Image from CAA/NATS – not for navigation purposes
All pilots must understand the airspace they are flying in and ensure that they comply with the relevant requirements.
The CAA should do its utmost when regulating airspace to satisfy the requirements of operators and owners of all classes of aircraft. You can read more about regulating airspace under ‘Future challenges’ below.
What is airspace?
In simple terms, the sky over the UK comprises of airspace that is categorised as controlled or uncontrolled. Most gliding takes place in uncontrolled airspace.
There are various categories of controlled airspace which exclude sailplanes either through rules or in practice because its too difficult to soar and comply with the restrictions.
All airspace, including uncontrolled airspace, is subject to temporary restrictions and changes. Information about restrictions and changes is published as a NOTAM – see below.
Remotely Piloted Air System (known as drone) activity is part of a growing industry and is a new airspace user. It is inevitable that the way airspace is managed or manages itself will change, with electronic conspicuity becoming an increasingly important topic not only in support of effective lookout but also to enable sense and avoid by drones within integrated-use airspace.
Commercial air transport needs plus a net-zero carbon emission target by 2050 are key priorities for the UK government.
Airspace needs to be modernised to meet the needs of all airspace users.
With the aim of retaining and improving equitable airspace access for gliding, the BGA seeks to influence modernised and future airspace regulation, structure, classification and policies through stakeholder engagement. Read more here.
Being aware of and respecting other airspace users
All pilots should consider others who are also operating perfectly legitimately in the same airspace. This includes military, other air sport and GA, commercial air transport and emergency services. Instrument procedures/approaches that extend into uncontrolled airspace need extra care. By staying aware of other operations, pilots can plan to avoid hazards. All pilots should be aware of the following:
– Air Traffic Zones
The status of an Air Traffic Zones (ATZ) can confuse pilots. Some pilots get caught out by not being prepared and thereby not complying with their legal obligation before entering an ATZ. Pilots are reminded that illegal entry into an ATZ can result in a Mandatory Occurrence Report and infringement action by the CAA.
The Rules of the Air Regulation 2015 require aircraft to announce their intention to enter an ATZ on the designated frequency and obtain information for safe operation in the ATZ from the relevant Air/Ground or Aaerodrome Flight Information Service (AFIS) station. Flight within an ATZ for which an aerodrome traffic service is active requires permission from the relevant Air Traffic Service Unit (ATSU.
– Danger Areas and Temporary Danger Areas
A danger area (DA) can be permanent or temporary in nature. An example of a permanent DA is D129 at Weston on the Green. An example use of a temporary danger area (TDA) is where a TDA is established for Beyond Visual Line Of Sight (BVLOS) drone trials. DA’s and TDA’s often have a Danger Area Crossing Service (DACS) and/or a Danger Area Activity Information Service (DAAIS). Pilots are reminded that unauthorised entry into a danger area can result in a Mandatory Occurrence Report and infringement action by the CAA. The CAA DA and TDA policy is available here.
Infringements, ie entering controlled, danger, restricted or prohibited airspace without the authority to do so, are potentially dangerous and disruptive, and ultimately result in the curtailment of the freedoms to fly that all pilots need and enjoy. A 2016 analysis of over 500 infringements identified that around 90% of the GA pilots who infringed were not using a GPS or GPS moving map.Learn about avoiding infringements
– Instrument Procedural Traffic
A number of airfields in the UK have instrument traffic procedures which are detailed in the UK AIP but not shown on 1/2 mil charts. In some cases the instrument approaches are indicated by a feather on the ½ mil chart (for example Cambridge, Gloucester, Exeter, Inverness, Cranfield, Londonderry, Oxford). These feathers can be indicated on most GPS moving map software.
Invariably, instrument traffic operating in Class G is not looking out as effectively as most would expect. Glider pilots should aim to avoid the airfield overhead and the approach areas.
Here is an example of the instrument approach procedure that is not marked on the 1/2 mil charts used by most pilots:
When operating close to these airfields, pilots should listen out on the ATC frequency. Where there is a need to operate overhead the airfield, or when vertically close to and when horizontally within say an approximate 20 degree arc either side of the instrument approach ‘slope’, it can be very helpful if the glider pilot makes contact with ATC prefixing the call with ‘glider’, stating their location (eg 5nm NE of the airfield at 2000’) and stating their intentions (eg to climb, to glide to xxxxx, etc). Please don’t forget that last minute calls can result in pilot overload as the pressure comes on. Most air traffic controllers have little appreciation of pilot workload but will help where they can. As ever, aviate, navigate and communicate in that order.
– Lookout – supported by use of radio & electronic conspicuity
Lookout is the primary method of collision avoidance in class G airspace. It’s important to recognise that effective lookout requires technique supported by other attributes available to pilots including technology.Read more about lookout (and EC) here
All pilots are expected to check NOTAMs (Notices to Aviation) before flight. Learning how to access NOTAMs forms a part of glider pilot training. Any pilot who is unsure about how to check NOTAMs is advised to discuss the matter with his or her CFI or with another experienced pilot. There are several excellent software tools available that help pilots easily interpret NOTAM information including https://www.skydemon.aero/ and https://notaminfo.com/
– Parachute Drop Zones
Pilots are reminded that unauthorised entry into a DZ resulting in a hazard can result in a Mandatory Occurrence Report and infringement action by the CAA. You can find parachute drop zone frequencies and other detail here.
– Restricted Areas (Temporary)
RA(T)’s are a regular feature within UK airspace. A common example of a RA(T) is when an air display needs protection from other activity. The RA(T) will be notified in advance through NOTAM and all pilots must comply with the requirements. Usually that means avoiding a specific volume of airspace for a particular period. RA(T)’s are also notified through Temporary Airspace Restrictions listed within specific Aeronautical Information Circulars (AIC) on the NATS AIS website. Pilots are reminded that unauthorised entry into a RA(T) will result in a Mandatory Occurrence Report and infringement action by the CAA.ransponder requirement
– Transponder Requirement above FL100
In 2012 the BGA negotiated a number of non-transponder areas above FL100. These are detailed as exceptions in the UK AIP under ENR 1.1 and 5.2. The CAA has advised (21st January 2022) that no exemption or permission is required for non-transponder high altitude glider flights in specified areas, based on the current rules, notified airspace and the exception listed in the AIP. Please note that transponder equipage is required above FL100 when flying outside the notified non-transponder areas for gliders.
Here is the background detail justifying not issuing an exemption. Article 77 and and Schedule 5, 17.— Transponder requires carriage of such SSR equipment, in particular where there are (ii) any notified airspace requirements. The notified airspace requirements are set out in UK AIP GEN 1.5 para 5.3, in the table under 18.104.22.168. Of note is the requirement (d) that all aircraft operating under VFR within United Kingdom airspace at and above FL 100 require Mode S Elementary Surveillance. However, para 5.3.4 sets out the exceptions which notes that the requirements at sub-paragraphs 22.214.171.124 (c) to 126.96.36.199 (e) shall not apply to gliders, including self-sustaining gliders and self-propelled hang gliders, and self-launching motor gliders where operating above FL 195 inside airspace notified as TRA(G), where operating below FL 195 inside notified Non-SSR Transponder Glider Areas.
There is a comment in 188.8.131.52 that the exception at paragraph 184.108.40.206 (a)(ii) applies in accordance with any specific permission issued by the CAA and published on its website. CAA lawyers advice (21 Jan 22) is that this is unnecessary, as gliders are not caught by article 77, as they are not notified as such, so do not, in those circumstances, need to carry SSR equipment, and therefore do not need an exemption or a permission, as it is allowed for by those articles, by their terms. In light of this legal view and guidance, the CAA will no longer be issuing further exemptions. The note in the AIP will be amended to remove the current text in 220.127.116.11. In addition, new text will be added that provides guidance along the lines of the exemption material text (e.g. the pilot in command to obtain the permission of the appropriate air traffic control unit to fly within airspace notified as Class C or D airspace and complies with any instructions given by the air traffic control unit)
The NSGA Zone 1 NOTAM text in 18.104.22.168 will remain.
– TMZ (Transponder Mandatory Zone) and RMZ (Radio Mandatory Zone)
There are specific requirements for accessing TMZ’s and RMZs. Pilots are reminded that unauthorised entry into a TMZ or RMZ can result in a Mandatory Occurrence Report and infringement action by the CAA. You can read the CAA’s policy here.
Other airspace information
Aeronautical Information Service. NATS provides the Aeronautical Information Service as a specified service under the Air Traffic Services Licence granted to NATS. The UK Aeronautical Information Publication (AIP) is static information, updated every 28 days, which contains information of lasting (permanent) character essential to air navigation. The ‘current AIP’ provides access to a menu of detailed ‘en-route’ information, including re danger areas, parachute DZ’s, etc.
Aerobatic Competitions and Boxes. The aerobatic community practice aerobatics within defined aerobatic boxes. These are often promulgated in NOTAMs. Please be aware that whilst aerobatic pilots have to compy with the rules of the air and lookout as much as other class G users, the nature of competition aerobatics is that the majority of the pilots time will be focussed on achieving specific attitudes and the desired aircraft trajectory. In addition to the important safety aspects, there is also a need to give these fellow air sport pilots the space they require to enjoy their sport.
Aeronautical Information Circulars. AIC’s are notices containing information that does not qualify for inclusion in the AIP. They are used to publish administrative matters and advanced warnings of impending operational changes and to add explanation or emphasis on matters of safety or operational significance. An AIC can be issued to present a particular event’s NOTAM data in a more readily understandable format.
Airprox. When a pilot feels that the proximity of another aircraft was in their view unsafe, they can submit an Airprox report. Airprox reports are investigated and given a risk category. You can learn more on the Airprox website, which includes their published Airprox investigation reports.
Airspace Modernisation and Change. The UK airspace system needs modernising. The Department for Transport has tasked the CAA with preparing and maintaining a co-ordinated strategy and plan for the use of UK airspace up to 2050, including modernisation. The AMS will result in numerous CAP1616 airspace change proposals. Read more here.
Awareness of gliding needs. Pilots who don’t fly gliders may need some help in understanding how and where gliders operate. View the BGA briefing document ‘Gliding awareness for non-glider pilots’
This briefing that was published in the RAF flight safety magazine in Spring 2016 may be helpful.
An ‘ATCO perspective’ of soaring was provided by the CAA during 2016.
Charts. Glider pilots use the 1:500 000 chart that is designed for use in visual navigation. The charts are regularly updated. Out of date charts should be discarded. VFR chart information, including a list of stockists, is available on the NATS AIS website. Radio frequency cards are available on the NATS website.
D&D – getting help. The military Distress and Diversion Cell is manned 24 hours to provide an emergency and fixer (location) service for all military and civil aircraft. Read more here.
GPS and moving maps. Global Position Satellite navigation is used extensively in aviation. Most cross-country glider pilots use GPS to assist with navigation and to help avoid airspace restrictions. A number of freeware and commercial software options are available that take much of the load that otherwise would distract from flying the glider and looking out.
Controlled airspace changes every now and again. The 1/2 million hard copy chart is updated annually. It’s very important that GPS data files are also updated. Pilots should note that they should take great care when programming their GPS before flight, and must always maintain situational awareness in flight through using visual navigation techniques and a current chart. This final point is nothing to do with ‘old school’ – it’s simply an important aspect of threat and error management, ie cross checking and being prepared for equipment failure or pilot ‘finger trouble’.
Letters of Agreement (LoA’s). Where there is a need and the related risks can be managed appropriately, it is possible to establish letters of agreement between airspace controlling authorities and operators. Sometimes these are national arrangements. In other cases these are local arrangements. Some LoA’s are legally binding. Others are voluntary in nature. In all cases, pilots must understand and comply FULLY with the detail within the LoA. If in doubt, ask. Do not assume.
Some clubs have a local agreement with NATS on flexible use of airspace. The ongoing success of the agreement between London GC and NATS is reliant on pilots receiving a specific, face to face briefing by the London GC. Unless that LoA briefing has taken place and pilots are briefed on the operating protocols in place on the day, pilots may not use the LoA. The LoA is not published on this website. Contact the London GC for further details. The challenges of maintaining mutual awareness between busy flying operations is in part being addressed around Cambridge airport using protocols described in a Cambridge LoA that all glider pilots who are likely to operate in the Cambridge area are requested to comply with.
View the published Letters of Agreement here. If a pilot or club identifies any changes or errors with published LoA’s, please contact the Airspace Committee via the BGA office.
MATZ. A Military Air Traffic Zone is a 5nm radius x 3000′ high defined volume of airspace around a military ATZ. A MATZ has no legally recognised status for civil pilots and no prior permission is required to enter it. However, for safety and good airmanship reasons, prior to entering a potentially busy MATZ, pilots are encouraged to establish radio communications with the controlling authority. This is particularly important when flying close to active military fast jet and training airfields – those aircraft need space to manouevre. Military airfields such as Barkston Heath, Coningsby, Cranwell, Lossiemouth, Middle Wallop and Shawbury are examples of active busy military airfields.
Radio requirements. Details are available here.
Rules of the Air. For further information, please go to the Laws and Rules webpage for helpful links.
Task setting. Airspace is a major consideration when task setting. Learn more about task setting here.
VRPs. Visual Reporting Points at major airports should be treated with caution due to possible conflicts with powered trafficthat is more than likely engrossed with the radio.
Notifying gliding competition activity
Guidance on competition related airspace issues can be obtained from the BGA Competitions Committee contactable via the BGA office.
Notifying concerns about airspace access or air traffic service refusal
If you have concerns about airspace access or air traffic service refusals, please complete the CAA Form FCS 1522.
Freedom to fly – you can help!
The BGA Airspace Committee works with other airspace stakeholders with the aim of maintaining reasonably safe airspace, equitable access to airspace, and freedom of movement across the UK for gliding. The task is ongoing and growing as an increasing amount of airspace is being demanded for the exclusive use of commercial operations. Volunteer assistance is always welcome. Airline pilots have particularly valuable experience. If you can help, please contact the BGA Airspace Committee chairman via the BGA office.