Close Calls: Out of the Blue PDF Print E-mail
Written by Anthony Nalli   
Thursday, 24 February 2011 09:37

As would usually be the case on a good visual flight rules (VFR) weekend, our pilot and his wife, both pilots, were taking their Katana DA20-A1 on one of their favorite flights from Ottawa, Ontario (CYOW) to Lachute, Quebec (CSE4) for breakfast. Lachute, a small general aviation airport in the Montreal, Quebec area, is a favorite destination for them because there are plenty of open fields en route (just in case), a relatively low volume of traffic east of Ottawa, a friendly staff and great breakfasts. The airport also provides a free taxi service into town and bikes if you want to get some exercise on your way there.

As usual, after departing CYOW, Ottawa terminal air traffic control (ATC) cleared our pilots to their cruising altitude of 3,000 feet on a heading of 095 toward Dalkeith, Ontario. This would take them south of the Hawkesbury gliding area. Not abnormal for this altitude, Ottawa terminal lost radar contact approximately 25 nautical miles east of Ottawa.

The usual routine would normally have our pilots switch to the en route frequency for about 15 minutes without radar and traffic coverage followed by a call to Montreal center once a little closer to Montreal to continue with flight following. On this particular Sunday, however, Ottawa terminal suggested that our pilots contact Montreal center immediately for flight following which, while very unusual for this route, was very much appreciated by our pilots.

Five minutes later they received a traffic advisory from Montreal center pointing out traffic heading their way at 3 o'clock, five nautical miles and 2,600 feet — unconfirmed. Thanking ATC for the call, our pilots started the search for the traffic.

“My wife, the eagle eye, picked up the aircraft almost instantly but I did not see it until it was about two miles south of our position,” informs our gentleman pilot. “This high-wing Cessna eventually passed directly below our low-wing Katana with approximately 400 feet of vertical separation on would have been (if not for the 400 foot buffer) an absolute 90 degree collision course!”

Our pilot asks, “With two pilots in our plane at all times, we are both diligent in looking for traffic but I wonder how much longer it would have taken us to see this Cessna without the help of Montreal center ATC giving us the heads-up while it was still five miles out? How long was before the Cessna even saw us?”

Continues our pilot, “While there really was little danger with 400 feet of vertical separation and the aircraft clearly in sight, it does reinforce the idea that proper scanning techniques are a must and that the little airplane/big sky theory really doesn't wash even when you are flying in areas of very low traffic with 15 statute miles (SM) VFR visibility.”

Our pilot concludes, “We'd like to thank all of the ATC staff who help us every day and let them know that VFR pilots really do appreciate flight following at all times when their time and workloads permit.”

I’ll second that!

Fly safe(r).

From the March 2010 issue of Cessna Owner