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Training Tip: Beware the midair

The images were graphic—and miraculously there was no loss of life—when a Swearingen twin turboprop and a single-engine Cirrus SR22 collided as they both neared landings on parallel runways at a Colorado airport.

The NTSB outlined the flight paths of a twin turboprop and a Cirrus SR22 that collided on approaches to parallel runways at Denver's Centennial Airport on May 12. Graphic courtesy of NTSB.

According to the NTSB’s preliminary accident report, the pilots were in communication with air traffic control as they approached Denver’s Centennial Airport on May 12, the turboprop on final approach to Runway 17L and the Cirrus turning right base to final for Runway 17R.

After impact, the Swearingen pilot declared an emergency, landing safely on Runway 17L. The Cirrus pilot “reported that the airplane was not controllable after the impact and he deployed the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS),” the report said, adding that the airplane settled to the ground about 3 nautical miles north of the airport.

The event—along with its vivid imagery—was widely reported by news media. It should remind pilots that midair collisions and near misses have well-known danger zones—and it may come as a jolt to your vigilance to recall that “a high percentage of near midair collisions occur below 8,000 feet AGL and within 30 miles of an airport,” as the Aeronautical Information Manual notes (Section 7-6-2). “When operating VFR in these highly congested areas, whether you intend to land at an airport within the area or are just flying through, it is recommended that extra vigilance be maintained and that you monitor an appropriate control frequency,” it says.

Now that the peak general aviation flying season is here, remember that clear days with unlimited visibility are frequently implicated in collisions, according to the Airplane Flying Handbook (page 7-2), which urges pilots never to assume they know the whereabouts and flight direction of all nearby aircraft.

Collision-avoidance technology can augment the see-and-avoid technique pilots learn. Recently, however, the NTSB detailed how limitations on both methods contributed to a fatal 2019 collision in Alaska of two sightseeing aircraft.

Despite the importance of collision avoidance, “little formal instruction is given on the best ways to visually identify potential collision threats or on procedures that can lessen their risk of occurring,” notes the AOPA Air Safety Institute in offering the online Collision Avoidance Safety Spotlight, an in-depth look at identifying collision risks and procedures that can reduce the likelihood of a dangerous scenario unfolding.

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, Accident, Collision Avoidance
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