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My pprune thread about UK ATC

April 11, 2011

I started a thread on pprune the other day about UK ATC. If you’re not familiar, pprune (Professional Pilot’s Rumor Network) is an aviation forum where you can get some excellent insight on aviation related matters from crews and professionals in aviation, as well as a fair amount of sarcasm and typical belly-aching about aviation. Aviation can be a tough business, which may explain some of the latter.

The reason I started the thread was because I find the UK ATC system a bit different from other areas where I fly, and I wanted to describe or rant about the various anomalies I encountered on my most recent ferry flight during the leg from Wick (EGPC) to Biggin Hill (EGKB). Although I feel like I have a reasonable procedural understanding of the UK ATC system, I was also hoping to get some insight from fellow aviators.

Now I’m not the best with words, and when you read the thread please keep in mind that flying IFR in a general aviation aircraft at lower altitudes is in itself an anomaly for the system. The ATC system revolves around airliners, and especially around the world’s busier airports like London, Frankfurt or New York, ATC really is a magnificent accomplishment of technology and human resources.

Here’s the thread:

Is it me… or the UK ATC system?

Some of the initial responses were a bit harsh to say the least:

Incredible that this guy is let loose in Controlled Airspace!!

There is no excuse for failing to prepare for flight, and a pilot who doesn’t prepare, and then posts a series of complaints such as those above, only succeeds in highlighting his own inadequacies…

But then the bulk of the responses, both from pilots and ATC pros, became far more considerate:

Geez. Cut the guy some slack.

As a ‘born and bred’ UK pilot/instructor/examiner I used to think that the UK way of doing things was not only the best way, but the only way! Then I started flying on worldwide routes and my eyes were opened. I am now still of the opinion that the UK controllers are, for the most part, equal to or better than any others. BUT, as already mentioned, it’s the UK system that is hopelessly complicated and user-unfriendly.

I’m a UK based pilot and I wouldn’t take issue with anything you’ve described. I think some of the contributers here are being slightly disingenuous when they suggest that you are in someway at fault.

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 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.

Even the ATS manager at Biggin Hill took the time to respond, dig up my 3-week old flight plan and offered to chat in person if I was still in London:

If you are still at Biggin I am back in the office tomorrow … for more formative face to face comment. Regards. Manager ATS Biggin

As I mentioned on the forum, in hindsight I’m happy I started the thread because there is a lot of useful insight in the responses, some of the earlier responses aside. There’s definitely a difference between a procedural understanding of things on my part and being conditioned by experience to some of the ideosynchrasies of the UK ATC system. I think on future flights I will make some changes to my flight planning in the UK, such as flight planning strictly over airways/controlled airspace (even though that’s sometimes hard to do with Eurocontrol) and staying on my flight planned route as much as possible.

Here’s the airplane on the ramp at Biggin Hill at the end of the ferry flight:

Piper Seneca at Biggin Hill (EGKB)

Piper Seneca at Biggin Hill (EGKB)

Thanks to everyone who posted a reasonable response on the thread!

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