The Malone col­umn

Pilot - - CONTENTS -

Time to view airspace in­fringe­ments se­ri­ously, time to take re­spon­si­bil­ity

Iam known through­out the Civil Aviation Au­thor­ity as a se­rial in­fringer of con­trolled airspace, but that’s okay by me be­cause no stigma at­taches, right? When FASVIG, the (deep breath) Fu­ture Airspace Strat­egy VFR Im­ple­men­ta­tion Group, asked the CAA to sug­gest the name of a known in­fringer who could ad­dress one of their sem­i­nars, the cho­rus was ‘Pat Malone!’ But I’m cool with that. It’s not like my rep­u­ta­tion’s at stake, is it. Among my fel­low pi­lots — the peo­ple who mat­ter — I can hold my head up. And therein lies a prob­lem... Three years ago I wrote a col­umn in Pilot con­fess­ing to have vi­o­lated con­trolled airspace twice in a month. The first was coming out of the Gatwick zone, where I was too quick to flip an as­signed squawk and change to an en route fre­quency, leav­ing me inside Class D airspace while not in con­tact with Gatwick ATC. Only lasted for a minute — a tech­ni­cal in­fringe­ment re­ally, no harm done, eh? Three weeks later I was coming out of Dux­ford, head­ing home to Corn­wall. In or­der to stay clear of Lu­ton I’d put a way­point into the Garmin at the West­cott bea­con, which kept me off their north­ern bound­ary, and I planned to stay at 2,000 feet un­til I got to the bea­con so as to be well un­der con­trolled airspace. As I cleared Dux­ford I put the lis­ten­ing squawk into the box and switched to the Lu­ton fre­quency. The track took us close to Hen­low, so I kinked ever so slightly south to give them a bit of el­bow room… and the wind was in the north… and I was chat­ting away to my pax… and the next thing I knew, Lu­ton was read­ing out my call­sign and telling me I’d put a wing into the zone.

A course change of a few de­grees re­paired mat­ters — it was what we in the in­fringe­ment busi­ness call ‘not very se­ri­ous’. But when it hap­pens twice in a month, you’ve got to start think­ing.

The irony of it was that I was fly­ing home from a sem­i­nar on in­fringe­ments, where a bat­tery of CAA and NATS brass had filled my head with every pos­si­ble fact and fig­ure on this in­tractable prob­lem. Half an hour after I walked out of the lec­ture hall won­der­ing how on earth so many pi­lots could be so dumb, and glow­ing with good in­ten­tions, I blithely in­fringed the Lu­ton zone.

My two pax were pi­lots and we had 20,000 hours be­tween us. Two of us were in­struc­tors, one a re­tired com­mer­cial pilot. And the con­ver­sa­tion turned not to why I had in­fringed — that was bad air­man­ship — but why I felt so lit­tle shame at do­ing so. Why didn’t we re­ally, hon­estly, care?

Usu­ally, I’m mor­ti­fied with em­bar­rass­ment when my air­man­ship is found want­ing. I still cringe when I re­mem­ber the day I went round the Big­gin cir­cuit the wrong way, and that was in 1984. In those days you could get a dozen air­craft in the Big­gin zone, and a loose can­non could an­noy a lot of peo­ple. They were not back­ward in ex­press­ing this an­noy­ance.

The CFI had me in, and we had ‘the talk’. In the bar, I learned from pi­lots whose judge­ment I re­spected that was not the sort of be­hav­iour that was ex­pected of a qual­i­fied pilot with sixty hours un­der his belt. I felt my fail­ures had di­min­ished me in the eyes of those whose ap­proval I val­ued, and from that day to this no pilot has dou­ble-checked his cir­cuit di­rec­tion as­sump­tions more as­sid­u­ously than I. The op­pro­brium of my peers taught me a les­son I have not for­got­ten.

But what hap­pens when I con­fess to in­fring­ing con­trolled airspace? “Oh, bad luck,” they say. “I hope they’re not after you…”

Why is a lapse of air­man­ship ef­fec­tively con­doned in the case of in­fringe­ments? At the FASVIG shindig at the Royal Aero­nau­ti­cal So­ci­ety I was not the only one in­dulging in a lit­tle Mao-style self-crit­i­cism; Mark Swan, the CAA’S Director of Airspace Pol­icy, and Air Com­modore David Cooper from the MOD both ad­mit­ted to hav­ing in­fringed. In each case the re­sponse from the ninety-odd pi­lots in the room was a rue­ful lit­tle laugh — nei­ther Swan, nor Cooper, nor I was truly judged and found want­ing. And I be­lieve that re­sponse is in­ad­e­quate, un­pro­fes­sional and wrong.

We were there be­cause de­spite ev­ery­thing the CAA and NATS have thrown at the in­fringe­ments prob­lem, the num­ber has flat­lined for years at about 1,000 per an­num. One day, one of those thou­sand will end up on the TV news as a tailplane stick­ing out of the smok­ing en­gine of a com­mer­cial jet that has crashed killing sev­eral hun­dred peo­ple. And then you can stick your plane on a pole for a gar­den or­na­ment, be­cause your fly­ing ca­reer will be over.

So let’s think more deeply about those rue­ful lit­tle laughs. Airspace vi­o­la­tions are no laugh­ing mat­ter — even ‘not very se­ri­ous’ ones. If I in­fringe, I need to ac­cept in my bones that I am a sub­stan­dard pilot who can­not be trusted to share the air with those whose com­pe­tence is ad­e­quate. My fel­low pi­lots must look down on me as a clear and present dan­ger to all good air­men and their pas­sen­gers, and I must re­turn the com­pli­ment.

In­fringe­ments are not an airspace prob­lem, they are an at­ti­tude prob­lem. We must treat the bound­aries of con­trolled airspace like brick walls, and scorn those who do not. It doesn’t mat­ter if airspace is poorly thought out, badly drawn or un­nec­es­sary — it’s there, and it’s in­vi­o­late. I did not care enough to avoid in­fring­ing be­cause my fel­low pi­lots have re­peat­edly let me off the hook, and it has to stop. Here’s a tip — imag­ine the in­fringer in front of you is a drone pilot who has busted con­trolled airspace. That will get you in the right frame of mind. Then let rip.

In­ci­den­tally, the CAA is get­ting out the big stick on in­fringe­ments, lift­ing li­cences, pros­e­cut­ing and all that — use­ful to con­cen­trate the mind, but not a frac­tion as ef­fec­tive as peer pres­sure. You and I need to solve this one our­selves.

Half an hour after... I blithely in­fringed the Lu­ton zone In­fringe­ments are not an airspace but an at­ti­tude prob­lem

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