Most of our Scottish Information customers operate in Class G (uncontrolled) airspace where the pilot decides whether or not to speak with ATC (air traffic control).
Many private pilots go flying to get away from the stress and strains of modern life and that may well include not having to talk to anyone while they’re in the cockpit. But there are real benefits from talking to ATC and making FISOs (Flight Information Service Office) aware of your intentions. The service is free – and one day it might just save your life.
At the Scottish Area Control Centre in the NATS control centre in Prestwick there is a group of FISOs such as myself who provide a “Basic Service” to aircraft who call Scottish Information on 119.875mhz (the area of responsibility can be found in the UK Air Pilot ENR_6_2_0_2_ ).
What are the services Scottish Information provides, and what are the benefits of using the service?
The Basic Service enables the Scottish Information team to update flights with NOTAM information pertinent to their flight. This may include unusual airspace activity, danger area activity and weather affecting the route of the flight or the destination as the FISO team can check the rainfall radar.
At all times whilst receiving a Basic Service the avoidance of other traffic is solely the pilot’s responsibility. Pilots should not expect traffic information although, as FISOs have a duty of care we will advise of other known traffic that may be on frequency and in conflict, based on the information that each aircraft has passed.
We also provide help in aircraft emergencies. Given the majority of our customers are low time pilots still building up their experience flying single engine aircraft close to the ground – when things go wrong they generally go wrong quickly with little time or height to rectify any problem.
Also, Scotland is a beautiful country but it has some pretty in-hospitable terrain to fly over! When the engine coughs and splutters or the pilot becomes uncertain of their position, this is not the time to be looking for a frequency to tell someone. If you are already in contact with Scottish Information, a quick Pan or Mayday call is all that’s required to receive assistance.
I remember a situation where three light aircraft, taking part in the Round Britain Rally, had to divert from their planned route in order to remain VFR (Visual Flight Rules) due to deteriorating weather. The only clear route went through an active military Danger Area. A phone call to the Danger Area had all three gunnery ranges stop their firing until the aircraft had safely passed through. But that wasn’t the end of the drama. In an attempt to remain VFR, the rapidly deteriorating weather was forcing the aircraft lower and lower. We phoned various airfields in an attempt to find somewhere where the weather would allow a safe landing. With the co-operation of Swanwick Distress and Diversion cell this was achieved. A few weeks later we received a letter of thanks quoting “your professional help was very much appreciated” from the pilots involved. In that situation we clearly made a difference.
NATS works hard to prevent airspace infringements and the FISOs at Scottish Information have a FID (Flight Information Display) which is basically a radar displaying all transponding aircraft operating within Scottish airspace. It is primarily an aid to help prevent airspace infringements. The FISOs are not allowed to use the device to pass traffic information onto other aircraft or to give direct instructions to avoid airspace infringements. However, it does give the FISO situational awareness of the transponding aircraft talking to them. Should the FISO consider that an aircraft may possibly infringe controlled airspace the FISO will take action by co-ordinating with the controlling authority of the airspace and subsequently transfer the aircraft to that agency in an attempt to avoid an infringement.
Hopefully the next time you fly over Scotland you will consider calling Scottish Information on 119.875mhz. South of the border, our fellow FISO colleagues at London Information can provide the same service on their designated frequencies. We look forward to talking to you!
Further information from my London Information Service (FISO) colleagues will follow in the future.
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