Final Approach – 100

I flew in to Ballarat Airport recently on my way back from Mildura.

I don’t normally stop in Ballarat because a) it’s usually busy with training traffic, and b) if there’s ever going to be bad weather, it seems to happen in Ballarat. Sorry Ballarat people, but you know what I’m talking about. This time I had to pick someone up, and contrary to what I’ve just said, the weather was fine. The circuit, however, was not. Yes, it was busy. Very busy. There were single and twin training aircraft in the circuit. It is always a challenge with their different circuit speeds. There were students moving to and from the training area. There were also several GA and RA aircraft coming and going and in the circuit. When students are learning how to fly, we expect their radio calls to be a bit ordinary. Their flying is, well, student-like. We make allowances for them. What I don’t think I need to make allowances for is the qualified RA and GA pilots who aren’t passing basic airmanship. What I saw that day included pilots failing to make necessary radio calls, making circuits that were at wrong heights and failing to maintain separation from the aircraft in front of them. I saw aircraft enter runways that they probably shouldn’t have, and aircraft join and leave the circuit without following correct procedures. Were any of these major incidents? No. Was there potential for them to become a major incident? Yes, I think there was. There always is. Having lost friends and relatives in aviation accidents, I am acutely aware of how quickly a normal day can turn into a tragedy.

The most disturbing part of that was that most of these issues were being perpetrated by qualified pilots, often in their own aircraft. When I got home, I had a good read of recommended procedures in joining, leaving and circuiting the airfield, just to make sure I wasn’t misremembering procedure. It’s something we should all do regularly. Maybe you have a perfect memory, but I don’t, so I like to read up regularly. Things change too. When I started flying, the radio procedures and circuit joins were completely different. I have certainly made mistakes when flying. What I saw at Ballarat that day – and I’m sure I would have seen it at any busy airport – were not simple mistakes. I saw arrogance. Experienced pilots who were cutting corners because of a perception that they were not subject to the rules. If that’s how they fly in proximity to the airfield, how is their airmanship? How thorough was their preflight and planning? In my experience, arrogance and ignorance are roommates. In flying, those two will kill you, or worse, someone else.

As an aviation enthusiast, I like to see busy airports. As a pilot on approach, I’m more wary. If we are going to have a thriving aviation community, it is our responsibility to make it safe. We can do this by knowing the rules and realising they apply to everyone.