If you asked any air traffic controllers to name a threat to our operation, they would likely name infringements. An infringement occurs when an aircraft makes an unauthorised entry into controlled airspace and unfortunately, they are a daily occurrence during the warmer summer months.
Every infringement, no matter how minor it may appear, has the potential to cause widespread disruption and delays. The movements of an infringing aircraft are unknown and unpredictable, and they significantly increase the workload of air traffic controllers and other pilots.
Controllers do not know what the aircraft is going to do next, so they must respond quickly to ensure the safety of the aircraft and other air traffic. As a result, infringements often result in commercial aircraft being diverted, put into holds or held on the ground.
Infringements can occur for any number of reasons. The pilot could be momentarily distracted or misidentify land features, be following a poorly planned route or inadequate knowledge of the airspace. However, there are plenty of ways to ensure the safety of yourself and other airspace users. Here are a just a few ways you can avoid infringing controlled airspace:
Plan your route. Planning is essential to ensure the safety of airspace. You should always ensure that your navigation skills are current and that you have properly planned your route, taking note of both horizontal and vertical limits of controlled airspace.
Stay in contact. Infringements are much simpler to deal with when a controller can contact the pilot to find out their intentions or if they need help. Contacting the pilot is much easier in aircraft operating with a transponder and VHF radio. If you’re flying with a transponder, make sure to set it to Mode Charlie (ALT) and enter the local Frequency Monitoring Code (or listening squawk). This enables controllers to get in touch and issue correcting actions where necessary. For aircraft not fitted with a transponder, listening to the local frequency can help prevent and resolve infringement situations. Where possible, aim to write down all the radio frequencies that may be applicable for your flight and for any alternate routes you might need to take.
Use the tools available to you. There are numerous tools available to general aviation pilots. You might also want to take advantage of alerting software, which warns you if you are about to enter controlled airspace. But you can also make use of the air traffic control services available to you. It is not a requirement to use an ATC service in uncontrolled airspace, but it can be helpful for the purpose of advice or information. NATS also operates a Distress and Diversion cell whose team are there to help if you get lost, or something seems to be going wrong.
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