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This video aims to help you recognize and avoid potentially dangerous situations. A proper scan optimizes our vision for collision avoidance. However, the term may be a misnomer; scan implies a sweep of the eyes, while the correct scan for conflicting traffic is actually a sequence of intense, fixated observations. The eyes need one to two seconds to adjust before they can focus; a continuous sweep blurs the vision.

Divide the sky into blocks, each spanning 10 to 15 degrees of the horizon, and 10 degrees above and below it—for a total of 9 to 12 scan areas. Imagine a point in space at the center of each block. Focus on each point to allow the eye to detect a conflict within the foveal field see sidebar , as well as objects in the peripheral area between the center of each scanning block.

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Also, scan vertically—10 degrees above and below your flight path—for potentially conflicting traffic. Center-to-Side Scan —Start at the windshield center and scan to the left, focusing in each block. At the end of the scan to the left, return to the center and repeat the scan process to the right. MACs are frequently the result of one aircraft overtaking another, so check for overtaking aircraft after every few scans, especially during approach and landing when midair collisions are most likely to occur.

Yet two aircraft on a collision course will appear virtually motionless to each other. When observed from the cockpit, the conflicting target will look like a small, stationary speck until it is at a distance from which it may be too close to avoid.

Haze, flight over open water, or an obscured horizon can make it difficult to see distant objects, impairing the ability to refocus. The same phenomenon can occur when flying over a haze or cloud layer with a high overcast layer above. Focus on the farthest point visible, even the wing tip, to overcome the problem. In poor visibility, repeat refocusing every minute or so. In addition, be extra vigilant when the sun is low on the horizon. It makes any traffic between the observer and the sun very difficult to see. Optical illusions can affect what we see in flight.

It may also be difficult to identify aircraft below you that blend in with lighting on the ground. In addition to atmospheric conditions and optical illusions, irritants in the air, fatigue, age, residual alcohol in the bloodstream, and lower oxygen levels can all impact the ability of your eyes to perform at the optimum level. All aircraft have blind spots.

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High-wing aircraft have reduced visibility of aircraft above them, and can have their view of traffic blocked when making turns in the pattern as the wing is lowered in the direction of the turn. Low-wing aircraft have a large blind spot beneath them that may obscure conflicting traffic when descending into the pattern or while on final approach. Windshield distortion, placement of window and windshield posts, and other structural elements can also hinder visibility.

The brain requires input from both eyes to accurately interpret the visual cues it receives. If a windshield post or other obstruction blocks the vision of one eye, the brain may not perceive the object—even with the other eye providing input.

A high glareshield can also block vision, which is especially problematic during climbout. Eighty percent of the information we absorb in everyday life is obtained through our eyes. An effective scan begins with an understanding of how vision works. Effective cockpit resource management CRM requires an efficient scan. The more quickly instruments and gauges can be monitored and interpreted, the more time available to scan for traffic. An experiment conducted with military pilots found the average time needed to conduct an effective scan was a total of 20 seconds—17 seconds for the outside scan, and three seconds for the panel scan.

CRM also includes effectively handling distractions such as passengers, avionics, and chart management tasks. In addition, GPS receivers are extremely capable, but they are also pilot workload intensive—particularly when multiple waypoints are inserted into a flight plan.

Program the GPS on the ground when not moving to provide more time for scanning in the air. Technology in the cockpit can help pilots see and avoid other aircraft. This system indicates the relative altitude, distance, and bearing of transponder-equipped aircraft within a selected range, generally up to 40 miles. With color-coded symbols and aural warnings called Traffic Advisories TAs , the system indicates which aircraft pose a potential threat.

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TCAS I identifies potential problems, and although it does not offer evasive solutions it supplies important data for determining the best course of action. The system determines the course of each aircraft and whether it is climbing, descending, or flying straight and level. It then issues a RA advising to climb or descend as necessary to avoid the other aircraft. A passive system simply picks up on the results of other third party radar interrogations and the corresponding transponder replies, which can come from ATC, military radar, and active collision avoidance systems.

The signal, rebroadcast by a ground station or satellite, can be displayed in other ADS-B equipped aircraft, giving pilots critical collision avoidance information without input from ground-based ATC controllers. In addition, ADS-B is not dependent on Mode S equipment, which is not installed in all aircraft, nor available from all radar facilities. To determine which options make sense for your aircraft, consider the kind of flying you do, and get the appropriate solutions with this online tool. ADS-B Out — required beginning January 1, , in airspace where transponders are mandatory today broadcasts GPS position to ground stations and directly to equipped aircraft.

ADS-B In — optional generally refers to transmission of weather and traffic information from ground stations into the cockpit, where it can be displayed on panel-mounted avionics or a tablet, like an iPad. Collision avoidance is a basic responsibility of every pilot flying in visual conditions.


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Here are some steps you can take to minimize the threat of a collision in the air or on the ground. Know your route, frequencies needed, and pertinent information for your departure and destination. Fold charts and preset navigational aids to maximize scan time.

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Program avionics and GPS on the ground to minimize heads-down time in the air. Avoid these areas if possible or plan on being extra vigilant during those phases of the flight. If you operate an aircraft without radios or transponders, consider installing them to enhance your safety. Regulations require that aircraft equipped with transponders must have them on during flight in controlled airspace. Educate passengers during the preflight briefing—explain basic scanning procedures and have them assist in spotting traffic.

Communicate when flying in controlled airspace.


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  • At nontowered airports, begin announcing your position when 10 miles out. Use sunglasses that block UV rays to help protect your vision and reduce eye fatigue. Observe proper cruising altitudes and traffic pattern procedures. Announce your position at nontowered airports. Recognize that not everyone follows the rules. Improve your traffic scan by cleaning bugs or other contaminants off the windshield that can block an aircraft from view and make it more difficult to focus properly.

    During climbout, make S-turns for improved forward visibility. At a safe altitude, use cruise-climb airspeeds to get a better view over the nose. Use aircraft lights to help other pilots see your aircraft. Use your landing light on approach, departure, and climbout—especially within 10 miles of any airport. Already a member? Please login below for an enhanced experience. Not a member? Join today. Safety Advisor Collision Avoidance Collision Avoidance Collision avoidance is one of the most basic responsibilities of a pilot flying in visual conditions.

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    This Safety Advisor explains how to identify potential collision threats. It also covers procedures that can lessen the risks of such mishaps. Section 1: Maintaining Separation In-Flight. When and Where Most midair collisions MACs occur in day visual meteorological conditions—the times of best visibility—within five miles of an airport. Half of all collisions occur in the traffic pattern…check ahead, behind, above, and below your aircraft throughout the traffic pattern and make sure final is clear before turning. Accident Statistics for Collisions. Sterile cockpit —The AOPA Air Safety Institute ASI recommends that general aviation pilots limit idle conversation during the first and last 10 minutes of each flight in order to concentrate on aircraft operations and scanning for traffic VFR flight following —Request ATC radar advisories and flight following service.

    Section 2: Maintaining Separation On the Ground. Runway Incursions Situational awareness is critical in avoiding runway incursions whether operating at towered or nontowered airports.