IFR Fix: Sorry, wrong number

February 21, 2014

Two go-arounds and a rejected takeoff would provide a day’s worth of drama at many airports. When they all happen at once, on one runway, with the go-arounds head-on, only luck averts disaster.

It was all the result of a basic misunderstanding. A Cessna 172 pilot was flying a practice GPS approach while the safety pilot broadcast traffic advisories on unicom. Unfortunately, unicom wasn’t the common traffic advisory frequency (CTAF)—a distinction often missed when pilots use the term unicom for both. After the near one, the Cessna’s pilot filed with the Aviation Safety Reporting System, noting, "I had not looked at the frequencies as he was handling communications."

Fair criticism?

After completing the RNAV (GPS) RWY 26 approach to Tennessee’s Knoxville Downtown Island Airport, "I removed my hood and proceeded to make the final approach under visual conditions," the pilot wrote. "My safety pilot had been making all of the traffic announcements on the frequency listed for UNICOM on the approach chart, 122.95."

In the flare, "I saw another aircraft at the opposite end of the same runway I was landing on. I immediately initiated a go-around, and turned to the left to enter the upwind leg, as he was already rolling down the runway for takeoff."

The departing aircraft aborted, causing an aircraft on final behind it to start a go-around of its own. It "turned to the right to enter the upwind,” placing it “directly into my flight path.  I saw him at the very last minute, and he passed no more than 100 feet below me."

A refresher: How do you maneuver to keep traffic in sight during a go-around? The Private Pilot Practical Test Standards expects a pilot to maneuver "to the side of the runway/landing area to clear and avoid conflicting traffic." Assuming two left-seated pilots flying the two aircraft, did both follow this convention?

In the climbout, "my safety pilot noticed another frequency on the approach chart, labeled CTAF. He had not noticed this frequency before, and switched to it to make the announcements." (The Knoxville CTAF is 126.6 MHz.)

A refresher: The Aeronautical Information Manual explains that a designated CTAF "may be a UNICOM, MULTICOM, FSS, or tower frequency and is identified in appropriate aeronautical publications."

If you want gas, parking, or a pizza, call unicom. For traffic advisory purposes, it’s CTAF, or it’s the wrong number.