Final Checks


Although I had practiced go-arounds during my primary training, it was a few years after earning my private certificate before I had to perform one in anger. I was on final for a small, non-towered suburban airport, having made my radio calls all the way around the pattern. About a half mile from the runway threshold, the Piper Warrior I had spotted in the run-up area taxied onto the runway and began its takeoff roll. I was not happy.

I sidestepped to the right as I added power and started climbing away. At one point, I was about 100 yards off the Warrior’s right wing and more or less level, so I shallowed my climb to let it get above me, and then followed from a distance until it was time for me to turn crosswind and try again. I made a normal pattern and landed.

Later that morning, I was still at that airport when the Warrior landed with its student and instructor. The instructor indicated the airplane I arrived in and said something about seeing it as they took off. In response, I said something about checking final approach before taking the active runway and walked away.

I don’t know what was going on in that cockpit, but one thing the student/instructor didn’t do was turn their airplane toward the runway approach path to check for landing traffic. It’s something that was drilled into me early on, and to this day I always either take a long look at the approach path from the perpendicular taxiway before entering the runway or do a 360 in the run-up area to scan for traffic. It’s saved me from being the Warrior’s instructor a few times.

One of those times was when I was departing Class B International. I had been holding on a taxiway perpendicular to the runway when tower cleared me for takeoff. I also had canted the airplane a bit toward the approach path to enhance my view and when the clearance came through, looked up the final before acknowledging. That’s when I saw the light twin about a quarter-mile from the threshold, gear and flaps out, seconds away from touching down on the runway I had just been cleared to use.

I told the tower controller I’d hold for landing traffic and was greeted with silence as the twin landed and rolled out. After it cleared the runway, a different voice on the tower frequency cleared me for what turned out to be an uneventful takeoff.

The lesson I learned from both of these events was a fairly simple one: Always visually check the final approach path for landing traffic before taking the active, even at towered airports but especially at non-towered ones. The corollary? Always expect the airplane in the run-up area to taxi onto the runway in front of you approach the runway threshold. If you think of it in those terms, you’ll always be pleasantly surprised when it doesn’t.

Learning Experiences

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