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April 18, 2014
The silence on the approach control frequency is broken as the controller speaks your N number and advises, "Traffic, two o’clock, westbound, type and altitude unknown." You look up from updating a groundspeed calculation, and your instructor sets down the hand-held GPS that is acting buggy, and both of you squint into the glare in the sector of the windscreen between the spinner and the right wing.
"There it is, a floatplane down low, climbing," the CFI says. You inform ATC that the traffic is in sight.
If that scenario seems familiar—especially the part about looking up from an inside-the-cockpit chore to scan for traffic—it’s time to make a new effort to put “visual” back in your visual flight rules flying.
With all the gizmos, gadgets, and gauges that fill up an aircraft’s cockpit, VFR pilots contend with a multitude of reasons (some better than others) to spend time with eyes inside.
A call from ATC may break the spell, but even that’s not a remedy if all you do next is look for the one aircraft that was pointed out. That’s a form of fixation (not to mention technological dependency). Another example of looking outside but remaining fixated on a single task is when seeking out that elusive checkpoint that should have appeared off the left wingtip by now.
About that floatplane: Would you have spotted it if it had not been called to your attention? Did it pose a potential conflict for you on your present heading? Remember, if the controller had been handling a heavier workload, or if another aircraft had called in just then, your traffic advisory might have been delayed, or never transmitted.
Collision avoidance is your responsibility, and is one of the 16 special emphasis areas evaluated on your private pilot practical test. Special emphasis areas are considered critical to flight safety.
Now, as the spring flying season gathers momentum, more pilots will be attending fly-ins, launching on training flights, giving sightseeing rides, and giving parachute jumpers a lift near some airports. Hot air balloons will grace the calm early-morning skies. And recent news makes clear that there are more unmanned aircraft systems in the air every day.
Monitoring radio frequencies, and receiving radar advisories helps, but see-and-avoid is still the key to VFR flying.
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