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UK LARS service - how can it be improved?

Apparently a working group has been set up to examine the subject.

My view is this:

It would be useful to merge London Info with Farnborough!

Then London Info could finally stop pretending they can't see you on radar (which under the ICAO / union rules they have to do because they are not the correct radar-qualified-ATCO pay grade, but actually they have had radar for several years), and one might get a unified H24 radar service for GA.

Also, for a non-towered departure, Farnborough cannot obtain an IFR clearance from London Control (they seem to do only their own departures (bizjets)). London Info perform that service but they can take so long that, in some cases, by the time they have done it, you have flown maybe 50nm and a clearance to climb into CAS is impossible, either because you are passing near LHR to the north, or because you have left UK airspace to the south So that could be improved, one way or another.

My understanding is that, a long time ago, the main reason for the LARS units was because the RAF jets were regularly getting lost (no GPS). These days, the main reason is to keep a lid on airspace busts by GA. But why can't London Info do that, overtly? They have a much bigger VHF coverage than UK LARS, and are H24. They have "CAS watching" in their brief (which is why they now have radar visibility) but they are not allowed to do it overtly.

Administrator
Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

I initially agreed that London Info and Farnborough LARS could usefully be integrated. They physically sit in opposite corners of the same room.

But as we all know, its a Saturday morning, the sun comes out, everyone hops into their planes, and your chance of getting a word in edgeways, let alone anything more than a basic service goes out the window. In my experience of using Farnborough LARS which is generally every flight I do, the service is only really useful when its borderline IMC flying and most aircraft are on the ground (I say as a weekend flyer). London Info covers the whole FIR, and not just London and the surrounding areas, so it could become even more saturated if it merged with Farnborough, and that would not be good - though I appreciate there would need to be more than 3 sectors. I too have seen the Radar screens next to London Info, but I guess they are to one side, hence they are unable to give any kind of traffic avoidance officially because they are not permanantly monitoring them. Its just an aid I suppose.

What I would like to see if complete LARS coverage OCAS in the whole of the FIR. In the weekdays its not so bad with many military zones providing a service, but at the weekend, there are gaps. I plan my flights on the basis I might need to enter IMC and therefore I want a radar service. When there are gaps in radar coverage, or only basic services available, then the risk of flying in IMC goes up (even if there have been no reported accident in IMC (though I have written on here recently, I was very close !)).

What I really want is what the guys in the controlled airspace get, but OCAS. I guess I either try and get an IR, or continue in hope... Farnborough was a step in the right direction though :-)

I know nobody wants to hear "the way the FAA does it" but I understand that there was a big change in services in the US when the FAA started paying controllers per aircraft handled.

I understand that LARS units receive a payment for providing LARS service.

Imagine if that payment wasn't a flat fee but rather a fee per aircraft handled.

Fee for basic service : x Fee for Traffic service : x3 Fee for Deconcliction Service: x4 etc.

Then there would be a real incentive to offer to as many aircraft as possible and to offer the best possible possible service to those aircraft.

It would also ensure that the most efficient units got the most funding, and the funding was only spent when a service was actually provided.

If traffic levels were large, the extra fee income could even pay for an additional controller for peak periods....ok...maybe stretching this too far ;)

EIWT Weston

I fear though that it would only be a matter of time before someone decided to pass on the costs, plus admin costs, to whomsoever had requested the service. Although I grant you that hasn't happened (as far as I'm aware) in the US.

I fear though that it would only be a matter of time before someone decided to pass on the costs, plus admin costs, to whomsoever had requested the service

AFAIK, under ICAO, they have to offer a Flight Information Service.

It doesn't have to be a radar service.

I've never heard of anybody charging for an FIS. Not sure how they could, short of VFR enroute charges.

If any service in Class G was charged for, almost nobody would use it. With GPS, nobody "needs" to talk to anybody.

So I can't really see it happening... it is in the authorities' interest to have a "known traffic" environment, as far as possible, to control CAS busts, and for national security. That's what France did, as far as one can tell, over the past decade. You are always on radar.

Administrator
Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

Pretty much what's already been said - fill in the existing gaps in coverage and get the military controllers to work weekends. Otherwise I think it works pretty well. Certainly Farnborough do a pretty good job, especially considering how busy it gets round there. Whatever happens though, it needs to remain free at the point of use in the interest of safety.

Fairoaks, United Kingdom

As you will all know, the co-existance of LARS and FIS is unique to the UK and confuses pilots from abroad. So, from an international perspective, I would say: split up the area covered by London FIS into four sectors with four controllers. LFIS should provide radar services and be available 7 days a week. Then do away with LARS.

OTOH, many military controllers have nothing to do anyway, so why not use this resource for GA...but again, the system is confusing and bears the risk of everyone being on different frequencies...

Mainz (EDFZ), Germany

Oh where do I start? I suppose I should tell all that I spent the first half of my working life as a military air traffic controller and about 10 years ago was seconded to the UK CAA. One of my responsibilities was being the CAA's desk officer for LARS and ATSOCAS policy.

Anyway, firstly clearing-up some of the muddle. The UK provides Flight Information Services (FIS) in accordance with its ICAO obligations. FIS is to be made available in all airspace that a state accepts responsibility for, including CAS. The application of FIS outside CAS is far less clearly defined that the Air Traffic Control services that are provided within CAS but, in simple terms, FIS can incorporate information and advice but not instruction.

Many countries provide a basic 'listening watch' whilst some develop FIS into a broad spectrum of capability, sometimes choosing to apply additional terminology to the type of FIS being provided. In the not too distant past the UK provided Radar Advisory Service, Radar Information Service and Flight Information Service. It is important to note that all of these services fell into the ICAO FIS category. Some 5 years or so ago the UK changed the terminology to Deconfliction Service, Traffic Service and Basic Service. Whilst there were some minor changes to the conditions of each service the renaming process was largely cosmetic.

So what about LARS? LARS is purely a mechanism whereby units capable of providing the radar elements of FIS are partially remunerated for providing ATSOCAS (you could call this ICAO FIS outside of CAS). There is nothing stopping an appropriately equipped and stated ATC unit from providing ATSOCAS. The real question should about how LARS units are identified for remuneration? This is where the LARS Working Group comes in. The idea behind LARS is identifying locations which would benefit from the additional protection offered by creating a pseudo known environment whilst giving those aircraft which operate outside CAS some form of overlapping cover across England and, to a lesser degree, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Using this template, it becomes obvious that the military units which do not have the protection of CAS and operate aircraft in the relatively low levels are well placed and keen to provide LARS; fast jets and VFR 3000ft bimblers don't mix well. I think there are 29 LARS units of which 18 or 19 are military.

Looking ahead, I think that any radical change to UK FIS would require a complete rethink of all airspace below FL95. LARS (semi guaranteed ATSOCAS) allows airfields to provide instrument approach services whilst mitigating the risk of collision. The advantage presented by transit aircraft talking to the same unit providing instrument approach procedures should not be underestimated. Sure, evolving London FIS into an en-route radar service provider (something like the military middle air services above FL95) would be a major step and we all know how Farnborough LARS has changed the SE. However, I think such an action would have to be combined with the provision of appropriate CAS to protect all instrument approaches.

One final thought - cost. The LARS budget in 2004 was £6.2M and this barely scratched the surface as far as ATSOCAS provision was concerned. A super-LARS unit would realise some overall savings but the cost would still be significant. The advantage of the current situation is that it tends to use each unit's irreducible space capacity thus hiding much of the real cost. Establishing a dedicated facility would inevitably beg the question - who pays? Statistically, the greatest user of FIS is GA. Arguments about commercial CAS users paying because FIS helps with the protection of CAS traffic are, at best, tenuous. The UK could decide to be far less flexible and stick with its minimum ICAO obligations ('listening watch'), build a load of CAS around every IAP and merrily forgot those who operate in an uncontrolled environment.

Fly safely
Various UK. Operate throughout Europe and Middle East, United Kingdom

Well Mr Phillips since the military are paid entirely out of taxation and they do not attract any kind of additional costs like overtime, would you be kind enough to explain from where these costs may arise? Perhaps if you could also tell us where the £6.2million was spent then we would all be better informed and able to make a more positive conrtibution to this debate. Many thanks

UK, United Kingdom

Divide £6.2M by 29 and that will give you an average of £210,000 per LARS unit, which in simple terms was the breakdown of financial distribution (units which provided more hours got a bigger slice of the cake). If you want 84 hrs/week cover you need a minimum four civilian controllers or three military (different working hours regulation). The average military controller cost £35k and the equivalent civilian £80k (2004 prices). Factor-in equipment etc and the real cost is far greater than the £6.2m which, to add to the discussion, was siphoned-off from Eurocontrol en-route charges.

The military had the spare capacity because they had their own traffic to service, needed to train controllers and weren't always in Afghanistan etc. Any funding that went to recognize the military LARS did not go to the unit concerned, it went direct to MOD. The reality is that you could probably stop funding from the en-route charges but some units would then choose not to provide LARS. I've yet to see a valid argument why commercial air traffic should subsidise LARS, which it currently does.

Fly safely
Various UK. Operate throughout Europe and Middle East, United Kingdom
36 Posts
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