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Some Airspace Issues

Some months ago the Editor asked me to supply an amusing anecdote from my long and not particularly distinguished flying career. Unfortunately, try as I might, nothing has come to mind. Near misses and tales of derring do are (quite rightly) not considered amusing in the modern world. I never wear my Martin Bakertie.

Is there no longer any humour in aviation then? Very little these days, I fear, but I did smile at something in the Airprox section of the last magazine – ‘the Tornado had not detected the microlight on its TCAS, probably because the microlight was not transponder equipped’. Well, quite – not exactly a belly laugh but how about ‘the incident is being widely studied by military crews’– that should raise a smile or two.

And then there are the PPL ground exams. I was recently called upon to explain why one particular question had to be answered in a certain way. The question asked what the minimum height for overflying Southend was and after about half an hour of head-scratching the assembled company decided it was 2100ft, that being the height of the ATZ plus the height of the airport rounded up to the nearest hundred feet (the chart provided pre-dated the introduction of the control zone). Well that’s moderately amusing, is it not? Can you imagine in this day and age overflying a fairly busy regional airport at 2000ft without talking to them?

I was doing climbing and descending overhead Inverness at 8000ft the other day and was told ‘you are in my overhead –could you go somewhere else?’ In vain did I plead that I was in the only part of the north of Scotland that could not possibly be of any interest to anything other than a rocket. I have also been moaned at for being in Lossiemouth’s ‘climbing lane’ which extends, apparently, for some ten miles (at least) off the end of all their runways. I would have thought that a Typhoon could struggle up to slightly higher than 1500ft that I was flying at by the edge of the MATZ, but what do I know? Another question from the PPL exam concerned the size of an ATZ. I was sufficiently unsure of this to look it up and to my surprise there are several pages of closely-typed script describing the way the size of an ATZ is calculated but it is, for PPL purposes, usually about two and a half miles. Now, one of the only three decent PFL fields near my club is just south of Inverness Airport. You get to within three and a half miles of the DME while PFL-ing onto this field but the DME is not at the ‘notified mid-point of the longest runway’ which is where the ATZ is calculated from so you get another half mile of flex. The field is abeam the runway rather than on the centreline. Twice recently I have been told ‘you are within five miles of the  field - would you move further away? This field is actually what remains of the former wartime Nairn airfield which one assumes was quite busy and must somehow have coexisted with Dalcross (and Mundole and Kinloss) without radar and probably without difficulty. And then there are the frequent requests to ‘keep clear of my centreline – I have ILS traffic’. Perfectly reasonable until you realise that ‘clear of my centreline’is a swathe of sky perhaps ten miles wide.

The problem is, of course, the monstrous ATSOCAS – the bastard progeny of the Ben Macdui F-15 crashes and the subsequent attempt to put the controller in jail.Aircraft, particularly commercial aircraft, are encouraged to ask for a Deconfliction Service and that requires separation of three miles from communicating cooperating traffic and five miles from uncommunicating uncooperating traffic, coupled as often as not, with agreed height separation - or so I have been told. Now, five miles separation is fine at thirty thousand feet when flying at 400 knots en route to Benidorm (which is what it was designed for) but at low level five miles is almost beyond visual range even in good visibility – it is a huge amount of separation. VFR by definition requires you to be within visual range of other aircraft. So how near is ‘near’? In the circuit, for instance, you are seldom more than a mile from other traffic and most people do not regard that as uncomfortably close. Your friendly radar controller, however, wants to provide a bubble around his aircraft at least three miles wide and several minutes flying time ahead. Bizarrely, an aircraft receiving a radar service WILL NOT FIT WITHIN THE ATZ! No wonder I am chased away from the ATZ boundary and as for keeping clear of the ILS centreline – what to me is ‘miles away’ is uncomfortably close to a radar controller. Being in visual contact with a tiny dot in the distance is, apparently, not good enough.

The world is as it is and there are reasons for most things but there is now a certain disconnect between those rules that applied in the fifties when most people were sensible and those that came in with ATSOCAS. One does what one has to do but it is perverse that in order to get a licence one has to pass exams which encourage one to do exactly the opposite.

Touring pilots are, on the whole, quite happy to do as they are told by ATC and even get a sort of perverse pleasure out of ‘participating’ – it makes them feel part of the aviation club. But I have to instruct; the student is paying two pounds a minute to listen to my words of wisdom and at least fifty percent of each minute is blocked by radio chat as the controller attempts to shepherd me away from the huge protective bubble around his ‘IFR inbound’. Two baulked PFLs cost my student about fifteen quid the other day – perhaps we should have an account with our local airport into which we get credit against our next landing fee every time we agree to restrict our freedom of manoeuvre to facilitate their IFR operations. Interestingly, we are being threatened with about three hundred square miles of Class E airspace which the airport thinks will give them more control over their approach paths. However, provided I carried a Mode S transponder, in VMC I would not even be required ‘to communicate’ with the controlling authority, let alone accept control. I wonder how long that would last?!

I may be mistaken in some of this – how about an article on the subject by someone in the airspace management world?

George Morris

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