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How Calm Winds Nearly Led To A Runway Collision

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If you've ever flown into a non-towered airport on a calm wind day, you've probably wondered which runway you should use. Here's how confusion nearly led to a head-on collision.

Mistakes Made By Both Pilots

The following NASA ASRS report details the incident...

I was on final approach to Runway 12 at MLE; winds were calm and the preferred runway for calm winds was Runway 12. When I was about 500 ft above ground, a plane called on the Unicom that he was taking off on Runway 30 (opposite end of my landing runway). I called him on the radio and cautioned him about our position, and impending landing. He did not respond. I flared and on my rollout, I noticed he had begun his takeoff roll. I called again, but again, no response. I had turned on my landing light far out on final, which I usually do. I flashed the landing light several times, hoping they would see us.

I had no choice but to continue my landing rollout, and was ready to exit the runway onto the grass if the other aircraft did not stop. Just before I reached a taxiway to exit the runway, the other aircraft had begun to slow down. He stopped on the runway as I was exiting onto the taxiway.

No collision, no damage, but a little scary. Notwithstanding the fact that my radio communications were not heard by this other pilot, he should have checked the runway visually for any other traffic, which he did not.

The mistakes here are clear. The pilot approaching Runway 12 should have initiated a go-around when the opposing aircraft facing head-on down the runway did not respond to his radio call. The pilot on final approach stated that he was about 500 feet above the ground when he radioed the warning over frequency. There should have been plenty of time to analyze whether the opposing aircraft would hold-short or continue the takeoff.

Additionally, the pilot departing Runway 30 should have monitored the radio, and held short of the runway as the other aircraft landed. On a calm wind day with little traffic, it's easy to fall into a pattern of complacency, especially at a non-towered airport.

Moments like these are when you should be most vigilant. The pilot taking off on Runway 30 either misheard the approaching aircraft, or wasn't monitoring the radio at all.

Is There A Preferred Runway?

If you're flying into a non-towered field, there's often a preferred runway for traffic during calm wind conditions. If it's not listed in any publications, contact a local FBO, flight school, or UNICOM operator to find out.

As you're approaching your destination, monitor the CTAF frequency. That will give you a good picture of which runway other traffic is using.

Are There Intersecting Runways?

Some non-towered airports have multiple runways that intersect. During calm wind conditions, pay extra attention to intersections where there's an added risk for traffic conflicts. You may not be able to see the ends of other runways, making it difficult, if not impossible, to scan for traffic on the ground.


Pay Close Attention To Radio Calls, And Always Ask For Clarification

Take the time to listen closely to each and every radio call made over the CTAF frequency. Have a picture in your head of where each airplane is located and what their intentions are. If you need clarification from another pilot, ask!

If there's someone on the ground to help with traffic advisories like a UNICOM operator, use them as a resource.

When In Doubt, Hold Short Or Go-Around

If you're ever in doubt about which runway you should be using, or where other traffic is, hold short or go-around. It's the safest option you have. Spending a few extra minutes of your time is well worth the clarification in order to avoid a situation like the story above.

Have you ever had a traffic mix-up like this? How do you manage calm wind conditions? Tell us in the comments below.

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