Serving Midwest Aviation Since 1960

Hazards Of Non-Towered Operations

It was a warm fall afternoon. Pilots were enjoying the last nice flying weather until winter made its appearance. An incoming aircraft was arriving at an uncontrolled airport from the opposite side of the traffic pattern. In the process of joining the downwind from a mid-field crosswind, and unbeknownst to him, another aircraft was also turning downwind from a prescribed crosswind. Suddenly, there was an audible gasp from the observers in the FBO, as the two aircraft executed evasive maneuvers to prevent an unpleasant outcome.

The aforementioned event is true. The need for evasive maneuvers at non-towered airports probably happens more frequently than one would think. As a CFI at a local MAC feeder airport, I have become familiar with the various techniques pilots use to position their aircraft for an expedited approach. One of the most common is the straight in approach. According to AC-90-66B, an aircraft on a straight in approach is not considered in the traffic pattern. Aircraft on an actual instrument approach intending to land is the exception. According to AC 90-66B, aircraft on practice instrument approaches do not have the right of way over aircraft in the traffic pattern. Some time back, an exchange was heard on the radio between a local experienced pilot doing just that. A student on base caused the “straight-in-er” to go around. Upon doing so, the pilot chastised the student by telling her he had right of way because he was on an instrument approach. The Advisory Circular does not agree. Yes, it’s advisory, not regulatory; so perhaps the AC should be titled “Safe Practices and Good Manners 90-66B.”

One of the most frequent traffic conflicts is aircraft arriving from a nearby towered field announcing “8 mile final,” or “5 mile extended downwind” to the opposite runway, and hope other occupants in the traffic pattern will give way. This is contrary to the way we should be training new pilots, or practicing old habits. This mindset might originate from the fact that when operating at a towered airport, rigorous traffic pattern structure is not necessarily a normal operational discipline, because ATC will position aircraft according to traffic needs and safety. Being directed to “Continue inbound and report 3-mile base/final” is not uncommon.

This missive does not have enough white space to discuss the non-towered airport conundrum at length. Therefore, it is suggested that pilots who might have made assumptions about the accepted practices nature of airports in Class G or E airspace give AC 90-66B or the AIM a read. The safest entry to a traffic pattern is the 45 degree to downwind, or overhead tear drop. Fly safely.


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