July 6, 2017

See and Avoid Limitations Cited


The Transportation Safety Board has concluded its investigation of a 2015 midair collision near Fort McMurray that drew international attention from a video shot of a heavily damaged floatplane landing after the collision. A flight instructor and student from McMurray Aviation were killed when their Cessna 172 broke up and crashed after the collision but the pilot of the Cessna 185 on floats was able to land on the grass infield at Fort McMurray Airport even though one of his floats was missing and the other was hanging at an odd angle. The accident took place in the training practice area northeast of Fort McMurray and the TSB found that it essentially was just an unfortunate accident for which no one was to blame and which could possibly have been avoided if the aircraft had collision avoidance gear on board. “This accident has demonstrated yet again that relying solely on the see-and-avoid principle to avoid collisions between aircraft operating under visual flight rules (VFR) in congested airspace is inadequate,” the TSB said.

The accident happened on a clear evening at 2,800 feet over the practice area. The pilot of the floatplane knew he was in the practice area as he descended for landing and he made a position report on the enroute frequency (126.7). The radio on the training plane was destroyed in the crash but normal procedure was to monitor 126.7 while in the practice area but it’s not clear if the instructor and student heard the traffic advisory. The student was on his third lesson and was practicing a climbing turn when he crossed at right angles to the path of the floatplane. The TSB speculated that the student and pilot were likely preoccupied with the challenges of completing the manoeuvre rather than looking outside for other traffic and the floatplane pilot had no reason to think there was another aircraft in the area. “In summary, neither pilot saw the other aircraft in time to avoid a mid-air collision, due to the inherent limitations of the see-and-avoid principle,” the TSB concluded. Since the accident, Nav Canada has added a flight training chart symbol to the Canada Flight Supplement’s terminal procedures chart for Fort McMurray and also included it on the VFR chart for that area.