PILOT COMPETENCE (Part 4)
Acknowledgements: CAA Skyway Code 2017
PLAN TO AVOID INFRINGEMENTS
PLAN TO AVOID INFRINGEMENTS
When flying a route close to controlled airspace, there are a number of steps you can take to avoid becoming one of the hundreds of pilots who infringe controlled airspace every year:
- Study your route and options carefully, particularly noting the vertical limits of controlled airspace. They often vary over a short distance and are not as obvious as the horizontal ones.
- Do plan to request a transit of controlled airspace if it is advantageous to do so. Consider routes/altitudes that look likely to be acceptable to ATC, for example close to right angles and high above the arrival track. Airliners tend to descend more gradually than they climb, particularly when near the ground.
- Anticipate when you need to request a transit, so that you give the controller enough time to assess your request. 10 minutes prior to the boundary is reasonable.
- Crossing 90 degrees either overhead or a few miles either side of the landing runway sometimes works well; or via the extremities of the zone which are unlikely into interfere with the traffic patterns.
- Be prepared to be given a different route to the one you requested.
- Have a plan B which covers the eventuality of being denied a transit.
- Know the hazards and features of your plan B – for example towns or landmarks near the boundaries of controlled airspace or ATZs which you may have to cross or avoid.
- If planning to avoid controlled airspace, mark a route on your chart or electronic flight planning device that clearly avoids it – ad hoc navigation around controlled airspace will result in too much attention being focused inside the cockpit or on the ground, at the expense of your lookout scan.
- Avoid routes where a minor divergence from course or altitude could lead to an infringement – for example keep a reasonable separation from controlled airspace above you and look for obvious ground features that will help you verify your position. It may be easier to request a transit of the nearby airspace instead, which could remove the risk.
- If flying close to controlled airspace, contact the air traffic service unit (ATSU) responsible and request a service. This will make them aware of your presence and if you do infringe, will make it much easier to deal with. It will also allow you to ask for assistance if you become unsure of your position.
- Alternatively, if you do not need an air traffic service, or if the frequency is congested, just listen out and use the applicable frequency monitoring code. This will allow ATC to contact you if they need to – for example if you are about to infringe. Remember to change your squawk as appropriate when you leave the frequency.
- Plan to obtain the most relevant and current QNH. The regional pressure setting (RPS) will tend to under-read compared to nearby aerodrome QNH settings, on which airspace dimensions are predicated. Using an accurate QNH reduces the risk of vertical infringements.
- Learn how to use any airspace awareness tools that are available – most GPS systems can be configured to warn of proximity to controlled airspace. Dedicated airspace warning systems such as the NATS ‘Aware’ system are also available, as are electronic flight planning and navigation tools which can be configured with alerts.
- If conducting some general handling in the local area you may not always be focused on your position. If controlled airspace is nearby there may be a risk of infringing. To mitigate this:
- Determine altitudes that you must not go above (or below, as the case may be) to avoid infringing;
- Pick prominent ground features to orient yourself around or mark points beyond which you must not go;
- Always include ‘airspace’ in any ‘HASELL’ or similar checks before conducting manoeuvres.
- In general, all of the information needed to operate at a particular aerodrome can be found in the relevant AIP entry, including details of runway characteristics, air traffic services and opening hours. The AIP only includes licensed or certificated aerodromes.
- A number of unlicensed aerodromes that are available for public use can be found in commercially available guides. The information available for unlicensed sites, particularly for take-off, landing distances and obstacles, will generally be less detailed than for licensed ones.
- Due to the requirements associated with being a licensed/certificated aerodrome, it can normally be assumed that it will not have any hazardous obstacles in the approach or departure paths. However, this cannot be assumed for unlicensed aerodromes. Particularly for smaller strips, a briefing from the aerodrome owner or operator is essential.
LOCAL HAZARDS AND PROCEDURES
- There is considerable variation in the local rules and procedures for different aerodromes. This is often due to the necessity for aerodromes to limit their local environmental impact and/or accommodate a variety of different aircraft operations in the same place.
- When visiting an unfamiliar aerodrome, particularly an unlicensed one, you should consider/enquire about:
- Is prior permission by telephone required to operate there?
- Are there any specific local operating procedures that should be followed? For example, a specific joining procedure to follow.
- Surface type and condition. If grass, is it long, wet and/or soft?
- How much useable length is there for take-off and landing?
- Are there any obstacles around the runway that might require consideration to ensure they can be cleared? Power cables or trees are the most common ones. At some sites take-off and/or landing is only possible in one direction due to obstacles or terrain.
- What is the prevailing wind like and are there any buildings or obstructions that might create unusual turbulence on approach?
- Are there any noise abatement procedures or noise sensitive areas to be avoided?
- Are there any other hazards that you need to be aware of? For example, surfaces near the runway that may be unsuitable for aircraft movement.
For more information on flying into small airstrips, see the ‘Strip Sense’ safety sense leaflet at www.caa.co.uk/safetysense.
Note: You should also conduct a similar exercise for any alternate aerodromes you may need. It is tempting to only give this cursory thought on the basis that diversions rarely happen. However, doing so could save a lot of aggravation and will give you the confidence to divert if circumstances such as the weather dictate. You can look up the destination and alternate aerodromes in a commercially available flight guide or the AD section of the AIP. Common differences can include circuit height and direction, noise abatement procedures and the level of air traffic service provided. A mix of traffic, for example helicopters, gliders or parachuting will also tend to require specific local procedures for safe operation.
Planning and review of local information is essential to staying safe.