Being a pilot means being proactive, taking control. A reactive pilot probably has a shorter lifespan than a proactive pilot. My last flight had two moments that illustrated that for me.
Approaching Kankakee, their AWOS was reporting wind from 340 at 4. I made the standard radio calls and was lined up for downwind on 34 when I noticed a small low-wing waiting behind the hold short lines on runway 4.
As you can see, the end of runway 34 crosses runway 4. In the event that I made a go-around or landed long at the same time as this guy was rolling for takeoff, we could experience a mid-air or on-ground collision. Is that likely? Not really, but it would be a very bad day if it happened. I made a change of plans.
“Kankakee traffic, Archer 175…I see someone on the hold short for runway four, so I’m going to go south of the field and circle around to a straight-in for runway four.”
A voice crackled over the unicom. “Oh…well, thanks a lot. We were going to wait for you but we can go now. That really cuts down our ground time, thanks a lot…Piper now taking runway four for departure to the north.”
A quick exchange of courtesies followed. I flew several miles south, then west, and made a three-mile final for runway four. It took maybe an extra three minutes on my part, but I felt a lot safer eliminating the variable of a departing aircraft on the crossing runway. As an added bonus the other pilot got out a lot quicker. It worked out really well. When I made my next radio call the other pilot thanked me again.
Could I have continued for 34? Absolutely. Would the other pilot have taken off? Probably not, but you never know. Accidents are usually a confluence of unlikely events, and the easiest way to prevent them is to break the first link in the chain. And it’s not like there have never been accidents where two airplanes collided at a runway intersection. With that in mind it seemed safer to take positive control of the situation and keep the other airplane where I could watch him.
Back at Schaumburg later in the day, there was a similar situation. I was preparing to enter the traffic pattern when two airplanes called for departure. A Mooney took off first, rocketing through the pattern and then out to the south. Easy to see, and no factor for me. The second was a Cessna. He claimed to be taking off, but I could not see him, and it was looking like we’d be on top of one another in the pattern. I slowed down and tried to figure out where he was.
Unable to find him, and knowing he’d just taken off, I didn’t want to enter the pattern and have the classic high wing / low wing conflict. I made a radio call and turned a 360 just south of the field to give him some space.
He called crosswind, so I followed, and then we both turned downwind. Neither of us could find the other. I was getting ready to break off the approach when the other pilot simply offered to let me go first. I gratefully accepted. The Cessna called me in sight when I turned base; I never saw him until after I landed.
A big part of flying is risk management. In my mind, good communication and positive control are both forms of risk management. If you’re not sure what someone else is doing or where they are, either find out or make plans to avoid them. Don’t just bumble along and hope it’ll work out. A lesson that works well for life AND for flying.