Friday, May 28, 2010

The stupid among us

As pilots, we often assume that everyone else in the sky is as smart and competent as we are. It is -- next to "the drive to the airport is more dangerous" -- one of the myths of aviation.

Today I was browsing just-filed reports on the Aviation Safety Reporting System and came upon this:

My student and I were in the traffic pattern in a Cessna 172R. After starting our descent 1600 FT MSL, my student started his turn to the base leg when we were at 45 degrees to the approach end of the runway and were at an altitude of around 1400 FT MSL. My student had been making his radio calls using the ZZZ UNICOM channel and announced his turn from downwind to left base for Runway XX at ZZZ. Upon going wings level in our descent to landing, my student noticed an aircraft approaching us head on and less than 1 mile distance away from us. The airplane approaching us then turned to our right and I instructed my student to continue the approach and that I would watch the traffic that had just turned in front of us. At this time I made a call over the UNICOM to company traffic that was in the pattern behind us and let them know there was an aircraft that had turned North about a mile from the approach end of Runway XX. The company traffic responded with saying that he had the traffic in sight. My student continued his approach to Runway XX and performed a short-field landing at the one thousand foot marker. After coming to a slow roll within three stripes of the thousand foot markers I looked out the back windows of our aircraft and saw the other airplane that we had almost collided with was less than 500 feet behind us with all three wheels on the ground and taxiing towards us. I knew this plane had been on the runway about the same time we were since the other airplane is a tail-dragger and his tailwheel was on the ground. At this time I instructed my student to exit the runway and taxi back to Runway XX. After exiting the runway I stopped out airplane and allowed the other airplane to taxi past off the runway, made a call over UNICOM that my aircraft and the crop duster were clear of Runway XX. After consulting with the other instructor in our company airplane, it was brought to my attention that the other airplane had landed behind us on Runway XX at the same time we had touched wheels down. I double checked with our company airplane and he agreed that there was no radio communication with the airplane that landed behind us and that the other instructor thought we were about a 1/2 mile from a midair collision on our base leg of our approach to Runway XX. After coming to-a stop on the taxiway, I wrote down on my note pad the tail number of the crop duster that had landed on the runway less than 500 feet from the back of our airplane. I feel that the owner or operator of the airplane should be reprimanded for reckless operation. It didn't occur to me until I got back that we could have had an incident on the runway had the brakes failed on the crop duster when my student was performing a short-field landing. There are regulations set forth about ZZZ and traffic pattern flow and we all have to abide but these regulations and so do other pilots at every airport in the U.S.

Sometimes we create conflicts on our own. Yesterday, I was at KSGS (South St. Paul, Minnesota) when I heard one pilot say to another pilot who was taxiing, "we're going to take the extra 5 knots and depart (from) Runway 34." At KSGS, Runway 16 is the calm-wind runway, but there was not a calm wind. it was 5 knots and increasing.

Ideally, it seems to me, everyone ought to agree on what runways should be used at non-towered airports. But these two didn't. The one pilot took off on 34. The other pilot took off on 16 shortly thereafter and they both stayed in the pattern.

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