Safety Publications/Articles


The two-hatted instrument instructor

Coping with conflicting roles

One of the most challenging aspects of instrument flight instruction is fulfilling the roles of both instructor and safety pilot. The instructor must divide effort between teaching IFR procedures and techniques inside the cockpit, and scanning the sky outside for conflicting traffic.

It's a challenge that's about to get even tougher, as glass cockpits and fancy multifunction displays show up in more and more training airplanes. All the colorful new electronic gizmos will make it easier than ever for instructors to fixate on the panel--not a good thing during instrument flight instruction. (If you're not already instructing in technically advanced aircraft, you probably will be soon; the AOPA Air Safety Foundation's new 166-page report on TAA estimates that about 95 percent of all new production aircraft are ordered with some type of glass cockpit or multifunction display equipment. The full report is available free at the AOPA Online Safety Center.

Neglecting the safety pilot role can be dangerous. Consider the following actual incident that recently occurred:

An experienced instructor was conducting an instrument proficiency check in a Cessna 182. The pilot had filed an instrument flight plan to a distant nontowered airport with an ILS/DME approach. The weather was VFR--ceiling unlimited with visibility seven miles in haze. ATC instructed the pilot to descend to 2,000 feet, told him to intercept the localizer, and cleared him for the ILS/DME approach. The instructor looked for other aircraft in the vicinity but saw none.

During the descent, the instructor became concerned that ATC might be turning them at or inside the final approach fix and discussed options with the pilot in case this happened. The instructor also reminded the pilot that he had not set up the missed approach properly. Clearly the instructor was spending considerable time scanning the panel and helping the pilot, but he looked once more for conflicting traffic and still saw nothing.

The pilot turned onto the localizer at the FAF, intercepted the glideslope, and began to follow it down. ATC told him to switch to the common traffic advisory frequency. He acknowledged the instruction and cancelled IFR.

As soon as he switched to the CTAF, he heard an urgent call from another pilot. The other pilot, who was flying a practice approach VFR, said that the 182 had passed over him at less than 100 feet. He said he didn't see the 182 and became aware of it when a "dark shadow passed through the cockpit." (He was flying a Cessna 172.) The instructor saw the 172 off the right side and slightly below. The pilot immediately broke off the approach.

These IFR-VFR conflicts probably happen more frequently than reported. Another incident involved a student pilot with an instructor conducting touch and goes at a nontowered airport. The ceiling was 1,300 feet and visibility five miles. When the student was on base, about to turn final, an IFR aircraft popped out of the clouds on final right in front of him. The IFR pilot had switched to the CTAF but had not called in or heard the student. The instructor took control, and a tragedy was narrowly averted. The IFR pilot said that ATC never mentioned any aircraft in the pattern.

We should never experience a close call without considering it an opportunity to learn. So let's analyze the first incident involving the 182 on the ILS/DME approach:

Why ATC didn't advise of the conflicting traffic on the localizer is a mystery. Perhaps it was poor radar coverage, or a heavy workload for the controller. Maybe the 172 pilot had forgotten to turn on his transponder, or the transponder wasn't working. In any event, a contributing factor was the fact that the 172 pilot conducting practice approaches in visual meteorological conditions was not talking to ATC. Whatever the situation, we can't always count on ATC to call conflicting traffic. It is the safety pilot's responsibility to see conflicting traffic, even when he or she is busy instructing and concentrating on the panel. In this case the conflicting aircraft was in front and below, blocked by the cowl, but a more frequent outside scan could have detected the other aircraft earlier.

On an instrument approach, particularly in VFR weather, it's a good idea to ask ATC for a frequency change to CTAF as soon as approach clearance is received. If this isn't granted, running the CTAF frequency in the background may alert the pilot to potential conflicting traffic.

It's also advisable to ask the controller if he observes any VFR traffic in the area. Had the 182 pilot done so when the approach clearance was received, the instructor would probably have spent more time scanning for traffic.

During a dual instrument training flight, ask the pilot to brief the approach to you while en route to the IAF. In addition to confirming that the pilot has his ducks in a row, this will reduce the amount of last-minute coaching required during the approach. If possible, instrument instructors and pilots should spend time in a simulator before the flight so that the procedures and approaches will be more familiar. This reduces the instructor's workload in the air and leaves him more time to scan for traffic. Simulators also provide more comprehensive instrument instruction for the student.

Both the pilot and instructor in the 182 filed an Aviation Safety Reporting System report with NASA. This free service provides information about the incident and can present options and recommendations to help prevent it from happening again. NASA includes this information in a database and Callback newsletter that we can all use for future reference in accident prevention. With some exceptions, the NASA form also can protect the pilot from sanctions in the event of an FAA investigation.

Considering the thousands of VFR and IFR aircraft simultaneously flying instrument approaches around the country, instructors should hear a little voice in the back of their heads when they are locked onto the panel that says, "Hey! Better look outside."

Richard Hiner retired from the AOPA Air Safety Foundation as vice president of training. He can be contacted.

By Richard Hiner

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