Fly Respectfully

Flying at uncontrolled field requires pilots to pay attention to others.

Tip Oceano County Airport

Tip Oceano County Airport

Oceano County Airport
(Photo: Eric Shalov via Wikipedia Creative Commons)
Eric Shalov via Wikipedia Creative Commons

When flying into uncontrolled airports, you rely on other pilots in the area to help avoid midair collisions by following the recommended procedures and communicating intentions on the common traffic advisory frequency (CTAF). Without a controller providing guidance, it is important to follow the recommended arrival and departure procedures to minimize the risks. While radio calls should be kept to a minimum, you should make sure that other pilots know where you are and what your intentions are. Unfortunately there are pilots who make their own rules.

This weekend, I flew to Oceano (L52), a small airport within walking distance of the scenic Pismo Beach in California. There was a fly-in there and it just happened to be one of the hottest weekends this year in socal, so L52 became a very popular destination. On Saturday afternoon, there was also a "flour bombing" contest in which about half a dozen pilots tried to hit a target box as close as possible using packages filled with flour.

Just as the competition was going on, an airplane arrived from the northwest, cut in right over the runway numbers at well below 1,000 feet, circled once over the final approach path, then, likely after realizing there was a line of airplanes circling the airport, flew out through the downwind before entering a more standard approach pattern. The airplane put several of the pilots participating in the competition at risk.

Flying respectfully around uncontrolled airports is not difficult. If you want to overfly the airport to inspect the runway and see where the wind is coming from, do so at least 500 feet above the pattern altitude to stay clear of any airplanes in the pattern. Then enter the downwind leg on a 45-degree angle on the recommended side of the runway. Make short, appropriate calls to make sure other pilots know your intentions. But remember, a radio is not required, so there may be some pilots who are not communicating. Pay attention and be respectful of those who are already in the pattern.

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