Admittedly, there is one slight snag as I'm not yet qualified to fly any particular aeroplane, that is the next stage of my training. Known as a type rating, it consists of six weeks of ground school and simulator work to learn every detail about, in my case, the Airbus A320 family.
The check ride was a short trip from Heathrow to Manchester and back. I was pilot flying for the first leg, while my buddy flew the return trip. On both trip there were three 'events', ranging from minor technical breakdowns to smoke obscuring the runway to the airport's instrument landing system failing.
Heathrow to Manchester in a 737 is a very short trip, in fact as soon as you have finished climbing it is time to descend again. When we first tried it a few weeks ago, the instructor had to freeze our position as we bumbled through the required checklists and briefings. This time we were able to complete all the necessary tasks and deal with the 'events' in real time without rushing — it is amazing how quickly we have improved.
We were far from perfect of course — this is why when we start the job we will be flying with very experienced captains not other cadets. But I was very happy with our trips and delighted to have finished the course at Oxford.
In the UK, nobody really owns beaches. There are there for everyone to enjoy. Sometimes, for safety reasons they are divided up into sections, perhaps one part for the swimmers, one for the surfers and so on. Some areas will have life guards watching over them and others you take your chances.
Airspace is very similar. Nobody owns the airspace above our heads and it is there for anyone to use. Clearly it is not a complete free-for-all, and for safety reasons some if it is controlled airspace with restrictions on it usage. In some of it, pilots can receive a radar service, much like a life guard watching over you and preventing accidents.
The details of controlled airspace vary, but the basic idea is to protect aircraft on busy commercial routes from coming into conflict with any other aircraft. As I see it, it is purely a safety issue.
To fly in controlled airspace, a pilot generally needs prior permission, current ATC clearance, constant two-way radio communication, usually a radar transponder system and often specialised instrument-flying equipment and training. This means that most light aircraft are generally unable or unwilling to enter controlled airspace, while gliders, balloons, microlights etc are excluded.
The tricky job of balancing the needs of commercial aviation for controlled airspace and everyone else for somewhere to fly falls to the Civil Aviation Authority. Although often seen as stuffy and bureaucratic, they genuinely do try to do their best to satisfy everyone.
|TAG's attempted airspace grab|
TAG are not a commercial airline that provides a service to the general population, they specialise in transporting wealthy executives and VIPs in private jets. They have perhaps two or three paying passengers per day, yet they are asking for their own controlled airspace that rivals Heathrow in size and exceeds it in complexity.
Should this application be approved, it would be a disaster for general aviation. There are several airfields below or actually inside the proposed airspace that would likely go out of business. There are several more gliding clubs that would shut down.
The large area of insanely complex airspace is frankly frightening to the ordinary pilot (airspace busts are taken very seriously). No one will want to fly anywhere near it, with the result that all the light traffic will be concentrated into corridors around the edge, significantly endangering their safety. Meanwhile the large volume of controlled airspace will lie unused almost all of the time, some of it permanently empty.
Even more worryingly, it could set a precedent. Smaller commercial airports such as Cambridge, Coventry and Oxford have been operating happily for years without controlled airspace protecting their instrument approaches. If TAG get their way, then airports like this will soon be making similar bids. Uncontrolled airspace will become squeezed more and more.
Imagine if a private company tried to lay claim to all the beaches between Southampton and Brighton that they didn't even own and close them to everyone but a handful of super-wealthy people. There would be public outcry.
This is no different. There is no benefit to anyone but TAG. There is no safety argument. It will cripple non-commercial aviation in the area. It is completely disproportionate and unfair.
Please help to prevent this crazy plan going ahead. All you need to do is spend a few minutes contributing to the consultation document (parts B to E) before it closes on 6 May. For more information, the British Gliding Association has written a guide to the proposed changes.