Europe’s controlled airspace is to be expanded to absorb air transport growth, leaving the general aviation community with the prospect of paying air traffic management fees and having to adjust to a more complex operating environment.
Phil Roberts, assistant director of the British CAA’s directorate of airspace policy, told the London conference on the future of general aviation that the authority is “fighting [in] GA’s corner” on the issue of charges but also warned that GA will have to do more to reduce the number of infringements of controlled airspace, for which they are largely responsible.
So far this year, general aviation aircraft have been found to be responsible for more than 53 percent of reported infringements of controlled airspace. According to newly released CAA figures, infringements are occurring at a rate of more than one per day and many of them are happening near busy airport terminal areas such as London Heathrow.
Roberts reported that the new low-cost airlines are flying to heretofore obscure regional airports, such as Coventry, Norwich and Exeter, previously unserved by commercial carriers. This is restricting GA’s access to these airports and is forcing the expansion of the UK’s controlled airspace.
As part of Eurocontrol’s Single European Sky air traffic management harmonization project, the lower threshold for class C airspace will be FL195 beginning March. Roberts told GA delegates that further details of airspace changes will be in place early this year and promised that the group would be engaged with users who are affected by such changes.
Meanwhile, the CAA’s directorate of airspace policy expected to have published by the end of last year its analysis of some 3,000 responses to the regulated impact assessment for possible mode-S introduction that concluded in September. Group captain Simon Wragg of the CAA’s directorate of airspace policy refuted angry suggestions from GA delegates that government has already decided to forge ahead with mode-S without considering other options for airspace interoperability. He then suggested that the final decision-making process might be delayed by a further review of the regulatory impact assessment the government is now demanding. The CAA officials couldn’t rule out the possibility that the March 2008 deadline for the interoperability project could slip again.
“The CAA recognizes and is working with the industry for equipment at the lower cost end to be available for GA,” said Wragg. “Proportionality is key, but to do nothing is not an option; we must protect safety in light of growing traffic and finite airspace.” He rejected suggestions from delegates that ADS-B should be more seriously considered as an alternative to mode-S, saying that this technology “is immature and not interoperable.”
Open debate during the conference showed Britain’s GA community to be suspicious about mode-S and unable to see any cost benefit for them. Many are concerned about when suitable low-power transponders will be available and how much they will cost. CAA officials conceded that manufacturers probably won’t invest in equipment aimed at GA fliers until the requirement is in place.