Many people, when they think about NATS, think of Air Traffic Controllers and the fantastic job they undertake on a daily basis.
However, the control service is only one aspect of the air traffic services provided to commercial and general aviation by NATS. Another aspect is the basic service FISOs (Flight Information Service Officers) give to aircraft operating outside of controlled airspace from our two control centres – Swanwick and Prestwick.
A “basic service” is a flight information service, which is provided for the purpose of giving advice and useful information for the safe and efficient conduct of flights. This includes information such as weather information, changes of serviceability of facilities, conditions at aerodromes, and general airspace activity information as well as any other information likely to affect safety.
Here at the Prestwick Centre, FISOs, including myself, provide a basic service between 08:00 to 20:00, local time, up to FL55 (roughly up to altitude 5,500ft). Outside these times and levels the service is provided by air traffic controllers on other sectors.
The FISO licence does not cover radar-based surveillance or the issue of executive commands to aircraft; in other words we don’t monitor aircraft using radar or tell them what to do. We rely on the information pilots give us to help us form the traffic ‘picture’ and refer to a 1:500k VFR (Visual Flight Rules) chart, which gives us an idea of where their reported route will take them. Avoiding other air traffic is solely the pilot’s responsibility; however generic air traffic information may be provided by the FISO, dependant on workload.
Officially, air traffic operating outside controlled airspace does not have to speak to anybody at all. This allows great freedom for pilots, especially over the vast and beautiful terrain of Scotland, but this is not always the safest option. To my mind, the most important function of the FISO is to provide an alerting service, so should anything go wrong we can quickly notify search and rescue, as well as other relevant agencies, so we can all assist the aircraft should they be in a situation of urgency or distress. It is far easier to provide assistance if the pilot has already called in on the frequency and given us the key flight details than if we are unaware of them and their plans.
The Scottish FIR (Flight Information Region) is looked after by a team of FISOs who between them have many years of ATC (air traffic control) experience. As well as trying to make our customers’ flights as safe and efficient as possible, we endeavour to make our service as friendly as possible.
We also have a new FISO Twitter account at Prestwick, which will be used in addition to our usual communications. This is not a replacement for our current communication procedures, so pilots will still need to file flight plans and communicate with our FISOs in the usual ways, but the Twitter account will be there to give more information, share pictures and provide just one more way for the aviation community to share news and views. The Twitter account is @NATSScotInfo if you’d like to follow us.
If you are flying through our airspace, please feel free to give us a call on 119.875MHz, we would love to hear from you.
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