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Lookout - why are so many pilots so careless?

As I write elsewhere I am not in the habit criticising other pilots who show their exploits on videos, but after seeing one more today I just need to say it.

[… taking deep breath and trying to avoid breaking into a rant …]

Why are there so many pilots who endanger themselves and others by not keeping any meaningful lookout????

We have now seen
– flying VFR in class G looking at phones, iPads and panels for minutes on end – everywhere but outside
– an aircraft in (presumably) class E airspace with the left half of the windscreen covered by a tinfoil sunscreen
– several instances of iPad mounts blocking part of the windscreen – the bit to the lower left seems to be popular, especially in SR22 – as if that aircraft didn’t have more than enough screens already
– or even better – devices mounted in the centre of the screen below the compass

What can be done about that? I am not normally in favour of mandatory anything, but am coming to the conclusion that, given that probably intelligent people do these stupid things, everything that flies should have a mandatory transponder with GPS position and ES, or similar, or otherwise just stay on the ground.

Lookout is unreliable at the best of times, but better than no lookout at all.

Biggin Hill

I agree, utterly and totally agree. We have an increasing number of pilots who are not being taught properly and they spend more time heads-in, ensuring that they are within 10cm of the magenta. It worries me, lots. Not least because a close friend was killed in the mid-air near WCO the other week, having been rammed from behind.

In the ‘good old days’, we taught people how to manage their heads-in time, ensuring that the paper chart/PLOG did not take too much time. We have progressed to iPads etc with wonderful apps but the heads-in time (regularity?) has actually increased. I say this as an examiner who sees this on a regular basis.

It gets worse. I have sat with CPLs who believe that a Traffic Service in UK Class G absolves them of the need to look out of the window.

For sure, FLARM, ADS-B, PAW etc help to mitigate but there is ABSOLUTELY NO EXCUSE for not endeavouring to look out of the window as much as possible.

Last Edited by Dave_Phillips at 30 Dec 20:23
Fly safely
Various UK. Operate throughout Europe and Middle East, United Kingdom

Verbalising the lookout helps – if turning left you might clear right, clear ahead, clear left turning left. The CPL and FI ride seems to have some focus on demonstrating good lookout. It also goes with good situational awareness, not only maintaining a good lookout but knowing where to look for traffic.

Oxford (EGTK)

As an attempt of an explanation, you will usually only have one midair in your life. Experience will constantly reinforce the impression that you can fly without looking outside and survive – until you don’t.

Last Edited by Rwy20 at 30 Dec 21:31

I learned to fly in summer1964 at Thruxton, no ATC, non-radio aircraft, a busy training airfield, near to Middle Wallop, the Army Air Corp training field. There were almost always aircraft in sight. Easy to know you were keeping a good lookout.
After letting my license lapse, I revalidated at Inverness from November 1986 to March 1987. I don’t think I saw an aircraft away from the airfield. Difficult to know if you’re keeping a good lookout.
Sometimes it doesn’t matter. Thanks to the Grand Junction controller who alerted me on contact to flying a C172 on descent 200 ’ below a descending Pa28. Neither of us visual, and we merged our radar blips.

EGPE, United Kingdom

I think that one of the reasons is that See and Avoid is so inefficient and useless. We know that our eyes are designed to block out items that are stationary in favour of items that move, yet we equally know that it is the stationary targets that will hit us.

It’s a huge quandary; and one that I don’t have the answer to. But I am not convinced that better lookout is the answer. It probably is in the circuit, and it is in the circuit, or joining it, that most mid-airs take place (especially if you consider air races circuits.)

But enroute, I am pretty convinced that electronic conspicuity is a better answer.

I am a pretty good spotter of traffic. If I am with another pilot, whether as instructor, mentor, crew or passenger, I almost invariably spot traffic before the other guy. Indeed, it is not uncommon for me to point and describe exactly where traffic is and he never sees it.

But the number of times that Radar or TCAS has informed me of traffic and I have looked and looked but never seen it, or seen it very late, is huge. TCAS is just much better at than our eyes.

Like @AdamFrisch said on the other thread about twins, it is impossible to say how effective a good lookout is, because we have no idea how many aircraft with blacked out windows would collide. What we do know is that aircraft don’t collide in cloud, where there is no lookout.

I rather wonder whether lookout is an amulet or charm that we use to persuade ourselves that we are keeping ourselves safe from a small but unavoidable danger, rather like we use Heaven to persuade ourselves that death is not really the end of life. Is it just the clove of garlic we use to keep vampires away?

I honestly don’t know, but I honestly think that no-one else knows either.

EGKB Biggin Hill

I agree with Timothy.

To be a little bit efficient, lookout needs to be done a specific way, and not just randomly looking out the window left and right like 90% of pilot do it.

In the french military, there is a huge part of initial training dedicated to the lookout training.
Don’t ask me about it, i am no military.

If you want to do something about decreasing the risk of mid air collision, you just have to make compulsary transponders in every aircraft, and radio contact mandatory in every class of airspace.
Personnally, it will not annoy me, cause that’s already what I do. The only time I am not in contact with a controller is an the circuit of an uncontrolled field.

You can add ads-b compulsary too.

But that would be giving away a bit of freedom.


Birds don’t have TCAS (neither do paramotors, hang gliders etc).

My point? For sure, electronic conspicuity brings lots to the party however it is inexcusable to accept a mindset where a pilot can (intentionally) reduce the efficacy of lookout in Class G because they have an electronic gizmo on board. I said it earlier – as an examiner I’ve seen all sorts of lame excuses for not looking-out. Lookout is not “useless” – it is not perfect.

PS. I always fly with TAS and ADS-B (SkyEcho).

Last Edited by Dave_Phillips at 31 Dec 09:45
Fly safely
Various UK. Operate throughout Europe and Middle East, United Kingdom

Do birds have the same vision physiology as we do?

That puts paid to Darwin then.

You see, Darwin would say that birds have evolved to survive in flight, whereas we have evolved to hunt and avoid prey on the Serengeti, which is why our visual cortexes (cortices?) block out what we most need to see when we are flying.

That you, as an examiner, believe that a lookout is effective don’t make it necessarily so.

We need evidence.

EGKB Biggin Hill

Now I am even more worried. The fact that see-and-avoid isn’t great is not an argument to not do it…

Biggin Hill
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