Aviation Safety Newsletter - Volume 1, No. 2b

Submitted by on Wed, 01.10.2003 - 00:00

Conflict Resolution Within the Circuit

The circuit above an airport is designed with the orderly flow of traffic in mind. However, there are always circumstances that can lead to potential conflicts between aircraft within the circuit, and pilots must always be vigilant to be able to detect conflicts early to begin resolving them as soon as possible.

Radio Radio Radio

If you see even a hint of a conflict approaching, get on the air immediately and find out the other aircraft's intentions – they may not have seen you yet or noticed the impending conflict.

If you don't know the aircraft's call-sign, refer to the aircraft by its position in the circuit - the pilot should be able to easily recognize his location by your description. Not knowing an aircraft's call-sign can lead less-experienced pilots to refrain from attempting radio contact - to remedy this situation if it affects you, try out these examples:

  • "Aircraft on takeoff from 27, this is..."
  • "Aircraft in the crosswind for 27, this is..."
  • "Aircraft turning downwind for 27, this is..."
  • "Aircraft that just turned downwind for 27, this is..."
  • "Aircraft in the mid-downwind for 27, this is..."
  • "Aircraft in the downwind approaching base for 27, this is..."
  • "Aircraft parked and shut down with no one on board, this is..."

...and you add your own position and say something to the effect of, "we may be in conflict." If you are about to take evasive action, say so in this message as well. The reply should come back with an agreement as to the conflict and a course of action on their part, if any. If you get no response, you may want to add a description of the colour of the aircraft as well, but by now (this being the circuit) you may have to take evasive action if your radio call is going unheeded.

Conflict Aircraft Gets ‘Behind’ You

Once a potentially conflicting aircraft is behind you, your responsibility is toward what is ahead of you. Don’t waste your precious attention by turning your head around to search for aircraft behind you. It is the responsibility of the pilot behind you to keep clear of your aircraft at this point.

Extending Your Downwind Leg

While on the downwind leg, there may be an aircraft or two ahead of you. No conflict exists, but you have the potential of creating conflicts if you turn to base too early, thus cutting in ahead of the ‘line-up’ for the runway.

A good rule of thumb to keep in mind while on the downwind leg is to not turn onto base until the aircraft ahead of you in the circuit is on the final leg and has passed ‘underneath your wings,’ from your point of view. You may have to extend your downwind leg to do this. If you do extend your downwind, it is good practice to announce your turn to “long base” so that anyone else behind you knows you’ve extended your downwind and they won’t now be cutting in ahead of you.

Keep this ‘underneath your wings’ rule of thumb in mind when in this kind of situation, since you cannot extend your base leg without potentially coming into conflict with traffic arriving from the east.

Announce Your Positions More Often

It is standard practice to announce entering or turning into the downwind leg and then when turning final. However, if there is a lot of traffic in the circuit, or there is traffic behind you, or you have just done an extended downwind as discussed above, you should also announce when you are turning onto the base leg of the circuit; e.g. “Rockcliffe traffic, GPHV turning base, Runway 27,” plus your usual “full stop,” “touch-and-go” or “stop-and-go” intention.

If you hear an incoming aircraft asking Unicom for an airport advisory, and the Unicom operator does not answer or says “There are aircraft in the circuit,” you might think about being courteous and safe by giving your current position in the circuit as well, especially if you have just taken off and you are planning to stay in the circuit.

Turn Away From the Circuit

If you must take evasive action, consider turning away from the interior of the circuit. For instance, if you have just turned right downwind on Runway 27 and you see a conflict with traffic entering the mid-downwind from the south that isn’t responding nor budging, you could leave by turning away to your left, heading northward, away from the 'interior' of the circuit (and in this particular scenario, you’d have to be aware of the Gatineau Control Zone and any traffic there, even with your first priority of evading the conflict).

If you are the one joining the mid-downwind from the south, instead of continuing straight to the mid-downwind, alter your course to swing out and behind the downwind traffic. This has happened to me several times already, and if the circuit isn’t crowded, it seems to be the popular course of action.

If you are heading to join the mid-downwind from the south and find yourself in conflict with an aircraft already on the downwind, you could climb above the traffic and depart the circuit to the North.

Keep Your Wits About You

Evading conflicting traffic within the circuit may not happen very often, so if and when it does happen to you, you may find yourself flustered. Remember to keep flying the aircraft first, and if you do make some evasive maneuvers, keep in mind that you’re in the circuit and that your airspeed might have decreased, you may have cut power if you were on base or even final, so that you probably don’t want to initiate a steep turn and start climbing at the same time! Do what you have to do, keeping in mind the usual proper procedures that apply to the maneuvers you are initiating.

Three Rules to Avoiding Conflict in the Circuit

  1. Do what you must to avoid the conflict
  2. Do what you must to avoid the conflict
  3. Do what you must to avoid the conflict

-- this means you must analyze the situation quickly, keep thinking straight, and execute the necessary actions to avoid the conflict. It could be as simple as keeping an eye on the other aircraft or executing a good turn to get out of its way. This is where your pilot-decision-making skills come into play because there really isn’t a set checklist you can reach for when a conflicting situation is developing in the circuit. Keep the traffic in sight, try to contact it, and change your aircraft’s altitude and heading if you must.

Watch for Float Planes

With CYRO on the shores of the Ottawa River, you have an extra item to be on the look-out for when flying in the circuit. Consider the following anecdote from a Rockcliffe Flying Club member:

“Just last week I had an encounter with a float plane (as did the pilot in AXF ahead of me). Just as I was turning cross-wind after take-off, I saw a Cessna float plane heading directly toward me. He was a bit higher, but I was climbing and he was descending. I delayed turning cross-wind until he had passed and we were no closer than about 200 metres. But he was not on the radio, and appeared to be totally unaware of the Rockcliffe airport and its active circuit. He passed through the middle of the cross-wind leg of the circuit at about 800 feet, descended and turned back towards the West for a water approach on the North channel of the river. I made a call giving his location and actions, and that he did not appear to be monitoring the Rockcliffe frequency. The lesson here, I think, is watch out for float planes! They are sometimes in their ‘own world.’”