Each and every day, in the skies over South Florida, Miami Center controllers guide hundreds of aircraft safely through the airspace and towards their final destinations.
Along with the aircraft that are being worked by the controllers, there are other aircraft in the sky that are authorized to fly according to visual flight rules (VFR). These aircraft typically do not file a flight plan and are responsible for maintaining visible separation between themselves, the ground and the other aircraft.
Controllers in the towers and centers have a radar target for the VFR aircraft on their radar screens, enabling them to see where the aircraft is, but the controllers are not in communication with the pilots. It is the responsibility of the controllers to monitor these targets and make sure the aircraft they are communicating with are aware of any VFR targets in their vicinity.
Miami Center controller David Rivero was working a busy sector in the afternoon of Dec. 7, 2006 when he noticed a VFR target in close proximity to an aircraft, N247AT, which he was in contact with. N247AT was traveling at 3,000 feet, heading towards Punta Gorda, Fla. Rivero radioed the pilot of N247AT, notifying him of the VFR traffic.
“7AT, VFR target twelve o’clock, two miles eastbound, shows 3,400 feet. He’s sort of fast moving. He’s probably going to go off your left side out there.”
The pilot of 7AT acknowledged the traffic.
Approximately 60 seconds later, Rivero noticed the VFR target had reversed course and was headed straight towards 7AT.
“7AT, that traffic turned back there. He’s at 3,000 feet and he’s just off your left wing. Do you see him?”
The pilot responded in the affirmative, that he had the traffic in sight and that he was going to climb above him. Rivero authorized the pilot to maneuver to avoid the target and then return to 3,000 feet once the traffic was cleared.
With the traffic cleared, the pilot radioed back to Rivero, “Ok, I’m heading back down. Thanks for that. I would’ve hit him.”
“I would’ve hit him.”
Strong, scary words straight out of the mouth of the pilot, but thanks to the careful observation of an experienced controller they were only words. Without this careful examination of the radar scope by Rivero, it is quite possible the two aircraft would have collided in mid-air, a sure catastrophe.
Controllers across the country face situations similar to this every day and due to their hard work, dedication and extraordinary ability to foresee any possible conflicts, the airspace above the United States remains the safest in the world.
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