions take place. Prophetically, “final” approach is where most of the final flights take place. What to do – if anything?
At busy road intersections, traffic control devices such as stop lights, stop signs or traffic circles are used. At many airports with air carrier service we get a control tower. But what about non-towered airports that are really busy at certain times and don’t warrant a tower most of the time? Control towers, while a great amenity, are expensive to build and staff. You may have noticed that neither the government nor the GA community is exactly flush with cash these days.
The Hudson River corridor went 45 years before a collision last summer between a helicopter and a Piper Saratoga. Of course, there was an immediate call to close the corridor. Was this accident a statistical oddity? Not when you start, to use the over-used phrase, to connect the dots. AOPA, FAA, ATC and the helicopter tour operators spent months delving into this and discovered that there were a number of procedures that could be employed that would have minor impact on corridor users but would significantly reduce the chances of a collision. After a collision quite a number of pilots will comment that it was only a matter of time. That’s hindsight and perhaps a bit fatalistic.
Without regulation, could there be some sensible procedures employed to reduce collision potential? Back in my full time CFI days, our airport manager had a rule that there were no touch and goes with more than 5 aircraft in the pattern or on weekends. This allowed transients to get in and out after a reasonable wait and still allowed student landing practice. Woe be to the errant aviator who broke the “rules.” There was an immediate tirade on the CTAF from the old gal with the warning that they’d be “sent on down the road” if they didn’t abide. I should point out it was a privately owned, public use facility. It was traffic control at its most basic and we never had a collision.
There is always bad mojo in a community after a collision and pressure to close airports, although it isn’t usually successful. It does reinforce the perception that GA is dangerous and doesn’t endear us to local politicians. Should we consider voluntarily employing some sort of traffic management that would be used only on condition – when the pattern was full? Maybe there’s a better idea. Another view is that there really are very few collisions annually ( typically less than 10) and that is an acceptable loss for the millions of flight operations that occur at non-towered airports.
Your thoughts – either way?