INSIDE OUT OR OUTSIDE IN?
Flying|December 2021
What kind of pilot should you be?
Amy Laboda

PERUSING THE INTERNET, as I often do with my first—OK, maybe second— cup of coffee in the morning, I came across a Q&A poll on pilotworkshop.com that stopped me cold. It asked: When flying in the airport traffic pattern, do you use onboard equipment to locate other aircraft?

The poll showed that of pilots who answered the question, 34 percent (more than 2,100 individuals) answered yes. This was in contrast to the 65 percent (more than 4,000) who said no, they only scan visually in the pattern.

There are two ways to interpret these results. The optimist sees a pilot keeping their eyes outside the cockpit with their head on a swivel in the traffic pattern, which is, according to FAA/National Transportation Safety Board data, the most likely point in a flight for a mid-air collision to occur. Any place in space where airplanes tend to come together—such as an en route VOR, popular waypoint, or an airport—can be a midair hotspot.

What concerns me about this particular Q&A is that with so many aircraft equipped with graphically displayed traffic-spotting information in the cockpit, so few noted that they use it in congested airspace. FIS-B/ ADS-B equipment is not being leveraged by the majority of pilots precisely when it could be of use. If you know how to use it, of course.

I get it on one level. These pilots are saturated in the traffic pattern. There are aircraft on the ground squawking ADS-B, and those targets are painting within the typical “danger” ring on an ADS-B display, even though they may just be sitting on the ramp waiting for a taxi clearance.

But here’s the thing: That target on the ground may be crossing the runway you are about to land on—a very real threat. And there is traffic in the air at close proximity that is perfectly separated and sequenced from you, such as the guy on crosswind turning downwind while you turn base or final.

What you might only see on your ADS-B if you fly a low-wing or mid-wing airplane, however, is the pilot on the straight-in directly below you who isn’t talking at the nontowered airfield. Or with a high-wing, you might miss the aircraft a few feet above you, descending faster than you to “catch” the glideslope you are diligently following.

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