Another heatwave is on the way and with rising temperatures and clear skies comes an increase in General Aviation traffic. Every summer, we see many light aircraft taking to the skies and enjoying for the most part, an uneventful flight in UK airspace. However, this does coincide with an increase in the number of infringements of controlled airspace and this has not been helped by the changing operating hours of some areas during the Covid-19 pandemic, as airports and airlines try to match operating hours and flying schedules with changing levels of demand.

What’s an infringement?

An infringement occurs when an aircraft makes an unauthorised entry into controlled airspace. This has the potential to affect other members of the flying public through the likelihood of commercial aircraft being re-routed or delayed. Each of these incidents has a serious impact on airport operations, disrupting arrival and departure procedures, delaying passengers and increasing the workload of controllers and pilots as they take action to ensure the safety of all affected aircraft.

NATS Southampton (Solent Radar) has a history of managing one of the most infringed controlled airspace areas in the UK and although this has improved slightly over the last 18 months, we still have far too many.

Due to the impact of Covid-19, the actual operating hours of the Controlled Airspace around Southampton Airport – namely the Solent CTA (Control Areas) and Southampton CTR (Control Zone)  – have varied considerably, which has understandably caused some confusion amongst General Aviation pilots using aerodromes in the vicinity, such as Lee-on-Solent, Popham, Blackbushe, Goodwood, Shoreham, Bembridge, Sandown, Old Sarum, Compton Abbas, White Waltham and Fairoaks.

NOTAMs are of course issued by the Airport Authority and us, pertaining to the airport operating hours and our own ATC coverage, but we know that it can be confusing with numerous changes and subsequent notifications.

However, from 13 July until at least 30 August, a more consistent program is planned with the controlled airspace around Southampton Airport active from 0700-1900 daily (except Saturday 0700-1500 – all times local). Of course, any change to these times will be subject to NOTAM as per normal procedure so pilots should always check NOTAMs and maintain a listening watch on 120.230 MHz when flying in the vicinity.

We are hopeful that these set hours will help reduce the number of infringements and we’d urge the GA community to help us help you and be vigilant as everyone enjoys the wonderful weather that is forecast for the coming weeks.

What can you do?

  • An infringement is relatively easy to deal with when a controller is able to contact the pilot. The easiest way is for the pilot to operate with a Transponder and a VHF Radio. Having the transponder turned on and set to Mode Charlie (ALT) with the local Frequency Monitoring Code (listening squawk) entered, and monitoring the appropriate frequency, allows a controller to get in touch and provide corrective action to re-route the aircraft causing less disruption for all other airspace users.
  • If you are flying without a transponder, simply listening in to the local frequency can help to resolve an infringement situation by enabling you to hear if a situation has arisen. If you recognise a transmission that corresponds with your position, you are able to take avoiding action much sooner.
  • The Distress and Diversion Cell can be reached on 121.5 and should be contacted as soon as a pilot believes they may have a problem.
  • Moving map software, such as SkyDemon, can make pre-flight planning more effective. It also includes valuable elements that can warn you if you are about to enter controlled airspace, helping to eliminate accidental infringements.

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