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There's a part in 14 CFR Part 91.113 (regarding airborne right-of-way rules) that's been confusing me:

Converging. When aircraft of the same category are converging at approximately the same altitude (except head-on, or nearly so), the aircraft to the other's right has the right-of-way.

Specifically, I don't fully understand the phrase "the aircraft to the other's right" - it would seem both aircraft will either perceive themselves as being to the left or right of the other meaning either both aircraft or neither aircraft would have the right of way. This is obviously not what is intended in FAR, so could someone give a more intuitive explanation of this? Thanks!

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    $\begingroup$ "It would seem both aircraft will either perceive themselves as being to the left or right of the other..." Yes. One is perceived to be on the left, and one is perceived to be on the right. And it is the one to the right that has the right of way. (I guess I just don't see where the confusion lies... ) $\endgroup$ Mar 26 at 16:04
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You wrote that:

it would seem both aircraft will either perceive themselves as being to the left or right of the other meaning either both aircraft or neither aircraft would have the right of way.

But that's only the case if the two aircraft are approaching head-on, or nearly so, and the FAR you quoted already accounts for that situation:

Converging. When aircraft of the same category are converging at approximately the same altitude (except head-on, or nearly so), the aircraft to the other's right has the right-of-way. [Bolded emphasis mine.]

If the aircraft aren't approaching nearly or actually head-on, one aircraft will be unambiguously on the right:

  • As an extreme example, take the case of two aircraft "approaching" each other on side-by-side parallel courses in the same direction. Obviously, in this situation, one aircraft will be on the right (and have the right of way).

(Red and blue are each a different scenario.)

just flyin' side by side

  • Now consider two aircraft approaching each other on perpendicular courses (with a 90° angle between the two). One aircraft's pilot will need to look to the left to see the other aircraft, and the other aircraft's pilot will need to look to the right to see the first aircraft. The aircraft whose pilot has to look left is the aircraft on the right, and they have the right of way; the other aircraft is to the left of the first aircraft, and will have to give way.

how not to t-bone someone's plane

  • Even if there's a 135° angle between the two aircraft's flightpaths, one pilot will still be seeing the other aircraft noticeably left of the center of their windscreen; this pilot's aircraft is on the right, and has the right of way. The other pilot will have to look through the right side of their windscreen to see the first aircraft; the other aircraft is on the left, and has to give way.

yep, left and right still exist

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    $\begingroup$ I see, thanks so much! Very clear explanation - I realize I had mostly misunderstood the meaning of "converging" and that was the main cause of confusion $\endgroup$
    – Nobody
    Mar 26 at 4:26
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    $\begingroup$ Good explanation. It also sounds like this rule was inherited from the "Stand on vessel" rule in navigation on water. In short : if the other vessel can see your green navigation light (also shared with aircraft) they have right of way. $\endgroup$ Mar 26 at 14:08
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    $\begingroup$ Honestly, if the other aircraft is a B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber, I'll probably yield right-of-way to them regardless of direction. And maybe take a picture. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Mar 26 at 16:08
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    $\begingroup$ In the US, a similar "guy on the right has right of way" rule applies to some traffic intersections, though I'm having a little trouble remembering which ones. Not ones that are clearly marked as 4-way-stops, obviously, because then right-of-way is granted to whoever arrived at the intersection first. I think the "guy on right has right of way" rule applies where two roads intersect with no stop signs. $\endgroup$ Mar 26 at 18:06
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    $\begingroup$ @quietflyer It is 4-way stops that you're thinking of, but it's only if the vehicles arrive at the intersection at the same time. If it's not obvious which one arrived first, the one on the right goes first. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Mar 26 at 21:55
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Consider two aircraft converging at a 90° angle, as two cars arriving at a stop sign. "Rightness" or "Leftness" would be determined by the shortest angular distance between them: If B is 90° counterclockwise (right) of A, then A is 270° counterclockwise (right) of B—meaning A is 90° clockwise (left) of B. So B is "to the right" of A (as measured by the shortest angular distance) and B has the right-of-way.

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