I flew the Cirrus recently to Gaithersburg, an airport that supposedly sees only 131 operations per day (airnav). On the flight from Allentown, Pennsylvania to KGAI, the controllers did not even once tell me to look for a nearby plane. I was pretty much alone in the sky at 6,000′.
Things were different within 5 miles of the destination airport. I arrived on a gusty bumpy Tuesday at 1 pm and became the fourth airplane in the pattern as this non-towered airport. I departed behind a Pilatus PC-12. The Pilatus crew waited for a small plane to land before they could depart. I asked a plane on downwind to extend slightly so that I could get out with my IFR clearance (i.e., there were at least four airplanes operating at 5 pm when I departed). Given the active flight school at KGAI and the fact that I have nearly always found myself with company in the traffic pattern there, I question the 131/day number (since there is no control tower, the statistic may not be authoritative).
There is some structure to the traffic pattern at an airport that makes it a bit easier for pilots to identify each other, but self-sequencing is not always successful. AOPA’s Air Safety Institute: “Eighty percent of the midair collisions that occurred during ‘normal’ [not formation or aerobatics] flight activities happened within ten miles of an airport, and 78 percent of the midair collisions that occurred around the traffic pattern happened at nontowered airports.”
Americans have spent billions of dollars over the last twenty years on ADS-B, partly sold as a way to avoid midair collisions. I’m wondering now, though, if ADS-B solves the wrong problem and/or the non-problem of enroute traffic conflicts.
Maybe it was too advanced an idea in the 1990s when ADS-B was conceived (with an implementation date of Jan 1, 2020!), but I wonder if it would make sense for ADS-B gear to sequence airplanes at nontowered airports. Why couldn’t the pilot press a button on the transponder and have the ADS-B software say “You are Number 3 for Runway 32. Number 2 is turning right base. Number 1 is on final”?