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Training Tip: We are (still) not aloneTraining Tip: We are (still) not alone

A general aviation pilot on descent to the destination looked up from checking radio frequencies to behold an airliner crossing ahead less than 1,000 feet below.

Photo by Mike Fizer.

“The encounter was rattling,” the pilot recalled, adding that both the GA aircraft maneuvering around clouds and the airliner descending through them took quick evasive action.

“Rattling” became unnerving when the pilot checked the airport’s published arrival procedures and realized that the airliner was exactly where it belonged, according to a standard terminal arrival procedure (STAR).

That was only one of several insights the pilot wanted to share with any aviator who has become accustomed to assume that traffic will be light when flying during the coronavirus pandemic.

Another lesson was that expecting less traffic (statistically speaking) is no reason to change your method of watching out for traffic that may be present in the airspace you will enter in the next few minutes.

“Though I get flight following on 95% of my flights, traffic was so light (due to the pandemic), that I chose not to speak with ATC this day,” the pilot said in an Aviation Safety Reporting System account.

Any pilot who uses the radar flight following service provided by air traffic control knows that you don’t see every aircraft ATC points out; if you are not equipped with onboard traffic-spotting gear, it’s a relief when ATC advises that an unseen aircraft is “no longer a factor.”

Why give up that valuable edge now?

In retrospect, that was one of the “obvious lessons” the pilot gleaned from the encounter. Other advice it produced was the reminder to “maintain a traffic scan and pay closer attention to any traffic information available” on onboard equipment you might have, such as ADS-B In.

Memo to current student pilots: Take our word for it, although GA activity has rebounded, total traffic volume is not what it once was—and whenever things get back to “normal,” it will pay to be at ease operating in more congested airspace. To prepare, take advantage of opportunities to fly from your airport during its busier periods, and arrange with your instructor to experience traffic flows at Class C or Class D airspace airports, if possible.

Don’t ease up on traffic spotting during local practice-area outings for air work. The clearing turn remains in fashion in 2020, and the style points will count on your practical test.

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: Training and Safety, Collision Avoidance
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