Unlike in cars, we rarely have close calls with other aircraft. Since the sky is so big and airplanes are so small, we commonly have cross-country flights where we see no one. However, it is important to take as many precautions as possible to avoid each other, especially when approaching busier environments such as Smith Field.
The primary way to avoid other aircraft is to look outside. Chapter 4 of the AIM (Aeronautical Information Manual) recommends scanning “with a series of short, regularly spaced eye movements that bring successive areas of the sky into the central visual field. Each movement should not exceed 10 degrees, and each area should be observed for at least one second to enable collision detection.” Although our G1000-equipped aircraft is equipped with TIS (Traffic Information Service), nothing replaces our eyes to see things and stay away from them.
Most aircraft are equipped with anti-collision lights, which are required to be used on all aircraft built after March 11, 1996. In addition to anti-collision lights, our aircraft at Sweet Aviation have landing lights. Landing lights increase our visibility to other aircraft, especially when it is cloudy or dark. I try to use landing lights around airports whenever the sun is not out.
Radios are probably the main reason why we don’t have many close calls. We use radios to call each other (at places like SMD) and to call the people with radar (like Fort Wayne Approach). By talking to each other, we can make sure we don’t end up in the same place at the same time. Talk to Approach Control and get flight following. They can make sure we don’t end up close to anyone else.
Before I was smart:
When I was training in Texas, I had many solo cross-country flights. I usually didn’t get flight following (because radios made me nervous), and I wasn’t very good on the radios (because radios made me nervous). I also tended to look at the G1000 a lot more than necessary (because it’s so awesome). On one such flight, I was six miles west, planning a 45-to-downwind (as recommended in AIM 4-3-3), and I announced my distance, direction, and intentions. Another Cessna radioed that he was east of the airport, three miles out — also inbound.
Being a new pilot, I did not think to ask how he was planning to enter. As I approached downwind, I finally got nervous enough to announce my location again — two miles northwest of the airport at 2100 MSL. As the other aircraft announced that he was at the exact same location, my G1000 started yelling at me (it had TIS). Glancing at the display, which showed his flight path, location, and altitude, I turned right and dove away from his general direction (in front of me). A second later, I saw him right where I would have been. I could read his tail number. It was scary.
Things I could have done to be smarter: received flight following, asked him how he was going to enter, announced my location more often, circled and waited for him to land, and looked outside more.