My first story is one of my own. It was a beautiful summer day. My brother and I were returning to Brampton from a day trip in Parry Sound after a round of golf. Our route would have us flying southbound over Midland then around Canadian Forces Base Borden then under the northwest portion of the class C rings of Toronto Pearson as we descend into Brampton. We duck under the outer rings at about 3,400’ MSL east of Orangeville and head towards the Caledon Gravel Pits. This is a common callout point for local traffic approaching Brampton as it’s 8 NM northwest of CNC3 directly along Highway 10. Local pilots generally stay east of Highway 10 when heading northbound (towards the practice area north of Orangeville, for example) and stay west of Highway 10 southbound. This area is also where the next layer of Pearson’s airspace reaches 2,500’ MSL.
We call our position on the Brampton CTAF. “Lima Romeo India is southbound over the Caledon Gravel Pits at 2,400 feet inbound to land, Brampton.” We then repeat the call on 126.7. As I do this my trusty PCAS (Portable Collision Avoidance System) alerts me of a nearby aircraft. Given the usual volume of traffic in this area, advisory messages aren’t uncommon. I often observe the distance and relative altitude quickly and resume my extra keen lookout. This traffic display was a little different though. 2.1 miles, same altitude. Then 2.0 miles… 1.9 miles… 1.8 miles, same altitude. I did hear a couple of aircraft recently depart Brampton – one for the circuit, the other for the practice area, but the latter aircraft shouldn’t be this close yet, and no one else has called over the Gravel Pits so there must be someone else out here!
My XRX is pointing out the traffic in my left quadrant. That’s where the traffic heading to the practice area WOULD be, but again there’s no way they could be here yet. I call my position again at the south end of the Gravel Pits and continue to lookout while starting my descent to 2,000’.
The traffic is now displayed as 1.0 mile away, 200 feet above, in my aft quadrant. I look around and finally see the target at my 7-8 o’clock position flying east to west about to cross behind me. Thankfully, no threat. But what if I’d have been cruising half a knot slower or departed 30 seconds sooner? How much closer might this have been? This aircraft did not respond to my position reports or offer one of their own. Could they have been unfamiliar with this busy traffic area? Possibly. Did they have me clearly in sight? Maybe. Maybe not. Most others would never have known that the aircraft was even there. And as it turned out, no harm, no foul. But is flying around without the knowledge of other nearby traffic what we’d prefer? Not me thanks!
It is indeed a big sky, but there are areas where aircraft converge that can make certain segments of sky seem significantly smaller. First and foremost, pilots should be sure to maintain a thorough and constant scan for traffic. Communication is also critical, both on local and en route frequencies. Flight following is another great tool if available and if able. Finally, the use of technology to aid in traffic detection should be at least considered. After all, an extra set of “eyes” in the cockpit is never a bad thing, is it?