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Training Tip: 'Magenta-line pilots'Training Tip

Is it time to re-evaluate how well you scan for traffic, and re-examine whether you spend enough time with your eyes outside the aircraft?
Are you a "magenta-line pilot"?

The May 13 Training Tip reminded pilots that while a vigilant lookout for traffic is an essential component of visual flying, the typical 12.5 seconds it takes to recognize and react to a conflict is a longer interval than commonly realized.

Remember, traffic information equipment on board does not relieve a pilot of responsibility for visual lookout, notes the FAA advisory circular on the pilot’s role in collision avoidance. As the sophistication and variety of technological additions to cockpit information resources grows, and competes for your attention, temptations abound to keep your eyes inside.

Designated pilot examiners know this, and some point to it as an emerging problem. The distractions can be caused by traffic avoidance equipment or by navigation systems—leading one examiner to use the term “magenta-line pilots” to describe those whose flying is characterized by fixating on a course line, often magenta-colored, on an electronic display.

Another scenario in which pilots are observed to relax their vigilance is when operating in airport environments regarded as less collision-risk-prone than the traffic patterns of nontowered airports in day-VFR conditions. So stay watchful.

When a Cessna 182 being flown at a busy towered airport by a pilot and instructor to practice instrument approaches commenced a missed approach climb from about 500 feet, the aircraft came within a few feet vertically and laterally of colliding with a VFR aircraft flying a crosswind leg under instructions from the tower, the instrument instructor reported in a filing with the Aviation Safety Reporting System.

“The other aircraft was hundreds of feet below the traffic pattern altitude. If it had maintained the correct traffic pattern altitude of 884 feet msl, the incident would have been completely avoided,” the reporter noted.

Was reaction time slowed by the instructor’s assumptions about the other aircraft’s probable position?

The instructor was “shocked” to see the other aircraft so low, and so close in. He estimated that it was in sight—that is, was recognized—for “perhaps 4-5 seconds” before he took over and pushed the yoke forward.

“Had I, or the pilot in the other aircraft, spotted each other sooner, we could have maneuvered to avoid a (near mid-air collision),” the report said.

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: Airport, Navigation, Learn to Fly

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