News release

Defences to avert mid-air collision failed in May 2012 accident near Warrenton, Virginia

Gatineau, Quebec, 8 August 2013 –The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) released its investigation report (A12H0001) into the mid-air collision between a Piper PA-28 and a Beechcraft Bonanza flying under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) on 28 May 2012.

“This accident shows once again that the see-and-avoid principle is inadequate for preventing collisions between aircraft flying under visual flight rules (VFR),” said Jon Lee, TSB’s Investigator-in-Charge. “Additional defences must be put in place to prevent mid-air collisions among VFR aircraft.”

The Piper was registered to and piloted by a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) employee and the Beechcraft was registered to and piloted by a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) employee. Given the unique circumstances surrounding the ownership and operation of the aircraft, the TSB accepted delegation of the accident investigation from the NTSB in accordance with international convention.

The Beechcraft was in a shallow climb, headed southbound, being operated VFR for the purposes of a biennial flight review. The Piper was in level flight, under VFR, and was heading in a southeasterly direction. The aircraft collided at approximately 1800 feet above sea level just after 4 pm Eastern Daylight Time in the area of Warrenton, Virginia. The Beechcraft broke up in flight and the pilot and flight instructor were fatally injured. The pilot, sole occupant of the Piper, conducted a forced landing in a pasture approximately 6 nautical miles south of the Warrenton-Fauquier Airport (KHWY) and was injured.

The Board remains concerned that yet again, the defences available to avert a mid-air collision between VFR aircraft in congested airspace have failed. As VFR traffic increases, additional lines of defence should be considered to reduce the risk of a mid-air collision. These include changes in airspace classification, increased air traffic control (ATC) intervention, ground-based and on-board technology.

A meaningful improvement to the ability to see-and-avoid other VFR aircraft may require on-board technology capable of directly alerting pilots to the proximity of conflicting traffic. A number of viable and economical onboard alerting systems exist or are under development. Had one or both of these aircraft been equipped with some form of the technology, the risk of collision would have been reduced. This issue was discussed in a previous TSB aviation occurrence report (A06O0206). The report identified that there is a high risk of mid-air collision in congested airspace when aircraft are not alerted to the presence of another aircraft and rely solely on the see-and-avoid principle.


The TSB is an independent agency that investigates marine, pipeline, railway and aviation transportation occurrences. Its sole aim is the advancement of transportation safety. It is not the function of the Board to assign fault or determine civil or criminal liability.

For more information, contact:
Transportation Safety Board of Canada
Media Relations
Telephone: 819-994-8053
Email: media@tsb.gc.ca