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Blog posted on March 26th 2015
The arrival of the new ½ mil aeronautical chart for Southern England in my post box the other day reminded me of an air grab (as opposed to a land grab) of astonishing proportions. On April 2nd Southend Airport gains a newly enlarged control zone of so-called Class D airspace. The runway at that airport is oriented South West/North East, so the shape of the zone conforms to that and is 28 nautical miles long. At an altitude of 1500’ its zone is the same size as Heathrow’s (which has a West/East axis)!
Last week I flew through the airspace that will be the zone and I was the only aircraft on the frequency –can you imagine Heathrow being that quiet? No! Air space is what economists would call a ‘common good’, and Stobart Aviation (the owners), in connivance with Easyjet, have procured a large chunk for their own ends. The result may be a modest increase in safety for the minimal number of airline flights in and out of that airport; however the corollary is a diminution in safety for general aviation (small aircraft), who will now be funnelled (if they cannot receive permission to enter the zone) between this swathe of space and the Stansted zone: a gap of 3 nm at 2500’ and 10 nm at 2000’. This parallels a similar gap to the West of Stansted between it and the Luton zone.
In the interests of balance, I should note that in the first 60 days of the implementation of this airspace’s predecessor – a ‘Radio Mandatory Zone’ – there were 148 infringements, ie pilots who failed to make contact with Southend ATC.
The problem here is a chicken & egg situation. Easyjet do not wish to expand their operations at Southend until a large control zone is established. I am a shareholder in that airline, and wrote to Carolyn McCall, its CEO, setting out how this airspace grab had impacted negatively on the airline’s image in some quarters. I received the following oily reply from its chief pilot:
"The safety of our operations to and from Southend airport is a prime concern for easyJet. As I am sure you are aware there is a high level of diverse air activity in and around Southend airport. A lot of this activity is slow moving, not always able to be seen by radar and often does not participate in the air traffic service that is available. Since increasing the commercial air traffic from Southend, the airport has seen five airprox incidents involving at least three commercial aircraft. These incidents were a concern to not only easyJet but also the CAA. The Radio Mandatory Zone that was introduced around Southend, prior to the introduction of controlled airspace, was not seen as an effective long term viable solution to ensuring the separation between the commercial air transport and the general aviation aircraft.
It was as a result of these safety concerns that the CAA has introduced the controlled airspace around Southend airport. I am sure that you will have reviewed the CAA Decision Letter dated 23rd January 2015. The airspace that has been provided has taken into account the requirements of all users. The CAA have been very careful in allocating what they see as a fair size of controlled airspace whilst also ensuring that the activities that are conducted from the airfields adjacent to Southend can be continued without too much inconvenience. In addition to this Southend airport continue to work and adapt the shape of the controlled to provide the ability for radio equipped aircraft to continue to cross their airspace.
I am sure that as an airspace user yourself you would agree that the change of airspace designation around Southend airport will enhance the safety of all operations within the vicinity of the airport. To this extent easyJet supports the fair and proportionate way that the controlled airspace has been introduced by both Southend airport and the CAA."
I would agree with some of the principles behind his statement; however I would strongly disagree on what is a “fair size of controlled airspace”!
The official notice detailing these changes, together with the relevant portion of the current aeronautical chart, can be found here.