International Ops 2018

Flight Service Bureau | OPSGROUP

Author: Mark Zee (page 2 of 4)

The problem of Bullshit Notams


This article created a firestorm of engagement – several hundred emails and 127,000 people that visited the blog. Most of it was overwhelmingly positive. Some of it wasn’t. Please read my follow up in response.


It’s absolutely ridiculous

We communicate the most critical flight information, using a system invented in 1920, with a format unchanged since 1924, burying essential information that will lose a pilot their job, an airline their aircraft, and passengers their lives, in a mountain of unreadable, irrelevant bullshit.

Yes CASA Australia, that’s you. Yes, Greek CAA, that’s you. And you’re not alone.

In an unintended twist of irony, the agencies seeking to cover their legal ass are party to creating the most criminal of systems – an unending flow of aeronautical sewage rendering the critical few pieces of information unfindable.

This is more than just hugely frustrating for each pilot, dispatcher, and controller that has to parse through it all; it’s downright dangerous.

If you’re a pilot, you’ll either have already experienced this, or you’re going to – you stuff something up, and then be told: “but there was a Notam out about that”. Sure enough, there it is in black and white (and in big capital letters). Do you think that “but there were 100 pages of them” is going to be a valid defence?


Well, it should be. The same agency conducting your post-incident interview is busy on the other end stuffing the system full of the garbage that prevented you from seeing it in the first place.

There are three parts to the problem: the system, the format, and the content. The system is actually quite amazing. The AFTN network connects every country in the world, and Notam information once added is immediately available to every user. Coupled with the internet, delivery is immediate.

The format is, at best, forgivable. It’s pretty awful. It’s a trip back in time to when Notams were introduced. You might think that was the 1960’s, or the 50’s. In fact, it’s 1924, when 5-bit ITA2 was introduced. The world shifted to ASCII in 1963, bringing the Upper and Lower case format that every QWERTY keyboard uses today, but we didn’t follow – nope, we’ll stick with our 1924 format, thank you.

Read that again. 1924. Back then, upper case code-infested aeronautical messages would have seemed impressive and almost reassuring in their aloofness. But there weren’t in excess of 1 million Notams per year, a milestone we passed in 2013. The 1 million milestone is remarkable in itself, but here’s something else amazing: in 2006, there were only 500,000. So in seven years, Notams doubled. Why? Are there twice as many airports in the world? No. Twice as many changes and updates? Possibly. But far more likely: the operating agencies became twice as scared about leaving things out.

And so onto the culprit: the content. The core definition of a Notam is ESSENTIAL flight information. Essential, for anyone tasked with entering information into the Notam System, is defined as “absolutely necessary; extremely important”. Here’s a game you can play at home. Take your 100 page printout of Notams, and circle that ones that you think can be defined as essential. See how many fit that bill.

So why is all this garbage in the system? Because the questions that the creators of Notams ask are flawed. The conversation goes like this:

– “Should we stick this into a Notam?”
– “Yeah, we’d better, just in case”.

How many are actually asking, “Is this essential information that aircrew need to know about ?”. Almost none. Many ‘solutions’ to the Notam deluge involve better filtering, Q codes, and smart regex’s. This overlooks the core problem. It’s not what comes out that needs to be fixed, it’s what goes in.

Even in 1921, we had much the same problem. Obstacle, 18 feet high, several miles from the runway.

Nobody cares. Unless you’ve parked the Eiffel Tower on the threshold, leave this stuff for the AIP. And nobody cares about kites either. Nor about goat-grazing times. We don’t care if your bird scarer is U/S. We don’t care if there’s a cherry-picker fixing a bulb somewhere. We don’t care when you’re cutting your grass.

Nor do we care about closed taxiways. The only way I can get onto a taxiway is with an ATC clearance, and ATC will not clear me onto a closed taxiway.

We care if the airport is going to be closed when we get there. If we’re going to have to divert because the runway is shut. If someone might shoot at us. If there are new rules. We care about the critical items, but we won’t see them as things stand.

And so, about here is where a normal editorial piece might end with “we hope that the authorities improve the system”, and sign off.


But not here.

We’re in the business of doing things here at FSB, not just talking about them.

Last year we wrote a few pieces about the Greece vs Turkey Notam battle. This month we did a group look at Briefing Packages, and it was astonishing to see how many pages of this diplomatic drivel still appeared in all our members’ Briefings. All in all, on average 3 full pages of every briefing for a flight overflying Greece or Turkey contained this stuff.

So, we sent Greece a polite AFTN message on behalf of all of us.

That’s just one piece of a thousand-piece puzzle, and it would be nice to think that one piece at a time we could fix the sytem. Let’s get real. It’s a monster, and it’s out of control.

We don’t think that we can fix the Notam system.

But, we can think about a different solution. And that’s exactly what we’re doing right now in OpsGroup. With almost 2000 members, we can make a difference. Watch this space. Or, if you want to help take action, send your thoughts to




What altitude is ‘safe enough’ to overfly a Conflict Zone?

Most conflict zone guidance from Aviation Authorities is based on the risk posed by MANPADS – Man Portable Air Defence Systems, or more descriptively – Shoulder Launched Surface to Air Missiles (SAMS).

Large-Unit SAM attacks on aircraft are uncommon – MH17, removed from the sky by a Russian-made Buk missile, was the first aircraft to be shot down by a large SAM unit since a Siberia Airlines Tupolev in 2001. These large units – requiring a radar system as part of the mechanism – have never been used by terrorists. Almost all incidences involving large-unit SAMs have involved misidentification. There is no safe altitude from a large SAM.

MANPADS, on the other hand, represent a greater threat to aircraft in 2017. These shoulder-launched systems are very portable, and far more likely to fall into the wrong hands. Common ranges are in the 10,000 – 15,000 ft range. The most dangerous is the FIM-92 Stinger, which has an operational ceiling of 26,000 ft (and there is concern that these have reached anti-government rebels in Syria)

The internationally promulgated standard safe altitude for overflight has now become about 25,000 ft AGL. Most CAA/State guidance is issued based on this number. There are two important points for aircraft operators to note:

    • That is 25,000 feet Above Ground Level. A missile could easily be launched from a mountain, or higher ground, so if you take 25,000 feet as your safety margin, make sure to add the terrain elevation beneath. In South Sudan, for example – Juba is at 2,000 feet – most of the country is at about this height. So 27,000 feet should be the minimum safe level, and you can work with FL270.
    • This is based on the assumption that we’re not worried about Stingers. Especially in the Middle East, a higher safe altitude might be better. FL300 seems like a good place to start.



Airbus Flight 101 – Relief to Haiti

After Hurricane Matthew last week, MTPP/Port-au-Prince (Toussaint Louverture) became a central focus in relief efforts for Haiti. One of our OPSGROUP members, Airbus Industrie – took an A330 that’s normally used for testing, and flew it with supplies from France to Haiti.

Thanks Pedro @Airbus for this flight and trip report – and thank you for your contribution to the relief effort as well. All the crew members on board were volunteers.  We’re very proud to have you as a member of our group.


Report from Pedro Dias, Airbus Industrie:


A request from NGO has raised to carry to Haiti 25 tons of medical equipment, first aid supplies, portable water station as well as a team of 40 people (28 military Rescuers, 4 doctors and nurse, 8 NGO staff). Airbus, thru the “Airbus Foundation”, responded positively and offers to help providing our A332. This aircraft is a test aircraft, partially equipped with pax seats and offer the full capacity of its cargo. On Monday 10th October we were ready to go!

First stop in LYS where all the NGO equipment was stored, after a short night Cargo and passengers were on board ready for a 9h30 flight.

Airbus team and volunteers on board AIB101 enroute to Haiti

Airbus team and volunteers on board AIB101 enroute to Haiti

AIB101 T/O @ 05H45UTC

Nice flight with some turbulence approaching the Caribbean Area… This long flight gave us the opportunity to talk with our fellow passengers and understand their motivation to go to such devastated places. Very interesting dialogue, which made all of us understand that we are lucky to be where we live.


After overflying a small part of the Island we’ve been cleared to land. On the ground a B747 was already there, offloading equipment sent by French government.

Handling was efficient but slow, as could be expected, and the airport was a bit messy due to Matthew but also to the heavy work on the airport, have to be careful of all trucks and excavators crossing taxiways and parking with no radio contact!!!


We had to wait for customs to clear our cargo, finally everything went smooth and after less than 2 hours on the ground we were ready to leave. Fuel was not available, things have changed since I guess, we planned a fuel stop at PTP (Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe) before flying back to Toulouse.


2h Flight to PTP, then 2h on the ground and after a 08h00 flight it was 0550Z on Wednesday when we landed at Toulouse after 24h around the clock for this tiring but really rewarding flight.

All crew and Airbus team were volunteers to help on this flight, we know that what we bring is a drop in the ocean but we expect it will help people there, and we hope many more flights will follow soon”

Thank you Airbus and Pedro for this report!


Pan Am, 727’s, and 1977 …

This afternoon I took a boat across the river to the Jersey side  and looked back at New York City; amongst the skyscrapers in Midtown one stood out – the MetLife building. It seemed familiar – and I wondered why. I realised it was once the PanAm building: in a different era, this was the headquarters of Pan American World Airways.


Most interestingly, there was once a helicopter service, operated by PanAm in 1977, that connected downtown Manhattan with JFK, if you had a First or ‘Clipper Class’ ticket on a PanAm flight. The helicopter transfer, from the helipad on the roof of the PanAm building, took about 7 minutes – compare this to the 1 hour and 7 minutes it takes to get out to JFK these days – if you’re lucky.


Today, a couple of blocks west of the former PanAm building sits a lonely Concorde beside the Hudson, another nod to a time when aviation seems to have offered more convenience and speed than it does today.


So, the question is whether this is nothing more than nostalgia, or whether things were indeed, in some way, better back then. Everyone will have their own answer to that – we’ve lost  Tristars with elevators, DC-8’s with their chrome and diesel and smoke and crackle, 727’s and Bac 1-11’s with their rear airstairs – and what have we gained? The newest arrivals – the C Series, the A350, the 787 – are sleek, fuel efficient, and open up new routes that weren’t possible before – but are pretty unspectacular.

No doubt though, the generation that got to fly and operate these aircraft looked back on the days of Flying Boats and DC-3 with equal fondness. I wonder whether the aircraft coming off the production lines today will evoke the same thoughts.

In International Flight Operations, though, it must be said that things are much improved. Compared to the era that spans the 70’s to the 90s, we’ve now got vastly improved flight planning systems, more direct routes, much better navigation systems, and we’ve largely moved from SITA, phone calls and fax machines to email when it comes to organising those flights. For the Dispatcher and Planner, there is no doubt that life is far easier. Even ten years ago, trying to arrange handling anywhere outside the US and Europe would take days to set up – now, the same trip can be arranged in 30 minutes.

We do have some new challenges. Airspace safety – and the risk to our aircraft overflying unstable regions, is of more concern now than at any time in history. Since MH17 two years ago,  there have been many new areas to avoid. But how to know where, and why? Through The Airline Cooperative and OPSGROUP, we’ve worked as groups of Dispatchers, Controllers, and Pilots to share information so that when one person becomes aware of new information, everyone gets to hear about it. Our shared map shows the current status at


As a group, we’ve also been creating some new tools that help us – Aireport is our shared review site, where we can let each other know about good and bad experiences with Handlers, Airports, and ATC – whether it’s service, procedures, changes, or avoiding a fuel stop that’s going to cost you a fortune.


Maybe the biggest problem with all this new access to information is the overload one – the internet is the equivalent of a Shannon to Singapore NOTAM briefing. 80 pages of crap with a couple of important things stuck in the middle. Sometimes those important things are good to know, sometimes it’s critical information.

So how do you find those couple of critical things on the internet? You won’t have any trouble finding Aviation sites, but if you are managing an International Flight Operation of any sort – whether you’re the pilot, the dispatcher, the controller, the regulator, the ramp agent – whoever: how do you find out what’s new that will affect your flight.

That’s the question that bothers us at FSB every day of the week. We literally work on this every single day – and every day it becomes a little easier. Every Wednesday, we squeeze and condense the things that we’ve discovered this week into our weekly International Ops Bulletin – removing as much as possible until you’re left with only the critical stuff. The biggest source, and greatest help – is our amazing group of people in OPSGROUP.

Anyhow, I digress. Back to PanAm …

What is OPS GROUP, exactly?

Yes, it’s the most common question we get. What is OPS GROUP ? Well, we’re not exactly sure yet. The question mark may well be part of the name, because to us it represents both a lack of constraints and limitless possibility. A beginners mind.

The energy within the group has astounded us. The OPS GROUP team has answered over 200 questions from members, but that engagement is not what surprised us. When we put questions back to the group ( in the form of curated Members Questions), the willingness to help, share and assist others is what did.

So, what we’re seeing is that amazing things happen when you connect similar, but different, people. In the Industry, we have great groups for Airlines (IATA, and our own Airline Cooperative), Business Aviation (NBAA), ATC (CANSO), Private Aviation ( AOPA). But they all combine like with like.

Like the best relationships,  matching with a little bit different is far more interesting.

OPS GROUP – sticking with the big letters – brings everyone together in INTL FLT OPS. We all share the same airspace and go to the same airports. We all struggle to stay up to date, find most Notams confusing, hate having to organise permits, and wonder what will be next to change on the North Atlantic. Ask us to go somewhere new, and watch the stress levels rise.

What happens when

And so we have a weird and wonderful group. The all-alone Corporate dispatcher, the overworked B777 F/O, the midnight supervisor at Eurocontrol, the grumpy Airline Dispatcher (yes Eric, that’s you), the permanently-airborne G4 driver, the Airbus ops team, and of course the Boeing guys and girls, the Irish ATC supervisor, the German Airline COO, the Russian CAA guy, the Australian meteorologist, and many hundreds more. Fast approaching 1000 members, in fact – and therefore becoming more useful for everyone. Literally hundreds of experts within the group.

When we started, we thought that OPS GROUP would just be a collection of people that wanted updates on International Ops from our Flight Service Bureau. We still run our now famous bulletin every Wednesday, and our Lowdowns, Ops Notices, Alerts, and Special Briefings – but the group is becoming huge amounts more than just receivers of information.

Personally, I think the key value of the group is it allows each one of us to feel more connected to International Flight Ops. Realising that there are hundreds of others in the same position that appreciate both your question and the group answer.

So, if I could try to best summarise OPS GROUP right now – it’s a secure environment where you’ll be ahead of the relentless changes in International Flight Ops, you’ll directly receive all FSB summaries of the big changes, can get answers from the team or the entire group for that troublesome ops question. You also get to feel really good when you share new information with the others, and answer the question that you’re an expert on.

But really, we’re still not quite sure what OPS GROUP is. Maybe when we pass 2000 members it will become clearer. Let’s see.

More about OPS GROUP:


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.

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