Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Courtesy Attitude

No one owns the sky, although some people think they do

PATTERN ETIQUETTE. Be considerate—remain aware of your behavior in the air and on the ground.

I don’t normally rant. But this might be an exception. Or at least I’ll clamber onto my ever-present soapbox to make a point. You can blame it on the Cessna I saw this morning parked right in the middle of the hold-short line, rather than off to one side. The pilot acted as if he owned the airport, and the two jets behind him, both with timed IFR releases, didn’t matter. The jets couldn’t honk, but no one would’ve blamed them if they had.

Because I spend more time in the pattern at a busy airport than anyone with common sense should, I have many opportunities each day to observe aerial courtesy, or the lack thereof, in action. And sometimes it’s downright appalling, or at the very least, frustrating.

Case in point: My home airport is reputed to be the busiest single-runway airport in the country, and it’s always in the top three for corporate jet traffic. While on the surface that sounds like a private pilot’s nightmare, it works amazingly well. This is primarily because the tower is so incredibly good at sequencing everyone in, regardless of speed. Additionally, everyone (okay…almost everyone) who flies in or out of my home airport tries to make the situation work. And then an LSA with an inconsiderate (or at least unthinking) pilot started a flight-training operation here, and through his actions, has become a thorn in everyone’s side.

Now, don’t reach for your poison pen. I don’t want to receive any nastygrams about how I’m “anti-LSA” or an elitist who looks down my cowling at low-and-slow airplanes. If anything, I’m just the opposite. Cubs rule! What I am, however, is a practical pilot who knows that when I’m coming down final at something around 45 knots, I don’t need to be flying a three-mile final every single time.

I’ve lost track of how much of my students’ time I’ve wasted sitting at the end of the runway watching that LSA make its excruciatingly slow way down final. It’s so frustrating that, honestly, it’s just a matter of time before I leap out of the cockpit, run to the threshold and knock him out of the air with a tennis racket. Come on, guy, shorten your patterns! This goes for all those GA pilots who insist on not turning base until the airport is no longer in sight. Overly long patterns are unnecessary and inconsiderate, and they’re not safe practice. All you have to do is lose just one engine, and you’ll stop flying big patterns.

Many of us spend lots of time in slow-moving airplanes, but we always try to remember that someone is probably following us, so we have to compensate for the lack of speed by shortening all the legs of the pattern. The same thing applies when flying something fast: We have to remember that not everyone is going Warp 9, and plan our patterns accordingly. There’s also the ground-bound aspect of being considerate. In my little airplane, we taxi quite a bit slower than most aircraft (we do lots of S-turning), and we’re acutely aware of the fact that we may be holding up the parade. Therefore, we keep a careful watch behind us, and if a fast mover is coming up on us, we turn off and let it pass. Everyone is in a bigger hurry than we are, which we understand, so we pull over to the curb.

And then there are the people who forget, or don’t care, that they have a small tornado blasting out the back of their airplane. You’ll see them hammer the throttle and blow their tail around between aisles of parked aircraft, blowing dirt all over everyone in the process. Or they crank up, knowing there’s a crowd behind them, and rather than letting the airplane idle forward a distance, then turning, they sit there calling ground control, sorting sectionals, etc., all the time making life miserable for those behind them. This is especially a problem at fly-ins where picnic baskets and lawn chairs are part of the decor: It knocks the edge off the picnic fun if someone powers up and scrambles the potato salad.

And then there’s the irritation of airplanes taxiing around the ramp and taxiways with the strobes on. We put strobes on an airplane for one reason: They’re bright and, for that reason, they keep us from getting run over when we’re flying. Having them on while on the ramp probably won’t do much to stop collisions. The next time you’re in the run-up area, notice how irritating it is when an airplane next to you has his strobes flashing even though he won’t be departing the area for a couple minutes. Be kind to your neighbor and don’t flip the strobes on until you’re in the process of turning onto the runway. This is especially true later in the afternoon or at night.

And how much heartburn does it cause when we turn between a row of airplanes only to find that someone has left their bird sitting out in the open blocking the way, while they get a Coke. No, he didn’t intend on causing an incoming pilot inconvenience, and yes, he intends on coming right back, but none of that counts when someone makes the corner only to find he has to figure out how to turn around and get back out. If he can.

There’s a basic attitude or thought pattern that can be applied to aviation, and I’m pretty certain I didn’t invent it: It says something about “do unto others…” We can look at our own actions in this light: If what we’re doing was once done by someone else and caused us inconvenience or otherwise got under our skin, then there’s a high probability that it’ll do the same to others around us. So if you’re going to be the good guy, you have to put yourself in the other guys’ shoes and behave accordingly. No one likes an inconsiderate pilot. Soapbox closed.

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