Tutorial: Collision Avoidance in the Reno Area

 

Collision avoidance is everyone’s responsibility and perhaps because of this, over the years numerous stakeholders, especially including the Pacific Soaring Council (PASCO) and Reno Approach, worked together to hammer out “best practices” for glider pilots operating in the Reno area.

Times change, and Reno Approach is now Norcal Approach Control and the FAA has extended the Reno operational model to apply anywhere in the continental US where sailplanes routinely operate in high-density airspace.  This means that what you learn here can be applied wherever else you fly.

The significance of collision avoidance goes far beyond the safety of any individual pilot.  Reno airspace includes a heady mix of sailplane and airline traffic, and a high-profile collision could potentially result in a drastic abridgement of our right to fly in the National Airspace System, anywhere in the United States.  We strongly urge all visiting pilots to learn the local procedures, to practice them diligently, and to discuss any questions with knowledgeable local instructors before flying in our area.

A Summary of Recommended Practices

Find out from a local instructor what the most commonly-used IFR arrival and departure paths and altitudes are, but remember that almost any type of traffic can be found anywhere.

Install and use a transponder with altitude encoding.  Squawk code 1202 unless advised otherwise.  Make certain the transponder is working at any time when you’re above 7,000 feet MSL and within 50 nm of KRNO.

The true significance of the transponder and encoder is that in addition to making you visible to ATC controllers, it will also enable pilots airliners and any other TCAS-equipped traffic to receive collision avoidance guidance around you.  TCAS is especially helpful because it will rapidly detect the erratic altitude changes sailplanes experience and almost instantly revise its guidance to suit.  With respect to gliders, TCAS protection is far superior to that provided by ATC controllers who are hampered by equipment optimized for use with airplanes, not gliders.  They’re really good at what they do, but the ATC system wasn’t designed around gliders’ operational characteristics!

Remember that it’s extremely difficult to predict the path of an airliner climbing or descending toward you in a curved path.  Above 10,000 feet MSL, true airspeeds may be 450 knots or greater, far outstripping your ability to outrun them.

The VFR sectional chart is marked in several places with warnings about “glider activity up to FL180.”  How many airline cockpits have VFR sectional charts?  None.

Monitor the relevant ATC frequencies:  126.3 MHz north of Reno, 119.2 south of Reno.

If you transit the Reno area or if there’s any chance you’ll land at KRNO, contact the ATC controller as soon as practical.  Report your position in terms of charted VFR reporting points, VOR radials and distances, or charted intersections such as NICER.