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Training Tip: The 12.5-second gapTraining Tip The 12 5 second gap

It’s the first sunny day this week, and it was a stroke of good fortune to get in an early-morning practice session when another student had to cancel on short notice. Good thing you asked the fixed base operator to put you on a call list for such opportunities.
After spotting approaching traffic, it is important to react as quickly as possible.

Now as you fly back toward the airport, the pattern is full of aircraft coming and going from the field, along with those in closed traffic, so you will have to wait for a chance to broadcast your impending arrival on the common traffic advisory frequency.

A dark speck in motion ahead and at low altitude catches your eye. Yes, it’s an airplane, and it appears to be approaching head-on, while climbing. Instantly you decide to alter course—in which direction, left or right, to comply with right-of-way regulations?—and as the opposing aircraft passes, you are glad you acted as swiftly as you did.

Or did you?

“Research has shown that the average person has a reaction time of 12.5 seconds,” notes FAA Advisory Circular AC 90-48D, Pilots’ Role in Collision Avoidance. An updated edition of the advisory circular was released in April, replacing a 1983 issue.

If that seems like a long collision avoidance reaction time, study the chart on page 2. It breaks the identification-and-reaction process down to six steps, with one step, the pilot becoming aware of the collision course, costing five seconds.

According to the advisory circular, there were 42 midair collisions in the United States from January 2009 to December 2013, and 461 near-midairs. That’s why your instructor (and your designated pilot examiner) emphasize collision-avoidance awareness—and they don’t want to see you defaulting that piloting responsibility to any on-board technology.

“Traffic information equipment does not relieve a pilot’s responsibility to see and avoid other aircraft,” it says. “Managing distractions caused by the use of technology in the cockpit is critical to the safety of the flight. While new aircraft systems can provide pilots with a wealth of information, they can also cause fixation on the displays and draw a pilot’s attention inside the cockpit and away from the outside environment. Any newly installed technology and its limitations should be thoroughly learned and understood on the ground first as much as possible. For all pilots using advanced technologies in the cockpit, extra vigilance is required to avoid excessive heads-down time.”

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Learn to Fly, Flight Training, Student

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