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How A Practice Instrument Approach Led To A Near Mid-Air Collision With VFR Traffic

You're a flight instructor or safety pilot scanning for traffic while your friend flies an approach "under the hood." Suddenly, a VFR airplane cuts off your final approach. What now?

Report: View Limiting Device And NMAC

The following report was published last year to NASA ASRS. It details a near mid-air collision (NMAC) event where an instrument student flying "under the hood" was told to go-around off an RNAV approach by their instructor. VFR traffic had turned in front of them on short final. As you read the report, think about what could've been done differently...

My flight instructor and I were performing a practice RNAV XX approach into ZZZ. We had received radar vectors to the final approach course from ZZZ TRACON and were approaching decision altitude. I was using a view limiting device and was monitoring the instruments and autopilot, while my CFI was scanning for traffic. About 500 feet above decision altitude my flight instructor called out "GO AROUND!"

I immediately disconnected the autopilot and initiated a climb straight ahead, still using the view limiting device, when my CFI instructed me not to climb. Due to the confusion, I immediately removed the view limiting device and saw Aircraft Y approximately 150 feet in front of and 50 feet above us. I initiated a left-hand turn to the south, and shortly thereafter was instructed by ZZZ Tower to go-around to the south immediately. I climbed to 6,500 feet MSL on a 180 degree heading and went around for an additional attempt at the RNAV approach.

This report shows how important it is for an instructor or safety pilot to focus their attention on scanning for traffic with another pilot "under the hood."

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The Perfect 'My Controls' Moment

With conflicting traffic directly in front of the aircraft practicing an instrument approach, the instructor probably shouldn't have instructed the student to fly a go-around under the hood. An unexpected go-around call might catch the student off-guard and they could freeze; it happens all the time, and it's why instructors are supposed to mix random go-around callouts into training. Worse yet, with no visual reference, the student could have flown the go-around even closer to the conflicting VFR traffic.

Keep in mind, the instructor probably realized the mistake after the conflict. Teaching students through real-world experiences is important, but only if it doesn't jeopardize safety of flight.

Had the instructor called for "my controls" or "my airplane" and initiated the missed approach while maintaining visual contact with the traffic, they most likely would have maintained a safter distance from the other aircraft while executing the missed approach.

Review: Defensive Positioning

Whether you're a private pilot, CFI, or airline pilot, you should have some form of defensive positioning established when you're not the pilot flying.

Defensive positioning doesn't mean hovering your hands over the throttle and control yoke. Instead, during critical phases of flight, you should have one hand positioned to quickly reach the throttle, and your other hand should be placed beside or below the control yoke.

If you have to take the controls away from another pilot, always follow the positive exchange of control procedures. Avoid "helping" another pilot fly the airplane; it will only create confusion about who's actually flying. Do your best to verbalize your concerns first, and then take the controls if truly necessary.

ATC Separation Failure Or Pilot Error?

Another failure in this chain of events was the VFR traffic crossing in front of the IFR traffic on final approach. This event took place at a towered airport, meaning either the conflicting traffic didn't follow instructions or the tower made a separation mistake. Either way, never assume that because you're flying IFR that you don't have a responsibility to scan for traffic.

Once ATC realized what was happening, they used the word "immediately" to convey urgency in avoiding an imminent situation. Immediate action with a substantial climb or descent is necessary for safety when you hear this phrase.

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What Else?

What else could've been done to avoid this NMAC? Have you experienced traffic conflicts with VFR aircraft while flying IFR? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.

Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and an Embraer 145 First Officer for a regional airline. He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota in 2018, holds a PIC Type Rating for Cessna Citation Jets (CE-525), and is a former pilot for Mokulele Airlines. He's the author of articles, quizzes and lists on Boldmethod every week. You can reach Swayne at swayne@boldmethod.com, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

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