Let’s stop the (infringement) rot
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