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"Level Busts" increasing in UK -- The Times

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"Level Busts" increasing in UK -- The Times

Old 11th Aug 2007, 08:17
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I have already submitted a couple of suggestions about 2 years ago which I thought might help to reduce level busts, but nothing changed.

I suggested that the UK transition level should be standardised at FL100. I thought FL100 would be the ideal level as all altitudes would then be single figures (obviously apart from the odd hundreds of feet, ie 3,500)

I also suggested that ATCO's could say something along the lines of "check standard pressure set" when clearing an aircraft to a flight level for the first time, in the same way that we always pass QNH when giving the first descent to an altitude.

Like I said nothing happened except a few mumbles of "too difficult etc" but maybe if you think the ideas are valid then you could make the same suggestions via your own organisations.
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Old 11th Aug 2007, 08:47
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Mad as a MAd thing

As a London TMA controller, I would say that out of the level busts I see, the majority of them are by A/C in the climb.

As for the call "check Standard pressure set" before issuing a climbing to FL - surely the words Flight Level should be sufficient prompt? Certainly was when I flew.

As for the stepped climbs on the SIDs - it can be complicated, but they are needed in the LTMA due to the huge interaction between airport departure tracks... if we did not have them, departure intervals would hugely increse (treble or more?), as every London airport would have to integrate a departure with each other.

Agreed though that one set of charts in particular seem to be very poor - whjy this has not been addressed I do not know.

However, it does not help ATCOs when pilots (particularly Delta in this case) call climbing to 6000 altitude, when tyhey should be stopping at 4A initiaqlly. When we query it they acknowledge that they will be stopping at 4A first - why not say that straight away? Save valuable R/T time for the ATCOs and stops pilots having to make radio calls when they are otherwise in the busiest stage of flight.

And whilst on the subject - If we give a climb above the SID level - do not ask "is that unrestricted?" - It means climb now! The new clearance negates the old.

Fatigue may have a part to play in increase in busts, but having not read the article, has it mentioned that in the LTMA actual level busts have decreased, but this is hugely in part, to the use of MODE S. What has increased is the number of reports (that we as controllers are asked to input) of prevented level busts.

This is to be expected with MODE S and the increase in traffic levels!
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Old 11th Aug 2007, 09:11
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Talking

some of those departures are spring loaded for a bust
Yes, jump into the longhaul twin for a 30 min sector - spoonful of fuel - handful of pax & freight - windshear reported - SOP says 'No reduced thrust'

Yeehaah!
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Old 11th Aug 2007, 09:22
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do not ask "is that unrestricted?"
From a pilot's point of view that's a tricky one. If unsure of what is expected then I'd say they should clarify.
Personally, I'd just readback "Climbing NOW FL." but then that could, in certain circumstances, (and remember we don't just fly in the London TMA) be mistaken for "Now at FL."
It's a worry
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Old 11th Aug 2007, 09:30
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Fair enough Basil,

But to me, A "climb FL/Alt" instruction, means 'do it now'. As an ATCO, I am th eone who knows whether it is safe to countermand the SID restriciotn or whatever.

You are correct that if in doubt you should ask, but on Gatwick departures, its happening over 50% of the time - a tad frustrating. It's getting to the point that I will say "climb unrestricted FL/Alt", just to avoid pilots querying the instruction and adding to even more frequency congestion (which the pilots complain about!)

BTW I'd rather have frequnecy congestion than a pilot doing something because he mis-interpreted my call, so last sentence above was not having a go - merely an observation
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Old 11th Aug 2007, 09:40
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It may sound like stating the obvious but surely the number of level busts is directly proportional to the number of times an aircraft has to level off during climb/descent. I am based at the world's busiest international building site and it is not unusual to get cleared to a dozen or fifteen different levels between transition and cruise. Obviously we don't level off this many times as we moderate rate of climb taking into account the clearances and traffic around us but there is a lot of potential for a level bust in this sort of scenario. An unrestricted climb on any route out of Heathrow is a rare and beautiful thing.
I've looked at SID/STAR charts for southern UK airports and I imagine there is little potential for separating the various arrival and departure routes better than they are at present to try to alleviate this problem.
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Old 11th Aug 2007, 09:46
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Beats me how the sky Gods of the first world with their masterful command of English and superb cocksure flawless training can be involved with level busts. The training and checks are supposedly so exacting that this can never happen! Surely incompetent pilots from the third world or basket cases in the Orient must be masquerading as the sky deities in good old Brittania.
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Old 11th Aug 2007, 12:49
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mohdawang

who says we were talking about Western European or American pilots?

It's merely the fact that it is a report in a newspaper based on UK airspace In actual fact, it probably is the inept, 3rd world/Orient based pilots that are causing the problems by being unable to fly in busy airspace, or read arrival/departure charts.

"Cheek, this is tongue.... request position, over."
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Old 11th Aug 2007, 15:22
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I too have felt that a higher Nationwide Transition level , like FL100 would maybe help resolve some of the problems, but against that Air Traffic would then have to be updating the Altimeter Setting as you progress along the SID, STAR or vector. But a least a Standard TL, something like 6,000ft across the whole British Isles would be a start.
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Old 11th Aug 2007, 18:40
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another, from what I can infer from the preceding posts the culprits were from the first world...highly inept too!
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Old 11th Aug 2007, 19:33
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Hi Doug E style,
We thought that as well that was why a study was made to see if there was a correlation between the number of level change instructions and Level Busts.The study did not find a correlation...
There is however a correlation between level busts and an instruction to climb above the Transition altitude. It does not seem to matter how high above the TA the level is, on a low pressure day level busts will occur. There does seem to be a break down in SOPs and we also think that the error occurs in High pressure but it is not noticed because the aircraft does not reach the cleared level and high pressure is normally closer to 1013 so we wouldn't see the difference very often.
This type of level bust is why LTCC now issues a notam warning of low pressure when it is below 990. because there is not much distance between 6,000ft and the first FL above TA, if you forget to set standard pressure when you are cleared to a FL.
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Old 11th Aug 2007, 20:11
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zkdli,
thanks for your input. Did your study take into account the experience of any other major airports? You may know that Schiphol SIDs have a flight level (FL60 for all those that I've ever flown) as their first cleared level. Obviously, there is no ATC "prompt" to change to 1013 so, in theory, they ought to have more level busts than say, Heathrow. Does any evidence bear that out? Incidentally, our company SOPs require a low QNH and the potential repurcussions to be included in the departure brief.
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Old 11th Aug 2007, 20:26
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I understand your transition levels, but never really understood why you didn't use FL180 like we do here in the states. could someone explain why?

we had problems with altitude busts as we call them...went wild with new techniques...everyone in cockpit pointed at the altitude setting, any questions call ATC and verify. everyone verabilized everything to extreme...but our altitude busts went down quickly.

so did the threats of a month without pay!
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Old 12th Aug 2007, 15:23
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bomarc - transition altitudes in the UK are set, where possible, at a level which complies with ICAO regulations. I believe that there are 6 ICAO regulations relating to the level at which the TA is set at and that the UK currently complies with 5 of the 6. Having said that the UK policy is to harmise TA inside controlled airspace at 6000 feet, this will be achieved by about 2011/12 with the TA being raised during planned airspace changes.

Doug E Style - the study attempted to determine if there was a clear relationship between the number of level change instructions, the number of level busts and the number of times an aircraft levels off. The findings were not conclusive but there is little doubt that there is a relationship between the number of level change instructions and controller and pilot workload. It is the relationship between level busts (and other operational errors) with workload rather than just level clearances which is likely to be more interesting

Mad as a mad thing - there have been various variations of your suggested phraseology considered but it hasn't been progressed. This isn't because it is too difficult but because it is felt that the possible benefits of the phraseology were outweighed by the dis-benefits such as the increase in RT, the fact that there is already a trigger for pilots to set SPS i.e. climb FLxx, that the instruction could be contrary to operator SOPs and the fact that we'd probably have to do it everywhere. If pilots came to rely on the phraseology as a trigger to set SPS but then flew somewhere where the phraseology wasn't in use...
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Old 12th Aug 2007, 17:52
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I understand your transition levels, but never really understood why you didn't use FL180 like we do here in the states. could someone explain why?
NIH="Not Invented Here"
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Old 12th Aug 2007, 19:58
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It has nothing to do with not invented here, a lot of flights in UK and europe are over relatively short distances (for americans) and at relatively low levels. Now look at the altimeter setting region map for the UK, it would make things worse not better to have 180 as the changeover, 60 as a blanket level would be more sensible, if that is required.

In a discussion with NATS team about level busts only last week 3 of the 7 most serious incidents involved people being cleared to a flight level and not setting standard straight away but waiting until they passed Trans Alt then forgetting to set standard bingo, level bust! Their message, which is what I have always been taught/taught is that when cleared to a level, set standard, and when cleared to an alt set the qnh. The sop in my company is to set standard on the 2 primary alts and leave qnh on the standby until the 10 checks/climb checks.
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Old 12th Aug 2007, 20:28
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an unproportional part of the levelbusts are caused by businessjets, to be more specific, the big netjetsfleet.
Young inexperienced pilots put unto a businessjet that easily outclimbs a 737.
should we accept that our lives are put at risk by low time jet jockeys in our common airspace?
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Old 12th Aug 2007, 22:01
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space pig

you make a sound point...I would love to see an increase in the number of hours for both commercial and atp certificates.
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Old 14th Aug 2007, 17:46
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And whilst on the subject - If we give a climb above the SID level - do not ask "is that unrestricted?" - It means climb now! The new clearance negates the old.
I'm sure the new clearance negates the old in the UK but some of us fly into a lot of countries and that is just not true many places. If you're going into PEK and are given a lower altitude on the arrival, you are still expected to make published altitude restrictions unless they tell you otherwise. Some crews have found out the hard way about this detail in recent years. It is buried somewhere in the country pages of the J-Aid but who has time to read that stuff.

A similar situation exists when you are cleared to taxi to a runway. Some places, like the U.S., you have an inferred clearance to cross other runways to get to the hold short line. Many other places, you don't so, similarly, American controllers get testy when you ask for clarification.

It would be great if I could memorize all the little nuances of local ATC procedure everywhere I go but in the real world, if I have any doubt about a clearance, I ask rather than assume.

I too have felt that a higher Nationwide Transition level , like FL100 would maybe help resolve some of the problems, but against that Air Traffic would then have to be updating the Altimeter Setting as you progress along the SID, STAR or vector.
It may be hard to believe but we've flow SID's STAR's and vectors for many years in the U.S. with a FL180 transition level. If you need a new altimeter, check the ATIS.
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Old 15th Aug 2007, 07:33
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And whilst on the subject - If we give a climb above the SID level - do not ask "is that unrestricted?" - It means climb now! The new clearance negates the old.
Why have the SID altitude restrictions then if you are only issuing altitudes that coincide with the SID. There is no reason to have them. The same with STARS. A decent instruction when you are cleared on a STAR doesn't negate the STAR restrictions.
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