Anatomy of an Infringement

On the 5th March, the pilot of a light aircraft pleaded guilty in Bedfordshire Magistrates’ Court to flying in Luton Airport’s controlled airspace without clearance from air traffic control.

The pilot infringed Luton’s airspace several times in the same day during two different flights. The pilot’s actions led to four passenger aircraft and a business jet having to be given avoiding instructions by air traffic control. Departures from the airport were also temporarily suspended.

The pilot admitted four offences of flying in Class D controlled airspace without permission. He was fined £7576 and ordered to pay £750 costs to the Civil Aviation Authority which brought the prosecution.

The case itself, and the level of the fine levied on the pilot, have caused considerable debate amongst the General Aviation and pilot training community. In response, a full account of the flight was published by the ‘Airspace and Safety Initiative’ – a joint CAA, NATS, AOA, GA and MoD initiative.

In September 2018, a C172 pilot departed Wellesbourne airfield to fly to Duxford; the planned route was via the DTY VOR, Cranfield, Old Warden and Royston.

The pilot had planned the flight to take place in August, but it did not take place due to poor weather. The pilot had decided to navigate using only a chart and visual reference points.

For the September flight, the pilot used the same ‘PLOG’ that had been prepared for the flight in August. In August, the winds were 260-280/6kts; on the day of the flight, the wind at 2,000ft was north/northeast at 5kts, increasing to 15kts for the return flight in the afternoon.

After departure from Wellesbourne and flying 40nm, the pilot was 30 degrees right of track and some 14nm south of the planned position. Instead of being overhead Cranfield, the pilot was overhead Cheddington.

Prior to the first un-cleared entry into controlled airspace, an inbound aircraft to Luton Airport had its descent stopped as a precautionary measure.

The C172 entered the Luton CTA at 3,000ft and flew along the final approach to Runway 08. This required avoiding action to be issued to the inbound aircraft. Despite the turn, separation was lost. Two other inbound aircraft were issued with control instructions to ensure that separation was maintained.

The infringing aircraft then entered the Luton CTR meaning that all departures from the airport were suspended. The C172 left controlled airspace to the south, between Hemel Hempstead and St Albans.

Unsure of his position and thinking he was over the M11 (the aircraft was actually over the M1), the pilot made a call to ‘Distress and Diversion’ (D&D) on 121.5 and advised that he was lost.

The pilot was told that he was over Hemel Hempstead. The pilot could not locate Hemel Hempstead on his chart as it was on the fold. When asked, the D&D assistant advised the pilot that Duxford was 29nm to the northeast.

The pilot followed this bearing for Duxford. Six minutes after leaving controlled airspace, the C172 re-entered the Luton CTR on a north-easterly heading. Departures from Luton Airport were suspended again. The C172 flew within approximately 1nm of the runway at Luton Airport. Departures resumed when the aircraft left controlled airspace 8 minutes later.

The return flight was unplanned; the pilot intended to reverse the route. The flight was going to plan until the ATC unit at Cranfield aerodrome requested the pilot flew further south. The C172 entered the Luton CTR at 2,500ft, in the vicinity of Letchworth Garden City. Departures from Luton Airport were suspended for a third time.

Two losses of separation occurred: an aircraft that was airborne from Luton Airport came within 1.1nm of the C172 and an aircraft on approach lost separation with the C172, which was flying parallel to Runway 08 at 2,100ft. The C172 continued to the west and left controlled airspace in the vicinity of Dunstable 4 minutes after entering.

Hemel Hempstead is located approximately where the letters ‘BNN’ appear south of the Luton zone. Screen shot image courtesy SkyDemon, the wind vectors are not representative of the winds on the day of the flight described.

Learning Points

Use of a Moving Map

Standard navigation skills can fade with over-reliance of moving maps and GPS. However, this would be recognised through Threat and Error Management. In this case when the pilot was refreshing the use of a chart and VRPs, using a moving map as a back-up would have provided him with immediate in-cockpit assistance and route-confirmation.
When using a moving map it is good practice to have the route marked on a current aviation chart in case the system fails. Similarly, when refreshing chart and VRP navigation, it is good practice to have a moving map as a back-up.
Whilst these flights were not instructional flights, it is noted that many instructors who have infringed airspace did so whilst not using a moving map; this valuable piece of equipment assists in establishing and maintaining situational awareness in a high-workload environment where attention is divided over more tasks that during recreational flying.
85% of analysed airspace infringements in 2017 could have been prevented with the use of correct use of a moving map.

Use of the Luton Frequency Monitoring Code (FMC/Listening Squawk)

The Luton Radar controller tried on numerous occasions to contact the pilot but the he was neither employing the FMC nor was he listening out on the Luton Frequency.
Whilst this may not have prevented the airspace infringements from occurring, an earlier resolution would have been possible and the impact of the infringements would have been less.
45% of analysed airspace infringements in 2017 could have been prevented with appropriate use of an FMC.

Use of D&D

A better understanding of what to ask D&D when lost could have prevented the 3rd airspace infringement. Pilots should practise communication with D&D on 121.5 MHz to ensure that they are competent and confident at all times when using this service.


Every flight, no matter how many times it has been made before, should be planned in detail prior to departure. This includes, but is not exclusive to, reading NOTAMS and associated Aeronautical Information Circulars and Supplements referred to in the NOTAM, checking relevant aerodrome information and gaining a thorough understanding of the forecast and prevailing met conditions.

In this case, the winds were 90 degrees different to those when the flight was planned 2 weeks earlier.

Alison Slater, Head of the Civil Aviation Authority’s Investigation and Enforcement Team, said of the case: “This once again shows the consequences of a pilot being seriously underprepared for a flight. [The pilot’s] actions impacted hundreds of passengers onboard aircraft arriving and departing from Luton Airport. Passengers have every right to expect that their flight on a commercial airline is fully protected when in controlled airspace.”

Author: FTN Editor

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