February 8, 2013
Make sure during your dual and solo cross-country flying that your selection of airports to visit provides a wide variety of destinations. From tower-controlled airports with radar service and multiple runways to small strips far from the hubs, flying to diverse destinations creates usefully different demands as you plan and execute your first arrivals.
Larger airports bustle with traffic and demand the most careful adherence to taxi routes after landing, but don’t think you can shun recommended operating procedures at that quiet country airfield that is today’s destination. In either case, regulations mandate that you familiarize yourself with “all available information” during your planning.
It may surprise you to discover the wide variation in the amount of information that may be available from place to place. The less there is, the more you must rely on standardized methods for assuring safe operation.
If your destination has no on-field weather reporting, and if the airport is listed as “unattended” or with very limited service hours, you may not find out one of the most important pieces of information until you arrive: which runway to use for landing.
You could try to get a heads-up about that by monitoring the common traffic advisory frequency (CTAF) and hearing another pilot’s broadcast. Then be sure to locate and check the windsock to confirm what you heard.
What should you do if the radio remains silent?
“If other aircraft are not in the pattern, then traffic indicators on the ground and wind indicators must be checked to determine which runway and traffic pattern direction should be used,” advises Chapter 7 of the Airplane Flying Handbook.
Don’t forget these anti-collision procedures as you overfly the airport to check the indicators: Remain well above the airport’s traffic pattern altitude (and let other traffic know your position and intentions). Just because you did not hear a CTAF broadcast does not mean that a no-radio aircraft, or an inbound aircraft previously tuned to another ATC frequency, isn’t present.
Then, “when the proper traffic pattern direction has been determined, the pilot should then proceed to a point well clear of the pattern before descending to the pattern altitude,” says the Airplane Flying Handbook.
Different airports require different techniques. But when it comes to their demands on pilot skill and safety consciousness, all airports are created equal.
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Question: How do I report a near midair collision to the FAA?
Answer: Pilots and/or flight crew members involved in near midair collisions (NMAC) are urged to report each incident immediately by radio or telephone to the nearest FAA ATC facility or flight service, or in writing in lieu of reporting over phone or radio, to the nearest flight standards district office (FSDO). Read more in the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) 7-6-3.
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