Converging aircraft – what would you have done?

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From NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System

airplane taking off

Aircraft Y, landing behind us, was on a 1-mile final as he made a radio call.

My student and I were in the [Runway 5] pattern.… I was instructing my student on patterns and proper procedures. I had heard on the radio two aircraft in the area: Aircraft Y calling a 10-mile final for Runway 5, and I heard Aircraft Z make a takeoff call for Runway 14. The winds at the time were favoring Runway 5. My student and I had already made a previous takeoff and landing on Runway 5 for pattern practice. After I heard the plane taking off Runway 14, I actively…searched for him and could not spot him, so I started to divert my attention to the other aircraft landing on Runway 5. My student started to turn base when Aircraft Y called a 5-mile final behind us. We continued down to the runway and made a safe landing. We came to a full stop on the runway to clean up the airplane and make a very short debrief because Aircraft Y, landing behind us, was on a 1-mile final as he made a radio call. We made a radio call stating that we were departing Runway 5.… I was making sure that my student was doing the proper procedure on takeoff. We were approximately 10 knots below our rotation speed when I looked up and to my left and noticed that there was an aircraft taking off [from] Runway 14…on a direct collision course [with us].

What would you have done?

I immediately aborted the takeoff by quickly pulling the throttle to idle and applying full brakes and taking the controls from my student. We started coming to a stop when I announced on the radio that we were aborting the takeoff because of the aircraft departing [Runway] 14. We stopped on the runway and watched Aircraft Z continue their takeoff and…not make any radio calls. Aircraft Y, I believed now on the ground,…made an ‘on the go’ call and departed the area to the south. Aircraft Z departed the area, and we continued our lesson with no further incident.

After the flight, the pilot of Aircraft Y contacted me…to fill each other in. I could tell by the sound of his voice that my aborting the takeoff and his subsequent go-around really shook him up. We talked on the phone about each other’s perspectives, and he said that because of… Aircraft Z [departing 14] and my aborted takeoff, that on his go-around, he almost stalled the airplane and crashed behind or into our aircraft. He was going to stay in the pattern behind us, but decided to go back to his airport after the event.

This event…may have been prevented in a couple of ways. Aircraft Z…should have been listening to the radio and should…not have taken off.… They could have waited until both aircraft were safely out of the way and back into the air before departing the runway.… I may have missed the radio call by…Aircraft Z. Maybe I should have stopped talking and listened. Aircraft Y also could have given me a bit more time to assess my situation and given my student and me some more time to take off again.

Eric Radtke
23 replies
  1. Bobby Roe says:

    As an 800-hour pilot, I believe stop-and-go in a busy pattern (let alone one with intersecting and active runways) is a poor choice. I also believe any briefing is better done before entering the runway to minimize time you’re “holding” the runway: for a stop-and-go that means before landing. Either of these changes would likely have gotten you out of the way before the crossing departure; and both together would have avoided the risk entirely.

  2. John M says:

    This airport where you were conducting stop and go’s – were there any taxiways? Stopping on a runway is only safe when there’s no one else around or its being conducted at a tower controlled airport. Sadly, radios are Not required at these pilot controlled airports. Perhaps the pilot taking off didn’t have one.. Trying not to be judgmental but, it seems that it would have been safer to simply land and turn off of the runway. An airplane on a 1 mile final is really only 30-40 seconds behind you.

  3. Gluck Jim says:

    Wow. This is so scary and completely avoidable by you. You and you alone are responsible for this incident. Had you exited the runway and taxied back to runway 5, no dangerous situation would have ever occurred. At an uncontrolled airport with crossing runways and multiple aircraft operating, an intersection takeoff is dangerous and in this situation, a very poor decision. You say aircraft Z didn’t make a call, but earlier you said he made the call but you didn’t see him. That’s because he didn’t take off. You call and ask his position. And then you took off from an intersection with an aircraft less than a mile from landing and with your attention diverted teaching? Another bad decision. What if he had to abort the landing, and he was faster. That’s a recipe for a collision. His almost stalling suggests an inexperienced pilot. You put him in a situation that he was not comfortable. And I stress you. Get off the runway and there is no dangerous situation. Z takes off with plenty of separation from Y.
    Scares me to think that your only thought as to responsibility is maybe not hearing a radio call. Just because, as a flight instructor, you fly often at that airport, you don’t have any more rights to use. See that arrogance in instructors often.

  4. CJN says:

    I would have not come to a full stop on the runway to clean up the airplane with another behind me on final. Clear the runway. The CFI should have at least advised the incoming aircraft so they could also make a decision earlier to go around.

  5. RichR says:

    Yes, 14 traffic could have waited.

    You had no requirement to do a stop and go, you could have taxied off, returned to the hold short and waited for the situation to settle out.

    Safer to focus on the part of aviation that you can control than depend on others to do that.

    • RichR says:

      …and traffic behind you could have made a xwind turn to downwind behind both you and 14 traffic to avoid conflict instead of trying to slow and wait.

      • Carl says:

        Agreed. The straight in a/c should have been more aware of their closure rate and switched to a go around earlier or maneuvered to enter the pattern on downwind.

  6. PhilR says:

    Forcing a conversation with Aircraft Z would have been good in retrospect. Until everyone was on the same page as to who was doing what, it might have been better to abort the landing and get back in the pattern.

  7. Bryan Costello says:

    Not sure if aircraft Y was intentionally practicing X-wind TOALs, but regardless should have used the runway favored by wind (rwy 5) when other traffic was present and using 5. In the end, however, agree with RichR – don’t depend on others to do the right thing – you are PIC.

  8. Lindley says:

    Yes, Aircraft Z should have made better radio calls, but what made me first pause with this story is “We came to a full stop on the runway to clean up the airplane and make a very short debrief….” I was taught to NEVER stop on the runway and most certainly not with traffic coming in to land behind you. It’s either touch and go (no stop) or taxi clear of the runway.

  9. Jeff says:

    From my point of view, depending on the “pilot flying’s experience” he owns the runway until he’s clear. Still, my intention as a considerate pilot is to take the first turnoff that doesn’t require me to slam the brakes on and burn flat spots on the tires. All said and done, when landing be ready to go around. If flight instructors were doing their job this shouldn’t even be a question. BTW, I’m a retired Northwest/Delta Captain and have been in such situations more than I can count.

  10. Stu says:

    The comments of making a short debrief and configuring for takeoff seems to undicate that this was a sort of long stop and go. Was the stop and go announced? Seems like others expected a full stop from the student plane as they continued. If not a touch and go, the CFI should have exited immediately and taxed back. This gives a safer place to debrief and reconfigure…clear of runway. Also, if one can’t find a plane making a takeoff call on intersecting runway, teach your student to go around. It’s training flight so no hurry to beat other aircraft landing and departing. Love to hear to comm on this or hear the other pilots version of events asi t would seem that what we have here is…a failure….to communicate.

  11. Clayton L Cranor says:

    It is easy to suggest the plane taking off from 14 is at fault, but (and I am assuming this is a class G airspace airport) there is no requirement for aircraft to be radio equipped. A NORDO aircraft does have the responsibility to see and avoid, and to avoid conflicts in the pattern. As for aircraft Y, it is his responsibility to maintain separation in the pattern, and his go around was the proper action. Having a J3 without an electrical system, I teach my students that it is absolutely essential to be aware of the traffic pattern in use and to fit in, and not to use procedures that may not be expected, such as long straight-in approach, take-off and landing opposite to the wind indicated, and similar. While ‘legal’ that are not the safest in NORDO aircraft. There would be no excuse for this if the aircraft that took off from 14 had a radio but either was not listening to the appropriate frequency or ignoring the other traffic.

  12. Richard DalCanto says:

    You shouldn’t have turned base to final in front of another airplane already on final. You should have extended your downwind leg and come in after him/her.

  13. pdg says:

    Generally when another plane decides to use a runway that is not the current pattern runway in use, I try to call them and see if they will use that pattern. At that point with another plane on final, you really could not use 14. This was an accident waiting to happen, I may have peeled off out of the pattern until the plane using 14 was clear, if I could not get ahold of him. If you were already committed to landing, you should definitely not stop and go, but clear the runway asap and let things settle down. I agree with Rich, focus on what you can control.

  14. Christopher Graul says:

    You came to a full stop on the runway when you knew there was a 5-mile and then 1-mile final. I put this all on you. Any full stop on a runway is not a terrific idea, but I understand the need for Stop-and-Go, but not when aircraft is so close behind you.

  15. Terry B says:

    Busy air traffic at an uncontrolled field seems to create these conflicts regardless but I agree that a better idea than stopping on the runway would be exiting the runway to a taxiway/ramp for debriefing or doing a touch-and-go. Either one minimizes time on the runway. Of course, had you done a touch-and-go, perhaps the aircraft taking off unannounced from the crossing runway would have posed a greater threat, so there is no perfect solution. NORDO aircraft or those that simply don’t announce position and intentions are the biggest threats. I was well established on final at an uncontrolled field when a World War II plane taxied onto the runway forcing me to go-around and stay to the right and above for safe clearance. The aircraft may have been NORDO but the crew could have at least looked out the window toward final before taking the runway. Be safe out there

  16. Rick Junkin says:

    Here’s a different perspective – The CFI who filed the NASA report may be the one at fault.

    The questions that immediately come to mind:
    1. Did the CFI and his student announce they would be performing a stop and go?
    2. Being aware of the departing traffic on the crossing runway, was the CFI devoting enough of his attention to the potential for a conflict?
    3. Did the CFI’s decision to execute an unannounced (my assumption) stop and go give the RWY14 departing traffic the impression they would be sitting there long enough for him to depart? A question from the departing pilot would have cleared that up.
    3. While in the pattern and hearing traffic call on 5 mile final, did the CFI announce his intentions to take longer on the runway, or perhaps consider it in advisable to execute a stop and go?
    4. Hearing a traffic call at one mile final, did the CFI make a radio call saying they were still stopped on the runway?

    As for the traffic on final, poor execution of a go around is no one’s fault but his own.

    In fairness to all involved it appears from what has been extracted from the NASA report that all parties, except perhaps for the pilot on final, failed to communicate adequately. The advisability of executing a straight in approach with traffic already in the pattern is a different question, especially if it can be determined that there is a student in the pattern.

  17. DonD says:

    I may be old school, but it isn’t about what the other aircraft were doing. With an aircraft on final behind you, you chose to do a landing to a full stop, clean up the aircraft, debrief and then take off. Absurd. Under those conditions you either do a touch and go or full stop landing, clear the runway, clean up the aircraft, debrief, and taxi back for another takeoff. The aircraft on 14 didn’t put anyone in jeopardy. You did by stopping with another aircraft on short final. You forced the aircraft behind you to initiate a go-around.

  18. Karl says:

    Sounds like all three were at fault in this situation. Aircraft instructing shouldn’t stop on the runway to instruct with other aircraft landing and taking off. Pull off and taxi back for take-off to be both safe and polite. Aircraft Y should have entered the pattern for landing—it’s safer and what other pilots expect and allows better observation of the airport situation when you know other aircraft are using the pattern. And Aircraft Z, when using the cross wind, non favored runway needs to be extremely careful and very vocal—or better yet, use the runway that is in use before they even got to the runway. They really had no business using runway 14, and were being very unsafe.

  19. Jack R says:

    I have flown for over 30 years, I have north of 2500 hours, mostly in an Archer and now all daytime VFR. Virtually all of that time I have been based at a very busy, uncontrolled airport in the SF Bay Area. It is particularly busy during the day on a VFR day and has a lot of student traffic.

    I am very concerned about how dangerous the pattern is on those days, and that is a major reason I am considering stopping flying. I have followed and studied all of the material on proper procedure at uncontrolled airports and am appalled at how little understanding there is, even amongst instructors as to what the focus needs to be in communication and behavior in the environment.

    First and foremost the objective is to avoid collision. Conduct and communication must have this as its virtually singular objective. Reading all the regulations and material it is clear that not only should your position and altitude be communicated, but also your intent. So that other pilots know where to look for you. From my first 10 mile communication I say how the landing will terminate and my direction of flight. I believe this is required.

    Any pilot landing should say if it is full stop, touch and go etc. If it is touch and go or taking off, the direction of flight so pilots in the vicinity know where to look for you. It is amazing how many pilots don’t do this so other pilots have no idea where you might pop up.

    Your pattern entry should be adjusted for location of other planes, I know the recent change has indicated otherwise and I think that is wrong. At our field we have a number of jets, they should and always come straight in; to say they should fly the entire pattern if other planes are in the pattern sets up major speed conflicts with much slower planes.

    You should include your altitude in call ups and say the airport slowly, clearly and twice so there is no confusion.

    I find the conduct of the author of this article very reckless. Why would anybody, without an emergency, stop on a runway with a plane on final? Why would anybody stop on a runway without broadcasting that was your intent at each stage of the pattern?

    Keep in your head a picture of the situation and what you need to do to minimize conflict and minimize it. Just like a football QB, you have to read where all the defenders are and where the open grass is before you launch a pass.

    Read the account of the Watsonville midair. A pilot on downwind with a plane on final turns base without locating the plane on final, then when he sees the conflict, instead of proceeding straight on base or sidestepping he attempts to maintain separation only with altitude by doing a go around instead of gaining separation with both altitude and location over the ground. He pays for this misunderstanding of the big picture with his life.

    Perhaps my favorite idiotic radio call is someone is “taking the runway”. I hear it all the time and my reaction is always, please don’t , I need it.

  20. RMac says:

    The only thing you can control is what you are doing and all I can see is this is very ugly baby. An uncontrolled airport, a straight-in approach and a cowboy on the runway all at the same time. I guess the first thing I would have done, would have attempted to contact the departing 14 aircraft while I was still on the original downwind and verify if he had taken off and cleared the area OK. If there wasn’t a response to my query, I think I would have informed the straight-in approach aircraft of a possible 14 departure aircraft conflict, exited the pattern and reset so i could get a good look at the entire runway prior to making a second attempt. By this time the straight-in approach would have either already landed, gone around or be close enough that I could extend the downwind and trail in behind him.
    I’m not comfortable with the idea of a stop and go on the runway, especially with another aircraft on long final. I train to clear the runway and then clean it up. I’ve read many reports on the subject about the screwed up mindset such as it is. Many examples asked just what the hell were you thinking when you did this stupid whatever snafu? and how, right or wrong, the pilot defended themselves with, “that’s how I was trained.”

  21. Del says:

    You did not announce a touch and go. Never debrief on runway they are active. Taxi off announce you are clear and off runway. Aircraft Y Not hearing runway is clear shouldn’t assume it is. Be ready to go around.

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