International Ops 2018

Flight Service Bureau | OPSGROUP

Author: Mark Zee (page 2 of 4)

Berlin’s Air Corridors – still alive?

It’s a generation ago, and the airway chart landscape is unrecognisable today. For 40 years however, there were only three tiny corridors that allowed a flight into East Germany. In terms of International Procedures, this was one that you really didn’t want to get wrong.

Looking back, it’s fascinating to see the restrictions that were placed on international operators flying into Germany. The warnings are printed in bold. Aircraft will be fired upon. And that threat from the Soviet Union was real – most of us recall the shooting down of Korean 007 in the Sea of Japan in 1983 – and, lesser known, another Korean flight – Korean 902 – over Murmansk in 1978.

Assuming you kept to centreline, the Soviet authorities limited overflight to FL95, and if there was an aircraft in front of you, even a turboprop, you slowed down to follow; no overtaking was allowed.

In practice, therefore, the centre corridor was the most used, because it was the shortest and limited the time restricted to FL95. Traffic was controlled by the Berlin Air Route Traffic Control Centre (BARTCC), and monitored by these guys at the Berlin Air Safety Centre – who issued the overflight permits required.


A request for an overflight permit for East Germany resulted in one of three outcomes:

  • Permission Granted, Safety of Flight Guaranteed
  • Permission Granted, Safety of Flight Not Guaranteed
  • Permission Denied

Radar coverage from the Berlin ATC Centre is shown below. In 1952, an Air France flight from Frankfurt to Berlin, operated by a DC-4 came under sustained attack from two Soviet MiG 15 fighters while passing through one of the corridors. The attack damaged the aircraft severely, and the PIC made an emergency landing at Tempelhof with two engines shut down. The Soviet military authorities claimed the Air France plane was outside the air corridor at the time of attack.






This chart from our own archives shows the Airways structure in 1970.

And so to today. Long forgotten restrictions of the past, right? Well, not really. We only have to look a little further north-east, about 500km – and we find the Kaliningrad FIR – in some respects an ongoing relic from the Cold War.

Kaliningrad FIR Map


It sits neatly into the Eurocontrol Upper Airspace Map, but in practice, it doesn’t fit into the European ATC picture quite so comfortably. If you squint closely at the skyvector chart for the area, you’ll see that the airways in the Kaliningrad FIR are black – and everywhere else is blue.

Kaliningrad Routes

This is because, first of all, prior permission is required from Russia to overfly the FIR, as Kaliningrad – until 1945 part of Germany –  is an “Oblast” of the Russian Federation. This permission must be obtained from Moscow at least 72 hours prior to flight using Form N, and on approval, is valid for 48 hours.

Looking more closely, you’ll see that there aren’t a lot of useful routes – and they don’t line up with the rest of the system. Few airlines, and even fewer private flights, operate through this airspace. Your most likely route north-south will take you to BOKSU – squeezed in between Kaliningrad and Belarus – not as restrictive, but still requiring prior permission.


Similarities between Kaliningrad and Berlin end there, but there are enough to be of interest to the international operator.

Brexit for Aviation: Meaningless

If the media were to be believed, the impending doom of Brexit – Britain’s Exit from the European Union – will change the aviation landscape in the EU for ever. So, today you’ll be busy trying to figure you how this affects your operation. But what if it won’t?

Well, it won’t. Not even a little bit.

The trouble is, that’s not an angle that’s going to sell newspapers or ads on TV; so the Tier 1 media like the BBC and the Telegraph have to run stories that focus on how much this is going to affect everyone. If it wasn’t really going to affect a lot of people, then that’s not a story, is it?

And so, the aviation media – in suit – have to find the story for aviation – because, being such a headline story, it must be going to impact aviation across the board, right?

No. And here’s why.

1. The UK is not part of the Schengen  Area  – the common EU travel area. Brexit does not change that. Immigration procedures will not change.
2. The UK does not use the Euro as its currency, so Brexit has no effect. The value of the UK pound is, in the long term, likely to remain stable against the Euro, once the hype is over.
3. The UK is part of the European Common Aviation Area (ECAA) – and will remain so, even if some aspects are renegotiated. So traffic rights, open skies, and all the other benefits to both the UK and other ECAA members will stay the same.
4. The UK is part of Eurocontrol and will remain so. There won’t be any changes to Flight Planning procedures.
5. And for the rest, Shanwick will continue to control the east side of the North Atlantic.  Overflight Permits will still only be required for special case aircraft. Slots will be needed for busy airports. Heathrow will remain congested. Navigation charges will remain expensive.

As an aside, because the value of the UK pound is about the only thing that has a real impact for operators – what we’re currently seeing in the share and currency markets, we believe, is the result of the media hype. IATA estimated “the number of UK air passengers could be 3-5% lower by 2020, driven by the expected downturn in economic activity and the fall in the sterling exchange rate”. It could also be 3-5% higher. It’s all speculation.

For any International Operator expecting operational change because of Brexit – don’t. We firmly believe there won’t be any.

A lesson in emergency handling, from Aer Lingus

In September last year, an Aer Lingus Boeing 757 (operated by Air Contractors), suffered a loss of the Left Hydraulic system on departure from JFK. The left hydraulic system is the main one, meaning that Flaps, normal gear extension, and Nosewheel steering all become unavailable. The failure is therefore serious, albeit one that would be a favourite for simulator practice.

There are some really interesting lessons to learn from this incident, not least of which is how we now get access to the information that emanates from it. No longer do we need the offical report; it’s all out there on Live ATC and YouTube.  It’s 12 minutes 40′ of highly worthwhile viewing, whatever your thoughts on how public this all is.

EIN emer



And so to the incident. Foremost, this is a lesson in professionalism and communication, from an outstanding crew. Listen carefully, and observe how:

  • A clear report is made as to the situation and what’s needed immediately.
  • Potential for a spillage of fluid on the runway – not their problem, right now – but passed on as the first consideration for others.
  • Early message to JFK, via Boston Centre, that ILS22L is the best runway for them, that they cannot vacate, and that the gear doors may look unusual.
  • Communication is clear, precise, and authoritative – making sure everyone has all the information they need.
  • Taking full command of the situation on the ground, during the fire incident. “Say again, and make sure nobody speaks apart from you“. Communications involving rescue vehicles on ATC frequencies are notoriously confusing and unclear, this crew handled the confusion with authority.

Some International Differences that can be seen here:

  • Pounds and Kilos – this 757’s indications are in Kilos; ATC don’t know the conversion either, and another US aircraft on the frequency steps in to help out. Since the Gimli Glider, this has always been an issue.
  • Mayday and Emergency – read more below, but the US likes the phrase “Declaring an emergency”

Some other interesting factors

  • A really awful callsign. Bad enough for a normal crossing and 6 hour flight; brutal in an emergency. The flight was EI110 – so the callsign should be Shamrock-one-one-zero (one-ten works fine). Problem: lots of other airlines have this number too, so to avoid callsign confusion, someone in an office somewhere decided to change it to Shamrock-One-One-Echo-Alpha.
  • Callsign confusion is in fact the result. Try saying it a few times in a row. The controller variously calls them “Shamrock 11E”, “Speedbird 11EA”, “Shamrock 11A”. The callsign alone made things difficult for ATC and the crew.
  • ATC did a pretty good job of keep comms to a minimum. In most incidents, ATC create stress and workload for the crew by asking non-essential questions the moment that an emergency is declared – which is the same time as the crew have a bunch of checklist work to do. When you get a Mayday or Emergency call on your frequency, hang tough with the questions for a minute or two, unless you need answers for immediate traffic separation.
  • ATC will always ask Souls on Board and Fuel on Board. Why? To know how many people to account for on the rescue, and how much Jet fuel is going to fuel a fire if there is one after landing. Get the souls on board accurate (not a bad idea to have this written at the top of the flight plan), but a rough estimate of fuel will do. If you’re using a decimal, you’re doing it wrong.



  • In the US, normal practice is that you either declare an emergency, or you don’t – unlike many other countries where a choice between Mayday (serious) and Pan-Pan (cautionary) exists.
  • US ATC Handbook: “If the words “Mayday” or “Pan-Pan” are not used and you are in doubt that a situation constitutes an emergency or potential emergency, handle it as though it were an emergency. “
  • Sidenote: Many think that only the flight crew can declare an emergency. In fact, Flight Crew, Dispatch, Company Representatives, and ATC can all declare an emergency. An emergency can be declared without notifying the flight crew.
  • In this case, the crew were comfortable in their communication with ATC – and able to “not declare” but at the same time request emergency equipment on standby. As it turned out, this emergency equipment was critical because there was a small fire after landing. If you are uncertain whether ATC understands the nature of your situation – declare an emergency. You can always cancel it later on.
  • Fuel Reserves Approaching Minimum: Internationally, ’Fuel Emergency’ or ‘fuel priority’ are not recognised terms. Flight crews short of fuel must declare a PAN or MAYDAY to be sure of being given the appropriate priority.
  • In 2005, ATPAC recommended changing FAAO 7110.65 (the regs for controllers) to include “emergency” as a term that could be used in lieu of “mayday” and “pan-pan.” They then withdrew the recommendation because they decided that creating more differences from ICAO standards was a bad thing.

It’s easy to forget that in a real emergency, no matter how strong your training, you have to deal with stress and adrenaline that doesn’t appear in the simulator.

A hydraulic loss is considered ‘routine’ in the books, but many accidents in the past have come from compounding errors – those holes in the swiss cheese line up pretty easily once the first one is as big as a hydraulic leak.

The cool, clear, and decisive communications from this crew indicate that they have the Big Picture firmly under control. It’s a lesson for all of us.



Ferry Flight from Seattle: Boeing 707

We’ve sent out a lot of updates in the last 12 months about changes on the North Atlantic; if we go back 45 years you’ll see that navigating was a little different – but for all that has changed, much is still the same.

This Flight Log is from the Delivery Flight (KSEA/Seattle-EGLL/London Heathrow) of Boeing 707 G-APFN, which took place on 18NOV1960.

Home via the Pole

Our take-off weight was 130,500kg, of which 72,000kg represented full tanks. We needed, with all allowances, 66,500kg of fuel for the 4,210 n.m. flight. Estimated flight time 8hr 42min on a minimum-time track, with average +24kt wind component, calculated by BOAC’s New York dispatching office and received in Seattle by telephone. The 72,000kg of fuel would give us 11 hr 48 min endurance.

Track: Carmi, Churchill, Frobisher, 64°N at 50°W, 56°N at 10°W, Bush Mills, London. Flight level 330 to 90°W, 370 to 20°W, then 410. Take-off about 1700hr local, 0100Z (GMT). Take-off clearance: “Climb on runway heading to 3,000ft: left turn to heading 340° to intercept 030° radial of Seattle VOR: climb NE-bound until 15,000ft via direct Carmi: maintain flight level 330. Transition height, 24,500ft because of the mountains. Gets dark during climb, red rotating beacons reflecting off pods; flight deck almost Christmas-like in red and white lights on grey panels: everyone head-down working hard, except pilots peering into night sky. We press on to cruising height, mostly using DR plot and scattered NDBs with occasional VOR. Talking to all sorts of stations on VHF and HF, asking for position reports to be passed to BOAC at Montreal.

Distinctly Canadian accents on radio. Change heading from 025° to 060°. Meet jarring turbulence: navigator’s plot shows sharp wind-change: radar shows thunderstorms: temperature drops rapidly; lights dimmed and captain stares into black night, hand on autopilot heading control. This is a jet stream—and rough! Decide to climb straight to 370 to get clear, and notify control. Using both VHF and HF almost constantly. Pass Tippo Lake at 0202Z estimating Churchill at 0300Z. Dull, furtive veils of northern lights snaking above us—

ADFs tuned to Frobisher NDB, no astro. Outside air temperature—52°C. Hear SAS over-the-Pole flight asking to climb from 280 to 310 at 0449Z, position 70 °W, 66 °N. KLM flight is there too. Northern lights seem to have gone. We talk to “Leeway” on VHF.

0445Z: Note from co-pilot Lee, “Leeway is defence radar at Frobisher: we saw their lights on the ground: have now returned to compass steering: will get radar fix on No 2 VHF at about 0455Z: now reporting to Goose on No 1 HF.” Our report, read from a form, gives estimate for 64°N, 67°W as 0509Z, the wind found, fuel state and consumption, speed, ETA for London and much besides. Goose asked to repeat to Gander and Montreal for BOAC, to Sondrestrom for ATC. Sondrestrom cannot understand, so Goose changes HF frequency to try again. “Leeway” fixes us by radar at 120 miles. SAS and two other BOAC aircraft talking on HF. Navigator plotting all the time; engineer fills in fuel tables every 5,000kg, about every 40min. Pressurizing on one turbocompressor and two direct engine bleeds.  We call Prestwick on HF, apparently without reply.

Northern Lights

0530Z: Northern lights sneak up again. ADF tuned to Kook Island NDB, mid-west of Greenland, and we see its lights below. Whoever lives there? No. 2 ADF getting Christiansund NDB, 320 miles away on southern tip of Greenland. At 37,000ft: TAS 475kt; two minutes up on ETA; winds northerly; engines at 88 per cent r.p.m.; radar tilted down 7° for mapping.

0542Z: Temperature — 55°C. Air has been smooth for hours. Captain and navigator still hard at it, co-pilots and engineer relieved. Passenger cabin a dark, empty tunnel—only nine seats fitted. Dead of night, northern lights stealing about.

0625Z: At 35°W and 37,000ft. Hope to climb at 30″W. Three min ahead of plan. No VHF contacts. Iceland cannot hear our HF, so relaying via Sondrestrom. Expect to contact weather ship on VHF at 0645 and get fix. Nearest to Iceland at 0700. Many other aircraft south of us calling Gander. Receive HF weather broadcast from Shannon giving shallow fog for most British airfields; also Canadian maritime weather broadcast from Gander. Frobisher has a 9,000ft runway good for a diversion. Our point of no return relates to Gander. But now we have the feel of the other side and are heading south-east for Britain.

B707 Cockpit

0800Z: Wake with a start from sleep to see a hard yellow, copper and pale green dawn rising over us. Still making 480kt true on 132°. ATC has held us down to 37,000ft; passing 10°W and estimating Bush Mills at 0830Z. Windscreen frames now thickly coated with frost. The sun begins to shine dazzlingly straight in at the windscreen, and shades are down, lights turned low. Outside temperature — 48 °C. Captain still in seat. Navigator makes complete table of airways check-point ETAs for Red 1 and Amber 1 via Belfast, Isle of Man, Wallasey, Lichfield, Daventry, Beacon Hill and Watford to LAP’s runway 28R.

Descent to begin at 0852 and to last 24 min at mean TAS of 364kt, using 800kg fuel. Engineers plan pressurization management between bleeds and turbos when throttled back on descent. ETA London 0916Z with 19,000kg of fuel remaining at 1,000ft. The tip of Ireland is painting well on radar at 60 miles. Sun is blinding. A leaden sea visible between dollops of cloud thrown almost up to our level in polar maritime cold air. IAS 250kt; M0.82; r.p.m. 88 per cent; o.a.t. — 48 °C; cabin height 6,000ft. Navigator hands time plot to co-pilot and relaxes slightly. HF weather reports in French. Cillard RAF radar (in Scotland?) has us. English voices, clipped and calm in welcoming efficiency.

0820Z: Ireland in sight. Centre and reserve tanks now dry, remaining fuel distributed in wings.

0837Z: Cillard loses us and we switch to Scottish Airways control. Estimate Isle of Man at 0843. Prepare-for-descent checks read out. Landing weight will be 77,500kg—very light—VREF 126kt, target threshold speed 135kt, maximum threshold speed 149kt.

0842Z : Pass Isle of Man, in sight below, together with coasts of Wales, Ireland, England and Scotland, and request descent clearance for 0851. At 0846 cleared down to flight level 210 and call Preston. Throttle outers to 68 per cent and inners to 87 per cent r.p.m. Descending at M.O.68 at 700ft./min. Wallasey at 0853.

0900Z: The Pennines lava-like in valley fog and snowy tops. Joddrell Bank telescope like a deployed parachute far below. Atlantic charts and manuals being cleared away. Pass Lichfield, estimating Daventry at 0907, tuning beacons, change to London control. 250kt i.a.s., jolted in rough air. Daventry at 0907, estimating Beacon Hill at 0913. Cleared to flight level 190. Watford on No 1 ADF, Dunsfold on No 2 ADF. Find Beacon Hill by Flying Dunsfold range leg to a bearing from Watford. Under London radar surveillance from Daventry. Cleared to flight level 080. Don’t confuse Beacon Hill with Woburn, check with ADF. l,000ft/min now at 150. Wheels rumble down for airbrake effect, slow to 200kt at 2,500ft/min; trying to make Watford at 8,000ft. Over Watford at 11,000ft radar takes us straight on to a southerly lead-in for ILS, asks our rate of descent.

Runway visibility 1,500yd. Still on autopilot, in cloud. Flap coming down. See Greenwich through a hole in cloud, then Crystal Palace. A helicopter is reported leaving Battersea. Approach checks read. Autopilot-coupled glide-path and localizer armed. Radar vectors us on to centre-line. Speed coming back to 150kt at 3,200ft. QNH set on co-pilot’s altimeter, QFE on captain’s. Height 2,100ft, glidepath coupler engaged at 152kt, going down at 900ft/min into dull mist. Melted frost dripping fast from window frames. Captain’s hand poised on control wheel. Windscreen wipers working hard. Lead-in lights now dimly in view, but no trace of runway. BEA engineering base comes into sight to our left, co-pilot postively identifies runway and tells captain.

We surge in past the lights, the captain cuts the autopilot and holds off. When I think we are still 100ft up, the main wheels touch smoothly, the nose comes down, spoilers are popped out, reverse thrust pulled. Further end of runway still out of sight. The captain takes the nosewheel tiller and starts braking while the co-pilot holds the column forward and calls the decreasing speeds down to 60kt. We turn off with some runway to spare, switch to airfield control frequency. Shutting down checks begin.

We are home. Chock-to-chock time 9hr 15min for 4,210 n.m.: we took off at about 1700 hr Seattle time and it is now 0130 by that reckoning— time for bed. But here in London it is 0900hr or so and a new day is just beginning. This is the way to travel if you don’t weaken ..

This is an exerpt from an article originally published by Mark Lambert in Flight International in 1960.

IFBP – Belt and Braces in Africa

ATC in Africa is steadily improving – investment in radar and CPDLC is helping – but vast swathes of airspace remain where ATC, quite simply, is not to be trusted to the same degree as in other parts of the world. Not all of this is the fault of the controller – more so equipment – but crews should be fully aware of the need to be more situationally aware.

The airspace map below shows the current airspace that IATA deems “At Risk”, and recommends applying the Inflight Broadcast Procedure (IFBP).


Specifically, these  FIR’s:

a) Asmara
b) Brazzaville
c) Kano
d) Khartoum
e) Kinshasa
f) Luanda
g) Mogadishu
h) Niamey
i) N’Djamena
j) Tripoli

IATA adds a note that Brazzaville, Niamey and N’djamena FIR provide CPDLC service, however these FIRs are maintained in IFBP area of applicability ‘to accommodate users’ requirement for linear boundaries to the extent feasible’. If you were to read between the lines, you might conclude that CPDLC doesn’t remove the risk entirely.

This is the latest version of the procedure.

Country Lowdown: Turkey

The latest in our series of Country Lowdowns is: Turkey. There have been some changes of late, including an exclusion for aircraft registered in countries without a bilateral agreement with Turkey, from the new overflight permit exemption. Hmmm. That’s a mouthful.

In easier language – if you’re flying an M-reg or a VP-reg aircraft, you’ll probably need an overflight permit.

We publish these Country Lowdowns on a regular basis, and they are sent directly (free) to members of OPSGROUP.

If you’d really like the one for Turkey, just email Or – join the group at and you’ll get them all as they are published.



US and Canada may lose EU visa right

The European Commission published warning on 12APR that visa-free travel by US and Canadian citizens to Europe is at risk, due to the lack of a full reciprocal arrangement for EU citizens.

The core of the issue is this: Although US and Canadian passport holders can travel to Europe for stays of up to 90 days without requiring a visa, citizens of some EU countries are not eligible for the same privilege in return. Specifically, citizens of Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania require a visa for the US, and citizens of Bulgaria and Romania require one for Canada.

The deadline for US and Canada to include those citizens in their own visa-waiver programs expired yesterday, on 12APR2016. Consequently, the EU is obliged, under their own policy document, to take steps to remove the visa-free travel privilege for US and Canadian Citizens.

The United Kingdom and Ireland do not take part in the development of the common visa policy and would not be bound by a visa waiver suspension.

No change has yet occurred, and any decision to limit travel would have a lead time (most likely 90 days). For further background see the full EU press release.

Multiple ATC Strikes Europe

Greece has just announced a strike of ATC staff on 07APR (Overflights unaffected), starting 2100Z on 06APR and ending 24 hrs later. Italy has also announced strike action by its controllers for 09APR. The best place to keep informed on these two strikes is the Eurocontrol NOP.



No more MHTG

You’ve seen the video; which gives some background to why MHTG/Tegucigalpa is sometimes referred to as “the most dangerous airport in the world”. News over the weekend from Honduras confirmed a new $163 million airport is being developed. There have been multiple incidents at the airport over the years, mostly due to the surrounding terrain and approach.

The new airport, with a longer, 2440m/8005 ft runway, will be about 25nm from the capital near the Palmerola military air base, and the president said “The new airport is meant as an alternative “so that passengers can land in an airport that does not put their lives at risk,”.

If you’re operating to Honduras, Landing permits are required for all private non-revenue and charter (non-scheduled commercial) operations to Honduras, along with notification to “CENAMER,” a joint air traffic control service covering Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.


Take a close look at this chart. Notice anything strange?

On second thoughts – let’s ask another question, that might be easier: Notice anything familiar? I’ll venture a guess: probably not. This is a North Atlantic Plotting Chart from the 70’s (hauled out of the Flight Service Bureau archives), and it’s the area just west of the Shannon FIR, at 20W. Busy place, back in 1973.

So what are we looking at, exactly? Most of the coloured lines are LORAN lines (dashed ones indicating the station is only receivable at night); but there is also a range ring for the BUSHMILLS (MWN) Consol Navigation Station on the North coast of Ireland (long since gone).

Shannon FIR 1973

Most interesting is the waypoint marked JULIETT. It’s 52’30N and 20W: Officially known as an Ocean Station Vessel (OSV), this was a Weather Ship operated by the UK and the Netherlands and permanently in position. It was used back in those days to take regular radiosonde readings, collect weather reports, act as a radio beacon (NDB on 370Khz), and provide Search and Rescue (SAR) cover.

There were 10 such ships on the Atlantic; A through E operated by the US coast guard; and I through M by the Europeans.


Howard Cox, in “Ocean Weather Ships”, writes: “Light aircraft were reasonably frequent ‘visitors’ on their delivery flights to the UK or Europe. Without exception there was always something not working –VHF but no HF or vice versa, no heating, no DF and so it went on. I remember one occasion when we were on Juliet when we were requested by Shanwick Oceanic Control to keep the ships navigation beacon on continuously and to keep a continuous radar watch on from a certain time. An aircraft being ferried to Europe via the UK had taken off from Gander and lost his radio compass before he had even reached the US Coast Guard cutter manning Ocean Station Charlie.”

Cox continues, “They had brought him over the top of them using their radar, ‘set’ the radar beam in the direction of Juliet and guided the pilot as far as they could along the beam till out of range. We did likewise when he reached our part of the ocean, setting the beam in the direction of Shannon Airport in Ireland and guiding him along that until he passed out of range. In the meantime Shannon did the same when he got in range of them. He was lucky, he made it, crossing the Atlantic courtesy of three radars!”

The value of the SAR function of these ships was proven in the Pacific 1956, when about 1200 miles west of San Francisco Pan Am flight 6 ditched after a double engine failure with no fatalities; all 44 people on board survived thanks to Ocean Station November, which is where this photo was taken from.


Our next look at old charts will be this one from the Cold War, showing a very distinctive three-corridor system of entry and exit to ….


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