Pilot suspended after near-collision at YVRA

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— A March incident at Yampa Valley Regional Airport has resulted in a 60-day certificate suspension for a SkyWest Airlines pilot, though he has appealed the decision.

On the afternoon of March 1, SkyWest pilot Timothy McCabe, who was operating a United Express flight, reportedly told Denver air traffic controllers that he had landed when he was not yet on the runway in Hayden. Denver gave a nine- to 12-passenger King Air clearance to take off. The planes narrowly avoided a collision, observers said.

Neither plane was talking to YVRA on its UNICOM radio system when the violation occurred, said West Routt Fire Chief Bryan Rickman, who was operating the radio. He could do nothing but watch as the United Express pilot saw the King Air on the runway and maneuvered to avoid a collision.

"I was scared to death we were going to have a major incident there," he said.

McCabe was operating a 66-passenger CRJ-700 as United Express flight No. 6573. The Federal Aviation Administration issued the suspension of McCabe's Airline Transport Pilot certificate, and an administrative law judge for the National Transportation Safety Board affirmed it Nov. 13.

That ruling does not close the book on the incident, regional FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer wrote in an e-mail.

"The airman has notified the Board that he intends to appeal this decision to the full board, so the action is not final until his appeals are exhausted," Kenitzer said in the e-mail. "Until that time, he continues to exercise his airman's privileges."

SkyWest spokeswoman Marissa Snow said Tuesday that the airline has strict communication procedures.

"At SkyWest, safety is our first priority. We have strict standard operating procedures, including communication procedures at non-tower airports, in place to ensure the safety of our passengers is always first," Snow said. "However, SkyWest takes violations of safety protocol very seriously and will ensure corrective action follows any final decision in this case."

Typically, Rickman said, planes have one radio tuned to Denver's frequency and another tuned to YVRA's UNICOM frequency. YVRA is an uncontrolled airport, which means it doesn't have a tower that's part of the FAA air traffic control system.

At the time of the incident, Airport Manager Dave Ruppel said the SkyWest pilot told air traffic controllers in Denver that he was canceling "instrument flight rules." Instrument flight rules are a set of rules for flying by aircraft instruments only, while separation from other aircraft is provided by air traffic control. When a pilot cancels those, he then operates under "visual flight rules" and is responsible for navigation, obstacle clearance and traffic separation.

Typically, several pilots said at the time of the incident, pilots switch to the local UNICOM system after canceling instrument flight rules. Doing so would have put McCabe in contact with YVRA.

On March 1, McCabe told Denver controllers he was "on the deck" while he was still in the air, said Rickman, who testified at the hearing. Although Rickman could hear what was said between the planes and Denver, he could not break in because only aircraft are allowed to communicate on that frequency.

"I was screaming on the radio, 'Don't take the runway, we've got an airplane that (is) ready to take off,'" Rickman said. "Nobody was on the radio. Neither of the pilots heard that."

Rickman said he expected a collision either above or on the runway. His adrenaline shot through the roof.

"That's probably one of the worst things you can imagine would happen when you are a firefighter at an airport is a nose-to-nose collision," Rickman said. "Especially at those speeds."

Comments

cityworker 5 years, 11 months ago

Good luck on your appeal...not! Hope you never fly again, ego's are to be left on the ground.

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Scott Berry 5 years, 11 months ago

This is not about egos, it is simply a combination of bad habits and sloppiness. Not unlike the pilot who landed in Craig a couple of years back. And, there is no wiggle room in his appeal. He is toast!

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Tubes 5 years, 11 months ago

This IS about egos when you appeal such a decision when you obviously screwed up. Acting like you are infallabe and did nothing wrong rather than squaring your shoulders and accepting responsilbity is wtihout question egotistical. That's commoncents dude.

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JLM 5 years, 11 months ago

As a pilot, I would have to say this is a serious enough violation that the pilot should serve a timeout. It could have been a real tragedy and it was not --- simply by a bit of luck. The blame, however, goes a long way around and should be explored.

Here are some things which should be looked into:

Both pilots should have been on the Unicom frequency though the landing plane could have taken the position that it was still in the IFR system until it cancelled on the ground. Even though, a competent pilot/co-pilot would have been monitoring the Unicom frequency for some considerable time inbound. Looking and listening for traffic in the vicinity of an airport while inbound for landing is a basic responsibility whether IFR or VFR.

Even if IFR, the departing King Air should have been on the Unicom. Absolutely no excuses there. He's not in the IFR system until he is advised "radar contact" at altitude by Air Traffic Control. Until he hears those words, he is responsible for his own separation, if possible.

ATC should have advised the landing aircraft that there was a departing aircraft at Hayden. "Be advised, King Air departing Hayden."

ATC should have advised the departing aircrft that there was a landing aricraft at Hayden. "Be advised, landing traffic is a regional jet."

ATC should have advised the departing aricraft that an aircraft had, in fact, landed at Hayden to ensure the runway was clear for takeoff for the King Air. "Traffic just landed at Hayden was a RJ, please verify off the runway. Position and hold, cleared for takeoff upon verification."

ATC might also have advised the departing aircraft of the possibility of wake turbelence. "Caution wake turbelence, landing traffic." An RJ is arguably not a big enough aircraft to caution a King Air but if I were flying it, I would appreciate knowing that fact.

Safety at non-controlled airports --- those without towers --- requires constant vigilance and attention. This is not a small thing. It is only a matter of time before the mixing of lots of traffic, lax radio discipline and lazy air traffic control brews up a fatal cocktail. It can be prevented by good radio procedure, strict adherence to the rules (IFR/VFR, separation) and attention to detail.

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SkitheBoat 5 years, 11 months ago

This is all hard to believe. There are so many points that do not make sense. I would love to hear Air Traffic Control (ATC) recordings and Cockpit Voice Recordings (CVR). There's obviously much more information regarding this event than what has been released to the public, otherwise the airline would not be escalating this issue with the NTSB.

I am suspecting that McCabe did not cancel IFR. "On the deck" (in no way shape or form) provides a cancelation request.

I am also suspecting that the Fire Chief's transmissions might have interrupted transmissions between the two aircraft!

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SkitheBoat 5 years, 11 months ago

"I was screaming on the radio..."

  1. How long was the Fire Chief screaming on the Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF)? This event would not allow transmissions between the two aircraft (as I stated above).

  2. Was the Fire Chief accidentally holding down the mike key due to adrenalin, thus not allowing transmission between the two aircraft?

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seeuski 5 years, 11 months ago

As a layman here it seems that blaming the Fire chief makes no sense. The pilot said he was on the deck when he was not. And according to the testimony the Fire Chief could not transmit to the pilots and therefore would not have affected their transmissions. Stop the conspiracies.

"On March 1, McCabe told Denver controllers he was "on the deck" while he was still in the air, said Rickman, who testified at the hearing. Although Rickman could hear what was said between the planes and Denver, he could not break in because only aircraft are allowed to communicate on that frequency.

"I was screaming on the radio, 'Don't take the runway, we've got an airplane that (is) ready to take off,'" Rickman said. "Nobody was on the radio. Neither of the pilots heard that."

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JLM 5 years, 11 months ago

Whether the ATC understood any message --- including "on the deck" --- is up to ATC. The proper response from ATC, if the plane were still in the air, would have been: "Cancellation received. Squawk VFR. Frequency change approved. One plane standing by for immediate departure at Hayden."

Had there been any confusion the pilot could have said: "Cancelling IFR."

It is the responsibility of both parties to understand the other.

If the RJ had cancelled and was not yet on the ground then position reports would be required: "Hayden Traffic, RJ XXX turning final, inbound landing, Hayden Traffic." OR "Hayden Traffic, RJ XXX, short final runway XX, full stop, Hayden Traffic."

This is not rocket science, it is done every day across the country.

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SkitheBoat 5 years, 11 months ago

I'm starting to get the feeling that the regional jet never intended to cancel IFR in the air in the first place; that the transmission was broken, causing ATC to issue an IFR cancelation, which was heard by the Fire Chief who freaked out and took it upon himself to "scream" over the Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF), not allowing both the jet and the King Air to hear each other's advisory broadcasts.

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SkitheBoat 5 years, 11 months ago

This seems like a case where there were four different parties and too much miscommunication between the four of them: 1. ATC 2. Regional Jet 3. King Air 4. Fire Chief

Only transcripts of the recordings will provide us with the answer.

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JLM 5 years, 11 months ago

I am not sure exactly why the Fire Chief was monitoring the CTAF/Unicom, but there is nothing nefarious there. On an uncontrolled field (like Hayden), it would not be unusual for a fire department located at the field to monitor the inbound traffic if for no other reason than to respond to an inbound emergency. That's why they are located at the field.

There is no technical or legal reason why the Fire Chief could not speak on the CTAF/Unicom freq. You can buy a handheld aviation radio which has that capability. I carry one with me routinely in case my main radios ever go out. They are sold by aviation pilot stores and require no license to own or operate. Folks also use them to get the weather transmission (ATIS/ASOS/AWOS) at an airport without the necessity of firing up the engines and avionics of the airplane.

If a transmission is "blocked" --- someone is talking over somebody else --- you can tell that this has happened and you just transmit again. This happens all the time with CTAF/Unicom and ATC. All the time!

While this is a serious matter, there is undoubtedly a very, very simple explanation.

The pilot of the RJ screwed up by cancelling IFR while in the air? Maybe not because he had no obligation to cancel in the air, he could have cancelled on the ground. The "on the deck" lingo is a bit odd but certainly understandable. In any event, ATC has an obligation to understand exactly what the pilot means while the pilot certainly has an obligation to use good radio procedure. A bit of blame for both.

If the pilot meant he had or was landing, then ATC would usually say: "Cancellation received. Squawk VFR. Frequency change approved. Traffic departing Hayden is a King Air." This would have alerted the pilot of the RJ that ATC understood him to cancel IFR, had directed him to change his transponder code to VFR, directed him to toggle to the CTAF/Unicom freq and alerted him to the fact that a King Air was preparing to depart. Pretty normal stuff.

The pilots of the RJ and King Air failed to monitor or announce on the CTAF/Unicom freq --- my personal favorite.

ATC failed to understand that the RJ was cancelling and to provide a final traffic advisory --- after all they had apparently cleared the King Air for takeoff and they therefore had an obligation to provide a traffic alert to the RJ.

Come combination of the above --- likeliest scenario.

There may be a few facts missing, but there is no conspiracy here. Sorry!

Complete conjecture: I would expect an RJ to have on board radar and have been able to "see" the King Air on the ground. The King Air might also have radar (a bit less likely) but would likely have had a traffic advisory system. The King Air was likely not pointing in the right direction to "see" the RJ but the RJ was bearing down on the King Air and would have undoubtedly seen the King Air. Little point.

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SkitheBoat 5 years, 11 months ago

JLM: "On board radar" to see airplanes on the ground?"

This clearly presents me with the fact you have never operated a turbine aircraft in your entire life! Perhaps the Cessna 172 you're flying has an onboard radar!

On my Hawker, its called a transponder. JLM, your flight instructor is calling you in to practice your steep turns.

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JLM 5 years, 11 months ago

I hate to argue with a big Hawker pilot. Kinda like arguing with a bus driver about who has the fastest bus. I usually find guys who brag about their hardware actually have to get pretty close to the fixture not to dribble on their shoes. A bit lightly armed and slow for my taste actually. If you catch my drift, rube. LOL

I hate to confuse things with facts but even little TCAS systems pick up transponder signatures of aircraft on the ground. If the transponder is on Mode S, then the traffic alert will pick it up. What I was talking about was "radar augmented TCAS" which is a new technology and very affordable and which has already been deployed on many modern RJs. It's a very new twist and looks interesting.

These days I am relegated to flying a little turbonormalized A-36, ah, but once upon a time.....! Ooops, gotta go practice my steep turns. Jerk. LOL

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Russell Orms 5 years, 11 months ago

Ah, i see pilots are as wacky to each other as the potheads

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aichempty 5 years, 11 months ago

The thing I have most often observed about pilots of commuter-size aircraft is that they DON'T LOOK OUT THE FREAKIN' WINDOW!

These guys are accustomed to having every hummingbird pointed out to them by Approach Control and pretty much don't have any external scan going on for traffic, and no development of their peripheral vision.

The airplane on approach to landing should have been able to see the traffic on the ground and act appropriately to avoid a big freakin' deal like this. The fact he called "safe on deck" while still airborne indicates his head was up and locked.

Anyone who is depending on TCAS in a UNICOM field environment is just asking to run up the rear-end of a light aircraft in the pattern.

Complacency kills more pilots and passengers than anything else. Failure to look outside when operating in VFR conditions (even if on an IFR clearance) is gross negligence and this guy got exactly what he deserved.

Oh, by the way -- good luck on getting the job back after 30 days. I suspect the insurance company will take care of that little detail.

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