If you tuned into the first episode of ITV Cymru Wales broadcast of ‘The Airport’ this week, the new fly on the wall documentary that takes you behind the scenes at Cardiff Airport, you might have spotted our team of controllers manning the control tower during a General Aviation (GA) Rally.
Rallies like this are by no means rare, but they require a lot of planning by the NATS team, as we need to accommodate this extra traffic without hampering the daily schedule of commercial flights.
We work very closely with the GA community at Cardiff Airport as there are a number of clubs in the vicinity as well as a flying club situated right here on the airfield. This is quite common for regional airports as we usually have available capacity and so can share the tarmac with leisure pilots, as well as the usual commercial airline customers flying holidaymakers to far flung destinations.
As soon as a club notifies us it is holding a rally or other event, we start to put together a plan. If there are only a small number of aircraft involved, we can usually accommodate them as ‘business as usual’. For larger events we need to carry out an impact assessment and look at matching manpower to the demand for an air traffic control service, and it may even require new operational procedures, additional team briefings and specific training requirements.
We will also plan for the type of aircraft we can accept as some may not be equipped with transponders and we need to balance how many of these we receive at any one time to ensure safety is not compromised. Pilot capability is also something to consider and often experienced pilots will be grouped with the less experienced so as to provide additional support if needed.
We encourage all GA pilots to read up on procedures before flying into Cardiff so they know what to expect, and there is a lot of information available online, including pictures of routes into the airport. One of our Watch Managers also does a great job liaising with GA pilots and is happy to talk to clubs about safety concerns and answer any questions about the airport’s operation.
Day to day, we are also contracted to provide Lower Airspace Radar Service (LARS) to assist non-commercial pilots flying outside of controlled airspace. We offer three types of service – general flight information; a traffic service that alerts pilots to other aircraft that may be in conflict with them; and an actual deconfliction service, which is when we give aircraft that we’re working specific headings in order to achieve separation. This is all done with voice communications, but only with those pilots that have the necessary equipment on board to speak to us and use our services.
Working with both GA flights and commercial aircraft certainly keeps us busy, but its great to have such diversity and it makes every day very different. To quote an article written by a GA pilot I recently read, “the welcome mat is well and truly in place at Cardiff for all types of general aviation!”
The Airport is available to watch on ITV Player. Click here to watch the first episode.
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