By a Flight Safety Australia reader
One pilot’s apparent distraction with cockpit technology led to a loss of situational awareness in the circuit area, narrowly avoiding a mid-air collision
I’m always a little more wary on a day with a forecast of few clouds rather than clear VMC, as it can be much easier to miss aircraft transiting between clouds, making ‘see and avoid’ all the more difficult.
At the time of this story I was working as a freight pilot in a light twin, flying single-pilot IFR. I was on the home run, at the end of my first sector during summer with daylight saving active, which meant it was still daylight through the early evening.
As a private pilot I used to love flying in the evening during daylight saving—generally less traffic, smooth conditions and the fading light made for some spectacular viewing. However, as a commercial GA pilot, these conditions make me more aware of the likelihood of more traffic, rather than an overcast day.
On this day I was on descent into a CTAF airport, thoroughly enjoying the view after receiving no IFR traffic for descent and thinking to myself, ‘what a great office I have!’
Suddenly Centre gave me traffic information that might be a conflict—a VFR Piper Warrior to the south of me, tracking in my direction only 2000 feet below me and due to pass on my right side in two minutes as I descend through their level.
I tried to contact the aircraft on the CTAF and the guard frequencies, with no response. Centre wasn’t getting a response either.
I’d instantly gone from being peaceful to high alert—where is this guy? I can’t see him and the sky is ever so slightly obscured by a few small clouds, just enough to hide this aircraft.
The pilot of the other aircraft then contacted Centre and I asked for his position. The pilot told me that he would stay north of my track at an altitude 300 feet different from what Centre reported, and would now make a right turn.
This didn’t make sense to me and I replied, but again had no response. At this point I had no idea where this guy really was so I levelled off at what I thought was 700 feet above his altitude.
Centre again called me with a ‘safety alert’—the aircraft was on my level and crossing my flight path!
I immediately added power and started to climb and, just at that point, I saw the beige-coloured Piper Warrior flying directly across my path. I continued to climb and began turning to my right and saw this aircraft so close I could read the rego!
I told Centre I had him sighted and recommenced my descent. Once on the ground I saw the other aircraft land and taxi around to a bunch of old hangars. At this point, to say I was filled with emotion was an understatement! I decided I needed to talk to this pilot, so I walked over, gathering my thoughts and breathing deeply.
I approached the aircraft and looked inside the cockpit. The pilot had two iPads, two installed Garmin 430s, one suction-mounted GPS and what looked to be a brand-new radio stack.
I introduced myself to the pilot and asked where he thought I had been in the circuit. He said he thought he was turning away from me, and I swiftly corrected him!
He said he had just bought a new ADSB transponder and was trying to work it out, which explains why his altitude was off too.
I’m glad I kept my cool as he was very apologetic but I did have to explain the seriousness of the situation and the danger of having all that equipment in the aircraft but not looking out the window!