Airport Safety

Like many pilots, safety is my top priority. It is no surprise that EAA and NTSB have safety on their most wanted list, and State Departments of Transportation and FAA have a squad of safety officers circulating through the system looking for ways to raise the bar on safe operations. The challenge has many faces:


This needs to be addressed by all those concerned & involved.

Most small airports could use a further boost in safety. We are currently working on a project that will have pilots more aware of issues that could significantly enhance safety of operations at uncontrolled airports. Pilots, airport managers and others interested in this program are encouraged to contact us to discuss the various aspects of our project.

Aeronautical Information Manual, Section 4-1-9: Traffic Advisory Practices at Airports Without Operating Control Towers, reminds us that there is no substitute for alertness and situational awareness in the vicinity of an airport.
Read AIM on FAA.gov See page 190: 4-1-9.

Everyone involved wants to be operating in a safer environment, and so far no one has seen a solution. I say that better information, made more available, will go a long way toward making the difference.
Is it possible to make operations safer at small uncontrolled airports?
Are there simple things to do that will make a big difference?
We think so. Safety is everyones concern.
Full Safety Paper with images

Small, uncontrolled airports make up the bulk of nearly 20,000 aviation facilities nationwide. These airfields are both essential and irresistible to general aviation pilots -- providing a light aircraft system within the larger system -- for business and pleasure fliers alike. Small airports provide bases of operations for fliers and aviation-related businesses, waypoints on the quest for the best $100 burgers, reasonable fuel prices and great destinations for travelers and adventurers.

Talking with fellow pilots and many managers of uncontrolled airports I find they all want a safer environment, don't know what else to do about it and nearly everyone wants to join this conversation to promote safer operations. Each of these conscientious folks has a host of complaints and concerns; and they all have stories of practices they observe with regularity that are unconventional and pose hazards. Here are several that I hear recurrently:

  • On the ground, especially at smaller, older airports, I see runway incursions frequently: someone or a vehicle inside a non movement area, other than an aircraft operating normally through the sequence of taxiing out, taking off, landing or taxiing in.
  • At small airports without standard taxiways an airplane may be landing or taking off at the same time as an aircraft taxiing in or out in the non-movement area.
  • People execute straight-in approaches against local procedures both where it is ill advised and often without reporting their intention to do so.
  • Pilots practicing approaches -- in contact with ATC at some uncontrolled airports that have published precision approaches opposing the no-wind runway -- will fly that approach down to minimums without ever changing to advisory CTAF to inform other users of their location and intentions. Meanwhile normal VFR operations are landing and taking off from the opposing no-wind runway.
  • Pilots often take-off in a no-wind or slight downwind situation, opposing the published no-wind runway.
  • People are frequently found entering the traffic pattern inappropriately and without regard for published procedures, noise sensitive areas, and other aircraft in the pattern
  • Pilots flying cross-country under 6000 MSL are regularly transiting our intensive waivered aerobatic practice area without stating their intention, checking if anyone is using the airspace and often without knowledge.
  • How can visiting pilots know the critical and specific details necessary for operating safely at uncontrolled airports. There is insufficient information; people and property are at risk.

We recently produced a new prototype safety device for Santa Paula Airport, a small, 80 year-old, well-loved public facility in southern California where earlier this year a young and vital air show pilot and his passenger died unnecessarily when their aircraft flew into wires a mile and a half from the airport. The pair of large format poster-signs below are highly detailed and illustrated graphically & photographically with normal operations and otherwise unavailable or hard-to-find critical safety information. They are displayed in a high visibility area where pilots will see them: the fuel island. You run your credit card and the display is staring back at you; it is nearly impossible for a conscientious observer to miss. People flying here for more than a decade have said they were unaware of some of the important details shown. The airport manager is delighted. The airport managers who have heard about this project are unanimously enthusiastic. The information will save lives. Other obvious places for display at larger airports might be the cafe lobby, the pilot briefing room and, for everyone, the airport website. Take a stand. Have a decision-maker call us and we will make arrangements with your airport manager to have your pilots and visitors operating in a safer environment.

Visit our website again soon for updates about this safety project.

It's when things are going just right that you'd better be suspicious. There you are, fat as can be. The whole world is yours and you're the answer to the Wright brothers' prayers. You say to yourself, nothing can go wrong... all my trespasses are forgiven. Best you not believe it.
Ernest K. Gann
"The Black Watch"