(Russ Beach)
Smiths Falls / Montague Airport

Safety in the Circuit at Our Airport
by CFI David O'Blenis

With the onset of Spring and Summer CYSH comes alive with traffic, particularly on those warm sunny weekends. AND STARTING THE SECOND OR THIRD WEEKEND IN APRIL THERE WILL BE AIR CADET GLIDERS OPERATIONS CONDUCTING RIGHT HAND CIRCUITS ON WEEKENDS.

That’s great !!

But it’s wise to remember that the circuit brings aircraft into close proximity. Safety in these circumstances requires all pilots to exercise standard circuit procedures, courtesy and above all LOOKOUT, LOOKOUT, LOOKOUT !!

But what about safety in the circuit? No sweat, we all say ! Fortunately we had a near miss in the circuit on Saturday afternoon (28March 2009). I say fortunately because it was a near MISS, and everyone survived to talk about it.

We call such occurrences “Incidents”. The word “incident” is deliberately chosen because it is very close to the word “accident”. Fortunately we have more incidents than we have accidents, and each incident has the potential to provide learning so that future incidents and particularly accidents can be prevented.

Learning organizations are safer organizations because they have a culture that takes maximum use of incidents to learn and modify behavior to prevent accidents. As a Flying Club and a Flight Training School we strive to spread the learning by reporting incidents, deriving lessons and applying those lessons going forward.

The Near Miss
In 2009 we had a near miss at our airport. There were seven aircraft in the circuit. An aircraft on crosswind decided to provide more separation from an aircraft ahead on downwind. He did this by executing a right hand 270 degree turn to enter downwind. However a just airborne aircraft on upwind was unaware and turned crosswind at the normal point, and (you guessed it ) they met at the corner of crosswind and downwind. Fortunately they were both not exactly at 1400 feet otherwise the miss would have been an air-to-air impact.

What is the lesson from this incident?
Fly the circuit as prescribed in the regulations. Right turns within a left hand circuit are improper and dangerous. There are many ways to provide safe separation in this circumstance: slow down if practical, or extend cross wind are two examples. Overall we might simply say: LOOKOUT, BE AWARE, BE COURTEOUS, AND FOLLOW STANDARD TC APPROVED PROCEDURES. MAKE CLEAR POSITION REPORTS INCLUDING ALTITUDE, AND INTENTIONS. DON’T FORGET; THERE COULD BE NORDO AIRCRAFT IN THE CIRCUIT EITHER BECAUSE THEY HAVE NO RADIOS OR BECAUSE THEY ARE ON THE WRONG FREQUENCY.

Below are some of the key rules for joining, flying and leaving the circuit at uncontrolled ATF airports like CYSH. (For the full story see Traffic Circuit Procedures-Uncontrolled Aerodromes in the RAC Section 4,5.2 of the Transport Canada AIM)

1. Joining the Circuit
When VFR the preferred method of joining is over mid field at circuit altitude from the dead side of the runway. If uncertain of the active runway pilots should overfly the circuit at 500 or more feet above circuit altitude, ascertain the active, fly to the dead side, let down to circuit altitude and join overhead at mid field., or If the pilot has ascertained WITHOUT DOUBT that there will be no conflict with other traffic entering the circuit or traffic in the circuit the pilot may also join the circuit straight into downwind.


Pilots who plan to enter the circuit should broadcast their position, altitude and intentions 5 minutes prior to entering the traffic zone, and update their progress until established downwind. Pilots executing instrument approaches that result in joining on final must also broadcast their intentions 5 minutes prior to joining and update progress when entering. IFR STRAIGHT IN APPROACHES DO NOT HAVE PRIORITY OVER VFR TRAFFIC IN THE CIRCUIT.

2. Flying the circuit.
Standardization in the circuit is a key to safer operations. Pilots are then able to predict movements of other aircraft and provide safe separation. Safe separation is the responsibility of following aircraft and/or aircraft joining.

Aircraft remaining in the circuit after takeoff must attain level flight at circuit altitude in crosswind leg prior to turning downwind. “Downwind” (with intentions) is a mandatory radio call. “Final” (with intentions) is the other mandatory radio call in the circuit. Report “Clear” after landing when clear of active runway.

3. Departing the circuit
Aircraft departing the circuit on takeoff shall make no turns until reaching circuit altitude. Turns back toward the airport shall be delayed until reaching an altitude of 500 feet above circuit altitude. Aircraft departing the circuit from other legs must broadcast intentions and depart in a manner that does not conflict with aircraft in or joining the circuit.

Special weekend circuit procedures at CYSH
April, May, June, September and October

Gliding operations in progress
On weekends at CYSH in April, May, June, September and October there can be an added circuit traffic challenge. When Air Cadet Glider operations are in progress there is no “dead side” of the circuit. (Gliders and tow plane do right circuits). In this instance joining from the dead side of the circuit is potentially dangerous and should be avoided. On these days pilots should join straight into downwind, sufficiently upwind so as not to conflict with traffic in the circuit on upwind and crosswind legs. Of course gliders have traffic priority over powered aircraft.

Most importantly, sffc pilots who observe circuit conflicts or any other unsafe activity must complete an incident report on the forms posted on the safety board in the clubhouse.

These reports are not for disciplinary action; they are intended to provide pubilicty for lessons learned to make operations at CYSH safer and more enjoyable.

Have fun ! Fly safe!