A Cessna Citation pilot climbing away from the runway looks up from engaging the autopilot to find a Cessna 172 filling his windscreen. His exclamation - with transmit button pressed - says it all: "Whoaa!"

The event happened at Biggin Hill, not far southeast of London, a busy general and business aviation airport. Both aircraft were cleared for what they were doing, the Citation taking off for a departure, the 172 approaching from the deadside to join the visual circuit downwind.

The visibility was good, visual flight rules applied, the circuit contained active traffic. So, although the tower was providing clearances, separation was primarily the pilots' responsibility.

The UK Airprox Board's report warns of inherent risks in mixing high- and low-performance aircraft, and calls for greater awareness of them. If events like this can happen, awareness is certainly not good enough. But since when did pilots start thinking they could operate in a visual circuit and not take lookout seriously?

The Airprox Board said the cause was the failure of the tower to check, before issuing take-off clearance, that the Citation crew had the 172 in sight. Sure, that would be the ideal, but the 172 and a Robin in the circuit were talking to the tower, so it would be normal for the Citation crew to identify them before embarking on its high-performance take-off run. It sounds like a reminder is needed.

Source: Flight International