SportAir Microlights

Lesson learned: Base to final close call

Learning from our mistakes is one of the best ways to improve from our own experiences and advance ourselves as aviators. Being able to admit to being in the wrong and taking stock in a healthy, positive manner can be beneficial to the individual but if shared, potentially many others too. With permission, this is a lesson learned from an anonymous source. The situation is genuine but no names, locations or aircraft registrations have been included.

The individual had been asked to go on a day trip in a PA28 from one south coast airfield to another. The weather was fine and very reasonable. The aircraft was full with 4 adults and it is worth noting that the pilot was not intending to be pilot in command that day but accepted the offer once he had arrived at the airfield. It should also be noted that the pilot is very low hours with recent completion of his PPL and low hours on type.

The departure and route was generally uneventful.

The pilot was one of several aircraft in a group to arrive at the destination airfield. He knew he had one more behind him. The circuit on arrival was quite active with a warbird in the circuit as well as several other GA light aircraft.

They joined the circuit via the overhead, descended on the deadside. However, due to a busy circuit, the pilot decided to perform a go around during final. At this point the pilot was very keen to land, aware he had passengers, aircraft behind him, a busy circuit and unfamiliar airfield. While trying to maintain awareness, manage the aircraft, his passengers, radio and keep sight of where the runway was he found that his downwind leg was gradually converging towards the airfield. The workload was stacking up considerably.

Illustration for lesson learned base to final

© Sportair Microlights

The pilot continued the circuit aware of the warbird ahead of him and another aircraft calling long final which was currently outside of the circuit. Once on baseleg the pilot was so focused on all of the elements he lost awareness of where the aircraft was on long final.

Lesson learned - aircraft on base leg

© Sportair Microlights

Turning onto final, he was made aware by the aircraft behind that he had ‘cut him up’. The pilot behind, flying a C152 called a go around. The airfield was air/ground radio only and the warbird ahead was only just touching down. He found himself uncomfortably squeezed between a landing aircraft and an aircraft likely above performing a go around rapidly running out of time.

Lesson learned - on final with go around aircraft and unclear runway

© Sportair Microlights

Quickly weighing up his decisions he decided to continue the landing as opposed to risking a go around and flying into the aircraft above which he could not see. Touching down on the runway, the exiting warbird had not yet called clear of the runway. After speaking to the pilot behind and the airfield manager the situation was calmly discussed and de-briefed.

Lessons learned

No one was hurt and no aircraft were damaged during the incident but it certainly was not an ideal situation. There are several interesting learnings from this that others may benefit from too.

  • If you are feeling overwhelmed or your workload is starting to overtake you, safely leave the circuit and remain well clear to collect your thoughts. Once you have collected yourself, thought through a plan and reestablished yourself ahead of the aircraft, you can make an appropriate reentry into the circuit to try again. In other words, give yourself space and leave the circuit to join again when there are less distractions.
  • The aircraft on long final should be giving way to aircraft already in the circuit and therefore should give way to the aircraft on baseleg. However, the rules also state no taking advantage through cutting in. Arguably, the pilot was established in the circuit and did not intentionally ‘cut in’. It’s important to make clear and regular position reports to provide situation awareness to other pilots so they can make decisions too. “Giving way” is a term used often on the radio and not a rule that can be practised. As a pilot it is up to you  to exercise good airmanship and manage the situation such that everyone is not placed in jeaopardy by your actions.
  • Our pilot decided to land even though technically he should not have because the runway was not clear (the pilot had not called clear of the runway). He felt he had a clear site of the potential hazards in front of him on the runway rather than the unseen hazards above him. If in any doubt always go around. According to the rules of the air, the aircraft which is closer to the ground during a landing has right of way over aircraft higher up. This means our pilot had right of way over the pilot behind which had initiated a go around at a greater height.
  • In this scenario, our pilot could have called a go around and increased height to half-circuit height knowing that the aircraft above was going to full circuit height. Once he had established visual contact with the aircraft, continued to climb to circuit height to make another attempt at landing, having followed the circuit pattern once more.
  • Regardless of what’s happening, aviate, navigate then communicate.

What do you think you would have done in this scenario? How do you think you could avoid being in the same situation altogether?

As mentioned at the beginning, we are all human and we make mistakes from time to time. Hopefully, by sharing a broad view of this particular incident, we might take away a few useful learnings ourselves.

Disclaimer: This post was written for reader entertainment only and was up to date at the time of writing. Always seek a qualified flying instructor or qualified professional for more information regarding aircraft and airfield operations, equipment, regulations and aviation legislation.