Every year I plan a trip across the channel, every year the weather turns against me and I end up spending my holiday flying around Southern Europe - here's hoping that next spring will be different!
Previously my plans have been to fly from Germany to Guernsey / Jersey, across the water to Dunkeswell thus avoiding the London Airspace - numerous pilots (all GA) have advised me that London FIS can be "difficult" with lots of radio traffic, difficulty getting a word in edgeways (like talking with my wife, I suppose), restrictions on airspace, plenty of GA circling before allowed to cross (eg) Gatwick, etc hence the trip via Guernsey / Jersey. However the more I think about it, I just wonder what the heck, it can't be that bad, can it?
So, I'd like local GA pilots views on this. I could theoretically skim beneath most of the Alpha airspace at 2300 -2400 feet, needing only concern myself with Southampton CTR but I'd prefer to be up higher. My routing would be Ostend -> DVR -> MAY -> EGTU. What would you advise?
Any tips on dealing with London FIS would be appreciated - even if it's just - fly south, enjoy Guernsey, avoid London ;-)
If you don't ever fly in that sort of airspace, it will never get any easier.
Jason, I know it won't get any easier, as it is, I'm pretty confident with R/T, Navigation and the like but is it really as bad as some fellow pilots say? That's what I wanted to know..... The worst I had was manoeuvring around Vienna airport but that was nothing really - I'm trying to get a handle on whether it's as bad as people say.
For info, I have my own icom a6-e and when I was last in UK whilst driving along the M20 in Kent, I tuned into 124.6 and heard hardly any traffic..... that was a Sunday morning, beautiful sunshine... are my fellow pilots in Germany having me on???
The UK is very easy.
Loads of Class G. No radio contact required.
There is no need to speak to London Information (124.60 in the south east); in fact there is a good argument to not do so because they have no radar (actually they have but since the staff are not ATC pay grade they are not allowed to indicate they can see you) and if you really want to speak to somebody then speak to a radar unit e.g. Farnborough 125.25. The Farnborough LARS coverage map can be found 1/3 of the way down here (under a mis-spelt title). I never call up anybody enroute unless they are a radar unit.
A lot of people fly with a listening watch on 124.60.
However, London Info might be your first frequency to call up when you cross the Channel from mainland Europe. They might ask you ETAs to your waypoints which is a hassle for "traditional" pilots but you can just read them off the GPS
As you say, fly under the LTMA at 2300-2400ft...
The UK does have its strange issues e.g. getting an IFR clearance into Class A can be virtually impossible, but if you are just hacking around Class G it's trivial.
Stay above 2000ft if you can, otherwise the traffic gets denser
London Information are generally excellent, and provide the best service they can within the constraints of a non-radar service. It's the standard of RT from the pilots on frequency which sometimes causes problems. The frequency can be quite busy on a weekend with good weather, but it's always possible to get a word in sooner or later. Once you have made contact ("London Information, G-ABCD request Basic service), on a busy day they will tell you "Standby, will call you back, you are number 2 in queue" or similar.
The worst that has happened to me was orbiting for a few minutes just outside the Danger Areas off Portland Bill (EG D021, D026, D023) while listening to several Irish pilots inbound to Aero Expo clogging the frequency with their life stories. It had already taken me 10 minutes to QSY from Deauville App, because that was busy too! Frustrating, because I knew the DAs were cold - it was a Saturday (military don't work weekends, mainly) and they had been cold a couple of hours earlier when I was outbound. But eventually I got a word in, received a pat on the back for good airmanship from London Info for having waited (!), and carried on.
In your case, there are no DAs or similar that require clearance, so you could just continue on your way and make contact whenever you get a chance. If you are planning to transit the Southampton CTR, it might be worth mentioning to them - they almost certainly won't co-ordinate, but they will at least spot when you are getting close and might help you get off-frequency in time to freecall Solent Approach.
If you prefer to fly higher, consider routing DVR - SFD - SAM which will enable you to maintain 5000ft all the way. It's also quite scenic along the south coast, and will probably only add a few minutes to your journey. If you can't get a transit of Southampton CTR, you can drop down, fly along the Solent, and either thread between So'ton and Bournemouth or continue south of the B'mouth CTR. However, transits East - West overhead the airfield are usually provided.
I'm with Peter on this - it really is easy, if you know the UK system...
Coming from Germany, I would cross the Channel between Cap Gris Nes and Lydd, then follow the south coast at a good altitude (if you stay along the coast, controlled airspace starts at 5500 feet).
In sequence, you can talk to:
* Lydd for a friendly voice as you cross the water
* Farnborough East (123.225) - very helpful, but can be a little busy
* Farnborough West (125.250 - Farnborough East will hand you over
* Solent Radar - for a transit of the Southampton controlled airspace (help them out a little by offering to transit at any level and they will almost always give you a crossing)
* Bournemouth (southampton will hand you off as you leave their airspace)
Sometimes Farnborough is closed - if that happens, you could carry on not talking to anyone, or call London Information in 124.6 - just make sure you call Southampton in good time.
The UK has an unusual system of ATC service levels outside of controlled airspace, and controllers will expect you to request and acknowledge one of these levels in your initial exchange:
* Basic Service - pretty much what ICAO call an alerting service. If you're (un)lucky, you might be given some traffic information as well - but don't rely on it.
* Traffic Service - in addition to an alerting service, you will be passed radar derived traffic. Controllers will often advise you that it is a 'reduced' traffic service - it is still useful.
* Procedural Service - mainly used for controlling IFR flights without radar. The controllers will clear you around a defined procedure, maintaining separation from known traffic.
* Deconfliction Service - in addition to a traffic service, you will be given vectors to avoid and expected to comply. This is (IMO) just about useless outside of controlled airspace - there is so much traffic about doing its own thing that you end up being sent all over the place (it is somewhat more useful when being vectored for an instrument approach - but even this is often done on a traffic service).
If unsure, just ask for a basic or traffic service, the controllers do their best to give you what you ask for. If you want help, just ask for "advisory vectors".
The airspace charts looks hideously over-complex but you can generally fly pretty much direct and flight is actually very easy:
I managed to go the whole length of the UK on Sunday without asking for a service. It was in CTA at FL250 however!