Lessons identified

In analysis of airspace infringements in recent years, the following have been identified as causal factors in many airspace infringements:  

Omissions during flight planning and preparation exposes a pilot to risk throughout the entire flight. The first question that you should ask yourself is “Do I need to take this flight” and if so, “do I need to go in this direction?”. In recent post-infringement analysis where weather has been cited as a distraction or a reason for track deviation into controlled airspace, the presence of, or forecast of, unfavourable weather conditions were identified in the available MetForm 215, METARS and TAFS in the vast majority of cases. Within the plan, avoiding controlled airspace by a wider margin is another aspect that is often not applied effectively in almost 37% of cases. To help avoid airspace infringements you are encouraged to ‘Take 2‘.  In recent analysis, 22% of infringements occurred during flights where no planning took place, the pilot just took off and then formulated their plan in the air. In a further 12% of cases there was an error in the plan which led to the infringement.  Worryingly, a number of infringements result from a failure to either carry out any form of NOTAM brief or by spending insufficient time and attention to reading and understanding the content;  a large proportion of NOTAM either contain a contact telephone number or, in the case of aerodrome NOTAM, the aerodrome can be contacted by a published telephone numbers should you not understand the meaning of the NOTAM or require clarification.  It is likely that during your planning you identify threats that will need to be managed or mitigated.

Incomplete Threat and Error Management (TEM) is a significant contributory factor in many airspace infringements. In almost half of airspace infringements, flying too close to controlled airspace was identified as a contributory factor. Planning to avoid notified airspace, when able, by 2NM laterally and/or 200 feet vertically (‘Take 2’) would potentially reduce the number of airspace infringements  significantly  and it would also add in mitigations to allow for deliberate deviations such as turning to avoid weather, to avoid traffic or drifting off heading when distracted by cockpit checks etc. Within the TEM arena, distraction is a major causal factor of airspace infringements. Major causes of distraction include but are not limited to passengers, weather, the task of training students and the failure of aircraft systems as well as the failure of technology such as Moving Maps.     

Task Saturation can affect all pilots, especially if something unexpected happens; however, it is particularly prevalent in two district groups:  

  • Those with low hours make errors because they have reached saturation point, not always from distraction but because handling the aircraft takes all their attention.
  • Instructors and examiners are more prone to saturation than other pilots because their primary focus is to train pilots, but they are also responsible for record keeping and note taking, as well as traffic, airspace, fuel, mechanical and technical issues.

Lack of recency is increasing becoming an issue. Pilots, particularly low-hour pilots and those who have not flown for some time, should recognise the importance of easing back into flying gradually. This is of particular importance after a lengthy period of poor weather, a break in flying associated with medical conditions or restrictions imposed by aerodromes (due to enforced closures) or the authorities (such as in pandemics). Remember that skill fade starts from the end of every previous flight.  

It is important to understand our own limitations, especially during periods of high workload. When flying, pilots are required to take in information from a multitude of sources, assess this information, prioritise it, and use it to make decisions and take actions. It is important to recognise one’s own capacity limitations to avoid task saturation. 

Under-utilisation of the UK Flight Information Services (UK FIS) which are available outside of controlled airspace. CAP774: UK Flight Information Services details the suite of air traffic services (ATS) provided outside controlled airspace within the UK Flight Information Regions. The specific ATS (Basic Service, Traffic Service, Deconfliction Service, Procedural Service) are designed to cater for a wide variety of airspace users and tasks and shall be consistently applied by controllers/FISOs and complied with by pilots. Regardless of the ATS being provided, pilots are ultimately responsible for collision avoidance and terrain clearance. ATS provision is constrained by the nature of the airspace environment in which the flight takes place; however, controllers will make best endeavours to provide the service requested. It is not mandatory for a pilot flying VFR to be in receipt of an ATS in Class E/G airspace or a pilot flying IFR to be in receipt of an ATS in Class G airspace. Furthermore, the aircraft may not be “controlled” meaning controller/FISO workload cannot be predicted and pilots may make sudden manoeuvres, even when in receipt of an ATS.

 It is important that as a pilot, you fully understand that pilot compliance with the specified terms and conditions of UK FIS is essential so as to promote a safer operating environment for all airspace users. A detailed understanding of CAP774 underpins, and enables, that compliance.

Lack or/Incorrect use of VFR Moving Map technology. Over the years, technological advancements supported by Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) have delivered a range of electronic navigation solutions. Many of these have been developed for the sport and recreational General Aviation pilot, to support VFR flight planning and airborne navigation when used on mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets.  Pilots are actively encouraged to use VFR Moving Maps as part of their planning and whilst in-flight.  In recent causal factor analysis (CAP1749 – Causal Factor Analysis of Airspace Infringements in the United Kingdom), the correct use of Moving Map technology could have prevented 85% of analysed airspace infringement from occurring. Not only do they provide effective means of enabling effective flight planning but in-flight they increase situational awareness and provide timely warnings of proximity to notified airspace and certain aviation hazards. By highlighting the risk factors and the mitigation measures that can be taken to avoid airspace infringements, the CAA aims to improve pilot knowledge, airmanship and flying skills. Working together we can make flying safer for everyone.