Traffic In The Sky

Traffic In The Sky


articles-brettpinecrestHave you often wondered how aircraft avoid each another?

South Florida has particularly busy skies, with many aircraft ranging from small single-engine planes to the huge jumbo jets of this modem aviation era. There are many rules that help provide air traffic separation.

Have you ever wondered how air-planes avoid running into one another when flying in the clouds or weather with zero visibility? There are many rules that separate airplanes in what is referred to as instrument meteorological conditions. IMC conditions exist when airplanes are flying with minimum or even zero visibility. To fly any type of air-plane with minimum or zero visibility, the pilot must have an IFR license. IFR stands for instrument flight reference.

Pilots work together with ATC, or air traffic controllers, and there is a team effort to keep aircraft safely separated. There are three separate rules that govern traffic calls from air traffic controllers.

The first is the traffic advisory and its purpose is to make an instrument pilot aware of visual VFR, or visual flight reference, traffic in his vicinity. There are many pilots flying in South Florida who do not have instrument ratings and are flying primarily on visual cues.

The second rule of control used is known as merging target procedures. Merging target procedures are called IFR aircraft target symbols on the radarscope, which are going to touch.

The third rule the controllers must follow is the safety alert rule. Safety alerts are traffic advisories given when there is a very real possibility of a collision.

A very important rule that pilots fol-low relates to the direction of their trav-el and the altitude they must fly. VFR pilots when flying from 0 to 179 degrees must fly at odd thousands plus 500. For example, when flying at 90 degrees, a visual flight reference pilot is supposed to be flying at 3,500 or 5,500, and so on. A pilot flying IFR when flying zero to 179 should be flying at odd thousands, such as 3,000 and 5,000. This is a very helpful rule in separating air traffic.

The only pilot that is allowed to fly into the clouds with zero visibility is one with an instrument rating. Those pilots usually will be in constant contact with air traffic controllers around the world.

The air traffIc controllers will provide pilots with radar advisories with respect to other traffic, helping provide separation. Sometimes radar services are not available. In those cases, organized flight plans serve to separate air traffic.

The pilots flying on instruments in IMC conditions must file a flight plan with the FAA. That flight plan serves to separate air traffic because the FAA is aware of all flight plans filed for that route.

When flying by visual rules, known as VFR, pilots are not required to file a flight plan. But it is recommended. A pilot flying visually must observe certain rules of the road. For instance, when approaching the vicinity of a busy air-port, such as Miami International, the pilot must fly certain altitudes above and/or below and outside of the Miami International’s airspace.

Even airports such as Tamiami, which has less traffic, have certain rules related to what proximity a pilot flying visually must maintain when at or near such an airport. Additionally, most air-planes of today have a transponder on board. A transponder is an instrument that provides an airplane with the ability to have a specific code that air traffic controllers can use to identify that air-plane. The code is unique and enables controllers to track the airplane’s altitude and location, and provide air traffic separation service.

Air traffic separation is a combination of science, good piloting and good judgement and a team effort between pilots and air traffic controllers. Whenever possible each pilot must always be on the lookout for other air traffic, regardless of whether they are an instrument pilot or visual pilot, to create greater safety for passengers. These rules are applicable to the pilot flying a small single-engine plane, as well as the captain flying a jumbo 747 into the Miami International.

Brett Panter is a licensed commercial pilot with more than 800 hours flight time, is an auxiliary pilot for the U.S. Coast Guard and is rated for both commercial multi-engine and single’engine instrument flying. Panter is a board certified civil trial attorney and a partner in the law firm of Panter, Panter & Sampedro, P.A. PA., with offices at 6950 N. Kendall Drive. For more information, please call 305-662-6178, send email to, or access the firm via the Internet at