Bottlenecks In The Sky

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It was a beautiful day over South Florida, perfect for my flight instructor’s mission of racking up some practice approaches. I was in the right seat, acting as her safety pilot. We had chosen some non-towered airports for this practice, and were acutely aware we weren’t the only people out flying this fine day.

In addition to the electronic flight bag apps running on our respective tablets, the panel-mounted multi-function display was showing us ADS-B In traffic in the vicinity. We were clearly announcing our position and intent throughout, listening closely to the CTAFs at the airports we were using and then coordinating our plans with other pilots in the area, as needed. All was going well.

After making all the calls and at about halfway down the final approach leg at one airport, we were both startled to hear a pilot announce he was turning final for the same runway were approaching. There was nothing on the ADS-B traffic displays. I had my head on a swivel, to include looking behind us, but couldn’t spot the traffic. We were nearing that procedure’s minimum descent altitude anyway, so the approach counted. Unable to spot the intruder, the smartest thing we could do was to initiate the go-around, fly to the missed approach point while climbing and head off for the holding pattern. Which is what we did.

We rolled into the turn toward the hold as we passed over the airport and finally saw the announced traffic, which was on the ground now and taxiing to its hangar. Given the timing and the distances, the traffic had to have been right under or behind us down the straight-in final we were flying. The only thing we heard from that pilot on CTAF was the single announcement he was on final approach. He never acknowledged us.

Both the CFI and I have been doing this long enough to know we did everything right, and later agreed on that point. The intruder either wasn’t paying attention or didn’t care, and I’m not sure which is worse. The bottom line for me is that, while it’s a big sky, bottlenecks like the final approach leg deserve extra attention, communication and courtesy.

Fly defensively.

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