In this latest issue of the regular Horizon Aviation Safety Digest the majority of the incidents are, yet again, infringements of Controlled Airspace. A small number of these incidents involve “Level Busts” by aircraft drifting above or below their cleared height or altitude. However, by far and away the majority involve pilots accidentally flying into Controlled Airspace.

Talk to Someone!

Most of the infringements mentioned in this issue were made by pilots who were flying VFR outside controlled airspace and talking to nobody; an entirely reasonable thing to do – they were doing nothing wrong. When I was whizzing about the UK in my RAF fun jet, it was normal to give a “courtesy call” to airfields we were flying past to let them know who we were and what we were doing. No Air Traffic Service was asked for or given. However, to the controller, we were no longer “Unknown Traffic”.

If you are in proximity to controlled airspace and squawking VFR, the controller has no idea who you are, what you are likely to do, or where you are going. Furthermore, he cannot give you any helpful hints if you are about to enter his airspace in error. In almost all cases, Controllers do not automatically want to control you if you call on their frequency. They would just like to know what you are doing and will then be happy to let you get on and do it! They will, however, be able to help you if you stray! Even when you are talking to another ATC Unit, the squawk you are displaying tells controllers who you are talking to and, again, this allows helpful information to be passed on to you, if required.

The message is: don’t be frightened to call the airfield you are passing by. They will be delighted to hear from you and will not take control of your flight. If you worry that your R/T might not be up to scratch, go and spend some time with a friendly instructor for some practice, or even just sit and listen in on a local frequency to pick up the way of things again. As always, that excellent CAA publication, CAP 413, is a great resource.

Taxying Accidents

Airspace Infringements

There were a number of incidents this month involving collisions with objects or other aircraft whilst taxying. Much like driving, maintaining good visibility from the cockpit is more difficult during the Autumn and Winter periods: the sun is low in the sky and the damp air condenses on both the outside and inside of the windshield. Ensure, as much as you can, that the windscreen and side panels are clear of condensation, but be careful not to obscure them further with horrible smudges (It’s worth keeping a good quality microfibre-type cloth in your flight bag to help with this!). Be aware that the low sun can obscure objects in your path. If you’re not sure that you can see enough then stop until you are.

One particular incident involved taxying to a parking slot on grass: the pilot had been directed to a parking area at an airfield he was not familiar with. The grass was long and was concealing a concrete tie down which was struck by the aircraft. Again, if you can’t see what’s out there, for whatever reason, then stop and look before proceeding.

Stall Warning Indications

The student pilot of a Tutor was carrying out a clean stall. As the aircraft approached the stall the instructor noted that the stall warning horn had not sounded. He took control and completed another stall where, again, the stall warner failed to sound. The message here is that relying on the audio warner to tell you the aircraft is approaching the stall is not foolproof. However, some or all of the aerodynamic clues that the aircraft will give you will always be there: SPEED – Low and Reducing, CONTROLS – Becoming Less Effective, ATTITUDE – Nose High, and BUFFET!

Don’t Try This At Home!

The pilot of a Cirrus was returning to the circuit when he experienced and engine failure. He transmitted a Mayday call indicating that he would be unable to make the airfield and carried out a successful forced landing in a field. Once on the ground, he informed ATC that both he and the aircraft were undamaged and the emergency services from the airfield were despatched to the location. The next thing ATC knew was when the aircraft called on frequency again saying all was OK, that he was airborne again and returning to land!

One can only presume that the pilot had made some switching error in the cockpit which had caused the engine to stop. However, having spotted and corrected his error, the question has to be asked – how sensible was it to take off again, and so quickly. What was the surface condition? How long would the take off run be in the conditions and would the field be long enough? What damage may have been caused to the aircraft during landing, which might be invisible to the pilot? Was the perceived cause of the failure really the actual cause?

Whatever the circumstances around any error you make, you need to report it and deal with it safely and appropriately. Never be tempted to rush and attempt to correct it yourself in order to try and avoid potential embarrassment or perceived consequences. That is all part of the Just Culture that we should promote throughout all areas of aviation.

Mike Stanway is Horizon Aviation’s Safety Manager. An experienced former RAF fast jet pilot and instructor, he is now a human factors and flying training consultant, working with organisations ranging from the Royal Aeronautical Society to international airlines.