Let’s stop the (in­fringe­ment) rot

Pilot - - FLIGHT TEST -

I’m an ATCO at a mod­er­ately busy Class D con­trolled airspace air­port, and also a reg­u­lar PA-28 Archer GA flyer of 35+ years ex­pe­ri­ence, hap­pily fly­ing around Class G and some­times Class D. In the fly­ing mags and fo­rums, it seems the very hot topic is in­fringe­ments, and for once ev­ery­one, from the CAA, air traf­fic ser­vice providers, and air­lines, to fly­ing clubs and pri­vate pi­lot groups, is in agree­ment that this sit­u­a­tion is get­ting worse and needs check­ing and re­vers­ing. In this we all have an im­por­tant role to play.

In my unit I’m one of only two who fly. In my early ATCO days I was al­ways taught to put my­self in the pi­lot’s seat of the aero­plane I am talk­ing to, no mat­ter what type. This is eas­ier for me as I know what it’s like to be a bit un­sure of po­si­tion, bat­tling wors­en­ing vis­i­bil­ity, tur­bu­lence, cross winds, or low­er­ing cloud­base. As an ATCO, we go on fa­mil­iari­sa­tion flights with the ‘big boys’ so I also have a very good idea of what’s go­ing on on the flight deck at cer­tain stages of the flight; 3,000 feet and be­low there are lots of land­ing checks, wait­ing for the clos­ing head­ing for the lo­caliser, R/T, more checks, and so on… busy, busy!

I teach R/T to stu­dent pi­lots and try to get them to ap­pre­ci­ater the com­mer­cial guys and the radar ATCO, try­ing to keep air­craft in safe airspace. Thanks to my air­port, my cour­ses end with a visit to ATC so they can see what ac­tu­ally goes on in Class D. They are al­ways pleas­antly sur­prised that ATCOS are mere mor­tals and very un­der­stand­ing, but have to keep the airspace safe for all users at all cost.

One of the pot shots aimed at the CAA is about Class D airspace. Whether that airspace should be there or not is one thing, but it is there and you must not bust it! When I vec­tor mul­ti­ple com­mer­cial air­lin­ers around a to­tally un­known pri­mary re­turn (blip) I de­lay those flights’ tight sched­ules and leave less airspace to sep­a­rate them safely. Not fair on any­one: ATCO, the guys up front at a busy stage of the flight, prob­a­bly IMC, and peo­ple down the back who could be your fam­ily or friends.

I cer­tainly don’t know it all but I can see both sides, so here are a few of my thoughts:

• GPS tech­nol­ogy didn’t used to be trusted, how­ever, at a re­cent GASCO Safety Evening we were told to switch them on and use them (still map-read though)

• Don’t hurry pre-flight plan­ning, check weather and no­tam. I still pre­fer a chi­na­graph line on my map; study it — what’s in the way?

• I have a small PCAS unit which is quite good for giv­ing me a heads-up on any transpond­ing air­craft within an imag­i­nary bub­ble around my air­craft but it’s no sub­sti­tute for a con­stant ac­tive look­out

• Never ex­pect to tran­sit Class D airspace. If you get per­mis­sion, it’s a bonus, but good air­man­ship de­mands you have a plan B, keep­ing you out­side con­trolled airspace. RT work­load may give you a clue why you didn’t get clear­ance but you may hear lit­tle or noth­ing be­cause an­other fre­quency is in use. If so, trust me, you wouldn’t want to be in there!

• Use the lis­ten­ing squawks and lis­ten out only; don’t be afraid to use the ra­dio; prac­tice your R/T tech­nique reg­u­larly

• Most GA pi­lots, my­self in­cluded, tend to lurk be­low 4,000 feet (re­mem­ber, I make a liv­ing from talk­ing to you guys, and this is what you tell me). If you think about the amount of com­mer­cial traf­fic con­stantly in and out of our busy air­ports, the sep­a­ra­tions re­quired and the large ra­dius turns, there isn’t ac­tu­ally that much con­trolled airspace for the job we ATCOS are try­ing to do. And woe be­tide us if we ever vec­tor these guys out­side con­trolled airspace!

It’s a big jug­gling act and all about ap­pre­ci­at­ing ev­ery­one else’s po­si­tion. This is prob­a­bly one of the most se­ri­ous top­ics in my Atco/fly­ing ca­reer, so let’s stop bitch­ing about the CAA, air traf­fic, con­trolled airspace etc, and pull to­gether. Speak with the Air Traf­fic Ser­vices Man­ager or se­nior ATCO of your nearby re­gional Class D air­port, ar­range a club visit, talk to the ATCOS and see the other side. Of­fer to take them fly­ing so they can ap­pre­ci­ate the VFR pi­lot’s side of the pic­ture. A proac­tive ap­proach can only help, be­fore we lose our free­dom of VFR fly­ing, or — even worse — the un­think­able should hap­pen. Peter Stephens, by email

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