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Is it me... or the UK ATC system?

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Is it me... or the UK ATC system?

Old 7th Apr 2011, 21:25
  #21 (permalink)  
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BTW, just for info, since I've now dug up my scribbled notes from the flight, the weather at Biggin Hill was (on the ATIS):

RY03 010/09 6000 RN 6BKN (later changed to 5BKN) 1022 (it was daytime, late afternoon)

Thanks to everyone who posted a considerate response or considerate critique and thanks for the insight from posters like JonDyer (and others).

As for those who sling mud, no it was not a surprise, but guess what I have to say to that....

In a few hours I'm going to pick up my baby, play in the park for awhile and enjoy the view over "my" mountain (Life in Peru). Then I might open a bottle of Peruvian wine or have me a yummie Pisco Sour when mamacita comes home...

All while you guys are busy shortening your own life expectancy by getting worked up and taking offense when none was intended.
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Old 7th Apr 2011, 21:32
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I have many hundreds of hours IFR in Los Angeles airspace and consider myself very familiar, knowing all the VOR's and airways. Despite that I occasionally encounter controllers which are neither pleasant nor helpful. They give you "impossible" clearances, sometimes treat you as VFR when, in fact, you are IFR or vector you well above the glideslope. I remember one particular instance at Van Nuys where we just couldn't get established in time (poor vector, tailwind, steep G/S), executing missed approach to be told "IFR missed approaches are not allowed"

My point is, without giving you any explanation of the UK ATS system, there are good controllers and not so good controllers.
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Old 7th Apr 2011, 21:35
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The UK ATC system can be a bit idiosyncratic if you are buzzing along at the lower levels and you could end up being inside and outside of controlled airspace at regular intervals.

For those sectors outside of CAS you will get the 'what service do you require' question. It is a UK thing. As Biggin (and Farnborough for that matter) are outisde of CAS you will eventually get this sort of response, albeit for the last few miles of approach at Biggin.

As far as Biggin is concerned, yes we only have one IFR approach to Rwy 21 (working on plans for the other end). So with one published approach expect a visual manoeuvre if runway 03 is in use. Cloudbase permitting.

Sounds like Thames dropped the ball a bit if they vectored you through the ILS and back on from the other side and above the approach. At least they offered a re-vector if you required.

If you are still at Biggin I am back in the office tomorrow (8/4/11) for more formative face to face comment.


Manager ATS Biggin

Edit: Oh you are in Peru? Forget the latter comment.
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Old 7th Apr 2011, 21:54
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Vino: thanks so much for that offer, I will try to stop by on a future trip.

This trip was about 3 weeks ago, and I just had it in the back of my mind to try and get some insight/background about those various issues. Thanks for your input!
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Old 7th Apr 2011, 21:55
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Kerling, why would we get delays? Having retired from the heavy stuff I now fly a medium twin into some of the busy spots in the US , at these places one sees a traffic mix never seen at any of the major Brit or EU airports, so if they can do it, why not you folks? As for N numbers having a few problems, we see a bit of this but its our own fault for having two official lingos in our ATC system, seems to worry them. Having said this, with the run down of the RAF and Britains lack of snow shovels the traffic should be a lot less this winter.
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Old 7th Apr 2011, 22:56
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This post struck a bit of a chord with me, and a couple of the earlier replies unfortunately I am sad to say weren't very helpful.

Flying single-pilot, IFR, unpressurised (and therefore limited to a maximum of 10,000 feet) is, like many other areas of aviation, a demanding job, and therefore lurking underneath the original poster's questions is a far more subtle point that you'd only really appreciate if it's the game you are in.

Let's face facts. If you're in a light twin, you are not in an easy working environment. Sure, the type of people who fly them tend to have a reasonable experience level, certainly sufficient to allow flying the aeroplane to be second nature. But I'm afraid that the workload can go sky-high in the blink of an eye just through one seemingly innocuous aircraft related problem, or seemingly innocent instruction from a controller.

One such comment might be "route direct Lambourne". Fine, you might think...but it's dark, and your cockpit lighting is poor, and you're having to hand-fly because the company Ops manual prevents use of the autopilot in any icing conditions (that's if the autopilot even works at all). So...just what is the Ident for Lambourne? Ok...so which chart do you pull out first whilst hand-flying at night? Well, it might be on the approach plate for your destination. But then again, it might not be. It's the old problem - how can you look for something when you don't know where it is? Well, it'll certainly be on your airways chart. Anybody ever seen an airways chart as viewed in a light twin at night? And who's there to keep the aircraft level while you look for it? Frankly, this little situation is what happens on a lot of flights at 'this end' of aviation. You wouldn't have to sit in the right hand seat on a sector like this for very long before you witnessed it.

Here's another classic example which the original poster experienced - happens all the time. "You're now leaving controlled airspace. Squawk 7000 and freecall London/Scottish Information". Hang on a minute...where did that come from?! I'll try to give you the background on this one, as I get it week in, week out, and it really screws everything up:

So, you've sat down and planned an airways routing, even though you were pushed for time, you managed to find the one and only route which an aircraft limited to FL100 can file for. Well, that's if you're lucky! Go on...how many people out there could pull out an airways chart and find a convincing IFR route below FL100 in the UK? It's a nightmare. Sometimes you can, sometimes you can't. Sometimes you do find one, but it gets rejected as soon as you send it. OK, so your plan goes in without a hitch. You take off, start to fly the departure, and straight away get put on a radar heading. Fine, to start with everything seems great - the controller is doing your navigating for you.

Now, you punched the route into the GPS before you went, purely so it's there as a reference for you. But the longer you stay on the radar heading, the quicker you realise that you're actually a long way off the planned track. However, you realise that you're being given a far more direct routing and so you tend not to panic. And then all hell breaks loose in the cockpit. You're leaving controlled airspace... So you call up the FIR frequency. Now, I've been doing this a while, I've done a lot of VFR flying all round the British Isles too, and I know my way around. But there's a difference between IFR and VFR. You see, the FIR quite often don't know you're coming when you get 'booted out', and they ask you to 'pass your details'. What do you tell them? Just where are you? All you know is that you're on a radar heading, tracking nothing in particular, well to the East of your planned route, and with no idea how far away the next controlled airspace is ahead of you. And what's more, the FIR controller is operating non-radar, and so he can't tell you that either. This happens frequently in the UK.

The next thing that happens is (and full credit to London Info and Scottish Info, they work really hard for us guys) that the FIR controller does some ringing around, and gets back to you a few minutes later with a message from London Control. Generally something along the lines of "Remain outside controlled airspace, Squawk XXXX and for onward clearance contact......" Now this is tricky. Remain outside controlled airspace? So on what chart is class A airspace accurately depicted for those of us who don't know quite where we are, having left class A airspace on a Radar heading?

In summary, I have every sympathy with the original poster. What he has posted is a true reflection of what happens week-in, week-out for aircraft of that category trying to fly IFR routes in the UK. I suppose I am fortunate that I've found most of the 'gotchas' that lurk around in this country, I've heard of all the VORs, I know the difference between a basic service and a traffic service, I know that the FIR controllers don't have radar (unlike, say, Amsterdam), I know that you can't get from POL to DCS at FL100 in the day, but you can at night...the list goes on. I've learned most of these through bitter experience...and god know what I'd be like if every other country was the same as this - it's impossible to know all the subtleties.

I can pretty well guess from the way the poster has described the flight that he had probably taken all reasonable planning precautions prior to the flight. I know this because he is not asking unreasonable questions. I would love to see how some of the people who shot him down in the early replies cope in flight, I really would!

Last edited by Airbus38; 30th Oct 2015 at 12:19.
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Old 8th Apr 2011, 03:01
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Very good post and I agree with everything you say. (I seem to remember agreeing with you a lot when we were flying CJs together)


Another well written post. Brings back many memories; some good, some not so good.

It seems as if the responses to this thread fall into two camps:

1. Pilots who try to do the right thing but who are somewhat frustrated by the limitations of the cockpit environment in which they find themselves and who find the ATC service in the UK a little 'different' from other parts of the world; and

2. ATC professionals who have maybe forgotten the realities of single-pilot IFR flying (maybe they never knew) and who expect all flight crew, whatever their origin, to have an intimate knowledge of the UK AIP.

Now don't get me wrong: I have the highest respect for UK Air Traffic Controllers and I would be the first to admit that I know next to b*gger all about the pressures and problems of their jobs, BUT - Let's not forget that ATC is there to provide a SERVICE to pilots, not the other way around! To avoid exaggeration of the issues raised in this thread, I should add that I generally receive an excellent service in the UK. It's the responses on this thread from some of our ATC colleagues that leaves me unimpressed.

I would have thought that it shouldn't be too difficult to provide the three-letter ident and/or freqeuncy of any radio aid within the sector being controlled. Or if the pilot is clearly having problems navigating towards a desired point, why not simply provide vectors while they sort themselves out?

Airbus38 provides an excellent explanation of the problems from the pilot's perspective. Where is the explanation from an ATC professional of the poor service that ATC gave to wwelvaert that day? All we have heard so far is: "This guy shouldn't be allowed in UK airspace", and "He obviously failed to prepare thoroughly enough".

I would be genuinly interested to learn so that I can plan accordingly before my next SP HPCA flight in UK airspace.

Now I have to pack my bags for yet another light jet trans-Atlantic flight. As always, I will look forward to the calm professional voice of the UK controller as I pass RATSU, southbound. Let's not fall out over this, but let's keep in mind who is serving whom.
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Old 8th Apr 2011, 03:51
  #28 (permalink)  
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Q? what service do you require

Full service with happy ending....is this ICAO.....

Works here in HK...

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Old 8th Apr 2011, 07:54
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Seems on here that that the basic issue is one that anyone with any common sense would realise. You dont know what is going on at the other end of the RT.

Whilst ATC find it easy to critisize crews an apparent lack of knowledge, I have come across frequent examples at work of controllers displaying a complete lack of appreciation of what pressures and situations crews have to cope with. But will they ask their line manager for a fam-flight to be arranged for them ? Hmmmm...

Much as I want to defend my profession, it is true that there is a a distinct variation amongst ATC controllers about empathy with the guy at the other end of the mike. And the terse response regarding the "Lamborne" incident is, sadly, not as isolated incident as we would like.

Providing a Basic Service, I have encountered a few idiots with a "5 hrs a year" PPL, but also the majority who do know what they're doing. There will always be a variation in standards as long as they exceed the required minimum. I like think when I complete a shift that I've done a good job and been as helpful as possible, and tried to enhance our ATC reputation.

i read the initial thread and my gut reaction was "hmm, does this guy know what he is doing?", but having given it some thought and read various replies, its obvious there is a lack of understanding on both sides to a certain degree, and that there are also some very blinkered replies.

I've done loads of fam-flights, especially pre 9/11, mostly off my own back, as I love airplanes and flying. Especially in the US, things can be VERY different, as well as in some of the more obscure EU destinations. To expect crews to be familiar with every piece of airspace and procedure is completely unrealistic (though no excuse for poor preparation of course). If crews need help, then it should be offered - thats ultimately what ATC is there for.

Until controllers take more interest in the jobs the people they provide a service for are doing, and until crews make the effort to come and look around a busy ATC unit, these misconceptions (and subsequent snipping) will always be there.
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Old 8th Apr 2011, 08:41
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Savannah Jet,

Very well said. Ignorance of each others environment is nothing new, it has been so as long as I've been in this business, fam flights or no. Bottom line is there are only a minority on either side of the mike who have an interest in looking over the fence, so to speak. As I look around at the newer recruits, that number gets smaller and smaller by the year. Maybe I'm hanging around in the wrong circles, but I could count on one hand the number of commercial pilots who have ever shown an interest in seeing the aviation world from the other side with all its' peculiarities, pressures and limitations.

The initial replies here would confirm for me that ignorance appears to be bliss for some.

BTW Airbus38 cracking post. In relation to finding that elusive IFR routing below FL120, this one has worked well for me so far

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Old 8th Apr 2011, 09:01
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What date was your flight ? I can check the plan and see what you should have expected.
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Old 8th Apr 2011, 09:06
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Appalling sanctimonious attitude from some (pilots?) but balanced approach from others, my sympathy to OP, welcome to the UK.

Humble 25 yr PPL
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Old 8th Apr 2011, 12:28
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Nice to see some useful replies have come in.

Regrettably for flights like yours that may drop out of the lower levels of controlled airspace the UK system is often not very joined up and first time operators find this out the hard way.

If you were taken off your flight planned route by ATC then ATC should have okayed this with you first.

Had you been able to fly your planned route and been inside CAS the whole flight you would have kept the same squawk. It's the dropping out of CAS and then the airways controllers doing their best to get rid of you that leads to the numerous squawks and the requests for what service you want once you've left CAS. As mentioned, not a joined up system.

Once you get down to LAM and the London TMA the airspace can be quite complicated. I'd guess that you were vectored from LAM and passed east abeam London City at 4,000ft. If there are any arrivals/departures from City, they will be at 3,000ft at the point you pass abeam the airport hence you likely at 4,000ft. Once you pass City it then may not leave much time or room to get down from 4,000ft onto the Biggin ILS, especially if there was a tailwind hence possibly why high and not ideally positioned.

There are few private pilots in UK ATC these days and even fewer that have ever flown in the airways system themselves in GA type aircraft. Few even go on available fam flights in the larger stuff. The end result of that is awareness of your workload and problems/issues is regrettably not that great to non-existent. Hopefully this thread and any more like it might make some some sit back and think a little rather than fire off the pointlessly obnoxious stuff seen earlier.

Do keep posting and asking questions as and when you need and hopefully they'll be answered reasonably.
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Old 8th Apr 2011, 12:52
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I think it must have been this one...

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Old 8th Apr 2011, 13:10
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Unfortunate Choice Of Airfields

To the OP....

You've probably picked the worst corner of a very congested TMA, a lot of what you describe also applys to us Jet drivers, its just a very busy part of a small country and although unconventional you need to consider the proximity of Gatwick/London City/Heathrow.

The extended vectors and early / late turn ons are facts of life in that area, it takes a few go's to figure out what they're planning to do and even then that guarantees nothing for the next time.

Whilst it looks scrappy, you should be rest assured that theres always a plan in somebodys mind in the main......imagine an area as busy as that with lets say some of our "less" capable ATC'ers from the EU it would be carnage.

It would also be a good bet that your air miles flown were significantly less than planned
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Old 8th Apr 2011, 15:21
  #36 (permalink)  
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Vino: I think that is the flight plan. No excuses for the convoluted routing, that's what we were able to get accepted by the Eurocontrol folks in Brussels (at some point in this thread I fear my true nationality will surface).

To avoid exaggeration of the issues raised in this thread, I should add that I generally receive an excellent service in the UK. It's the responses on this thread from some of our ATC colleagues that leaves me unimpressed.
I couldn't agree more. Other than the one controller at Lamboure all of the ATC controllers were very professional that day. This thread was certainly not meant as an offense to ATC controllers but as a clarification (ok, rant) about the system idiosyncrasies, or the totality thereof on that particular flight.
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Old 8th Apr 2011, 15:37
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its obvious there is a lack of understanding on both sides to a certain degree
In hindsight very happy that I started this thread for the info that was posted from both ATC and pilot's sides. There's absolutely a difference between a procedural/regulatory understanding of the system and being conditioned by experience to some of it's ideosynchrasies.
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Old 8th Apr 2011, 16:48
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Non IFR pilot question here: Would being on oxygen and flying higher have helped with a more direct routing and less handovers/transponder headaches?
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Old 8th Apr 2011, 18:46
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Flying into Biggin IFR is not easy at the best of times, due to the proximity of Heathrow,CITY, Stansted Luton Gatwcik etc ++ all in the same area- it is a very busy area!! But looking at his filed flight plan, he filed IFR outside controlled airspace via SAB - OTR - CLN then his arrival via CLN(Clacton) via Tripo -this would explain his multiple transponder changes and muliple Radio changes? He would clearly have been expecting and briefed himself on SPEAR 1B star into Biggin(well that is what he filed?) ? If you look at the STAR chart you will find Lambourne (LAM) is clearly marked on the chart as Lambourne(LAM) So am a little surprised he couldn't understand and accept a direct Lambourne? It's very easy to knock the UK system but he filed and flew IFR outside controlled airspace and wanted all the perks of operating on the airway system ?
He didn't really understand what he had filed and was expecting ?
No system is perfect but I think UK around London is the best you can get, and to see UK based pilots saying otherwise is rather disappointing ?
I have spent 36 years(+17000 hours) flying worldwide and it still fills me with relief when I cross the UK FIR !!
Thanks ATC UK !!

Last edited by farmer jo; 8th Apr 2011 at 19:11. Reason: spelling
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Old 8th Apr 2011, 20:45
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Flying into Biggin IFR is not easy at the best of times, due to the proximity of Heathrow,CITY, Stansted Luton Gatwcik etc ++ all in the same area- it is a very busy area!
Perhaps you can qualify that statement?

We share much of our IFR arrival procedures with City airport. Are you saying that flying IFR into City is also 'not easy' also?
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