“See and Avoid” – The Foundation of Safe Flying

“See and Avoid” – The Foundation of Safe Flying

by Jacob Tacke, CFII

When you start your training as a student pilot, there’s a lot to learn. Some concepts, such as aerodynamics and weather theory, require focus and intensive study to grasp, and most people would agree that these topics are far from simple. On the other hand, a seemingly simple concept might be
overlooked or its importance not fully understood by the beginning pilot. One such concept is the cornerstone of traffic separation– “see and avoid".

When you ask a first-time student pilot what kind of conditions are most likely to cause a midair collision, they frequently respond with conditions associated with bad weather. According to FAA Advisory Circular 90-48D, the reality is the majority of midair collisions and near midair collisions occur in good weather and during daylight hours. More often than not, these are the conditions in which a
student pilot will be training in.

It is your regulatory requirement, as per 14 CFR 91.113, to maintain vigilance so as to see and avoid other aircraft. Ultimately, when scanning for traffic and maintaining situational awareness, the ultimate goal is to ensure separation by seeing the other aircraft with your own eyes. I find that student pilots,
especially those who have started their flying in recent years, discount looking for traffic due to an over-reliance or misunderstanding of where ADSB-out is (and isn’t) required, as well as an assumption that other aircraft will follow AIM-recommended procedures.

ADSB-Out shouldn’t be the reason you aren’t looking out!
Since 2020, the FAA has mandated all aircraft to have ADSB-Out in the airspace required by 14 CFR
91.225 which includes:
● Class A, B, and C airspace;
● Class E airspace at or above 10,000’ MSL, excluding airspace at and below 2,500’ AGL;
● Within 30 nautical miles of a Class B primary airport (Mode C Veil)
● About the ceiling and within the lateral boundaries of Class B and C airspace up to 10,000’ MSL;
● Class E airspace over the Gulf of Mexico, at and above 3,000’ MSL within 12 NM of the U.S. coast.

Notable absences from this mandate include Class G airspace, wide areas of Class E airspace, and Class D airspace. These are all airspaces where student pilots will likely be operating in on a consistent basis.
As pilots, knowing the regulations and how they pertain to us is our legal responsibility, but when it comes to traffic separation and collision avoidance, the regulations also give us a basis on what equipment and practices are (and aren’t) required for the other aircraft operating around us.

As already discussed, an ADSB-Out signal is something the new student pilot will likely see broadcasted from the majority of other aircraft in our post 2020 ASDB mandate world. However, this can lead to what I call “false situational awareness". 

For instance, say a student pilot is returning to their home base at a non-towered airport. About 10 miles out, the student pilot makes their AIM recommended position report on the radio and begins determining what method would be appropriate to enter the traffic pattern. Glancing at the moving map display in the training aircraft’s avionics suite, the student thinks, “There’s only one airplane in the pattern, I can probably come straight in.” Confident in their
assessment, the student proceeds to the airport, only to be surprised when they find an additional aircraft turning base to final in front of them that wasn’t showing on their screen inside the airplane. In this instance, the student was complacent in their legally required duty to “see and avoid” other aircraft
because they assumed that any aircraft nearby would have ADSB-Out capability.

What about the radio call?
The new student pilot is also often surprised to learn that in Class E and G airspace there is no legal requirement for other aircraft to make the radio calls that they have so diligently learned to make themselves. In fact, in those airspaces, there is no legal requirement for any radio to be installed in the
aircraft. In the previous example of the aircraft with no ADSB-Out seemingly cutting our new pilot off, we can add the fact that the other aircraft had no legal requirement to have a radio either.

Why regulation vs. recommendation matters
By studying the FAR/AIM in depth, we can understand both what practices the regulations mandate of us, and what practices are purely recommendations. Most pilots are happy to comply with recommendations on broadcasting position reports on CTAF, turning on their ADSB-Out equipment, and performing standardized pattern entry procedures, because they know it makes everyone safer. A good pilot should know that vigilance is always warranted, because all of these procedures are optional in non-towered environments. Even with all of today’s advanced technology available in the field of air traffic separation, the only way to find some of the aircraft operating in these environments will still be
by looking outside to “see and avoid”.

by Jacob Tacke, CFII

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