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UAVs at Manchester Airport


Operation Zenith, an ambitious drone demonstration at Manchester Airport, has shown that drones can be flown safely

UAVs at Manchester Airport


Operation Zenith, an ambitious drone demonstration at Manchester Airport, has shown that drones can be flown safely alongside manned aircraft in controlled airspace.

The drones, overseen by NATS air traffic controllers communicating with drone operators via Altitude Angel's Guardian UTM Airspace Management Operating System, successfully performed a series of on-airfield tasks without endangering or disrupting airport operations.

The carefully-planned unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) scenarios, which included an equipment delivery, runway inspections and obeying an automated instruction to clear the skies for an emergency police helicopter landing, were designed to showcase how it is possible to unlock the enormous social and economic benefit of drones while protecting today's manned aviation.

Live-streamed to an invited audience at the Royal Aeronautical Society in London, Operation Zenith is the UK's first contribution to the recently-launched European Commission's U-Space Demonstrator Network.

Employing air traffic management systems and technology interfaces that are compliant with U-Space programme requirements, the success of Operation Zenith provides a realistic view of a future in which UAVs can be flown safely within visual line of sight, and beyond (VLOS/BVLOS), in integrated airspace.

In the words of Alastair Muir, NATS Safety Director, "From distributing medicines to delivering parcels, investigating crash sites to inspecting industrial installations, drones have a great deal to offer and we believe that carving up the skies to offer commercial drones a slice of segregated airspace is not the answer. From our perspective, allowing visible UAVs safe access into controlled, integrated, airspace is the best way forward, both for the drone industry itself and for aviation as a whole.

"With the number of drone-related airspace incidents on the rise, it is essential that we take steps now in order to create a safe environment for UAVs to be integrated with manned aircraft and factor their presence into redesigned airspace that is able to cope with the increasing demands of modern aviation in our busy skies."

Chris Wild, Head of Airfield Operations at Manchester Airport, added, "We are delighted how the demonstration came together to showcase how manned and unmanned aviation can be undertaken collaboratively, within controlled airspace.

"Manchester Airport handles over 200,000 air transport movements. Drone use, regulation and technological mitigation have been real foci for us over the last few years. As an airport, we are fully supportive of co-operative drone operations, and we are committed to influencing regulation and embracing new technology that allows piloted and unmanned aviation to take place in harmony."


SAFETYCOM Conversion to 8.33kHz Voice Channel Spacing  
At aerodromes having no notified VHF channel, a common channel is available to assist pilots to avoid potential collisions between arriving and departing aircraft. Pilots may use the channel to broadcast their intentions for safety purposes, and there should be no response, except when the pilot of another aircraft transmits his intentions.

The channel assigned is 135.480MHz, known as SAFETYCOM. All pilots should be aware that SAFETYCOM is not a UK equivalent to the UNICOM system used in the United States and does not work in the same way.

As a shared channel, used in many different locations, SAFETYCOM is expected to be a busy channel, with a significant probability of breakthrough to users at other locations.

It is important to remember that RTF must be concise, unambiguous and that it should include the name of the aerodrome.

SAFETYCOM is not to be used as a 'chat channel' or for the conduct of formation flights. To reduce the probability of breakthrough, it is also important that transmissions are only made within the height and range limits for the channel. Transmissions should only be made up to a maximum range of 10nm from the aerodrome or location of intended landing, and below 2,000ft above the elevation of that aerodrome or landing site.

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SAFETYCOM will be monitored by the CAA. Any evidence of abuse may result in its withdrawal; the continued use of 25kHz radio equipment is not permitted. Pilots should not assume that all other pilots in the vicinity are monitoring the same channel. Use of SAFETYCOM is optional, and there may be non-radio aircraft in the area. In the vicinity of a microlight or gliding site, pilots may be monitoring one of the sporting use channels. It is therefore important that, as at all other times, pilots maintain a good lookout.             


Improved Procedures Add Runway Capacity to Heathrow

It is claimed that Enhanced Time Based Separation (ETBS) has increased operational capacity by approximately 1.4 additional landings per hour in all wind conditions. This added operational resilience helps the airport deliver to plan, enables airlines to keep to their schedules, and reduces the noise impact on local communities.

The use of Time Based Separation (TBS) for London Heathrow arrivals is continuing to deliver major operational improvements, with the latest analysis revealing the added benefits of new tools introduced earlier this year.

In March, an enhanced version of the system (eTBS) was brought into service by NATS, bringing with it a more refined set of wake categories developed by Eurocontrol, as well as new separation tools. These enhancements have helped make the operation more resistant to delays and disruption.

The first four months of eTBS operations saw a tactical capacity gain of approximately 1.4 additional aircraft landings per hour in all wind conditions, with an additional 1.6 arrivals in strong headwinds, over and above the 0.8 additional landings (2.6 additional in strong winds) already achieved by the original TBS.

That is the equivalent of extending Heathrow's operating day by 30 minutes, which helps ensure the airport can deliver to plan, airlines can keep to their schedules and local communities are not affected by late running arrivals.

Heathrow is capped at 480,000 movements per annum. Therefore, this additional tactical capacity is said to be translating into an improvement of on-time performance and a better passenger experience.

Heathrow is, so far, the only airport in the world where arriving aircraft are separated using dynamically calculated time intervals, as opposed to set distances. This allows them to be adjusted in real-time, in order to suit the prevailing wind conditions and help maintain the landing rate.

The eTBS technology still shows wake pair markers or separation indications to the approach controllers. However, it now also models the compression between each arriving pair as they slow down on final approach. A runway occupancy indicator for pairs of arriving aircraft is also displayed, when the time spent getting off the runway is more limiting than wake separation.

NATS intends to continue adding tools and refinements to the TBS system, creating a suite of functionality it calls ‘Intelligent Approach’. The next step will see the introduction of Pairwise Separation. Here, each pair of aircraft type will have its own separation standard, as opposed to the six categories used today. This is hoped to optimise the gaps between arrivals and departures at single runway airports.


Potential Confusion for London City Airport's Radar

A proposed viewing platform on a City of London building project known as the Tulip Tower is facing serious objections. Gondolas designed to move up and down the top of the tower are at risk of confusing ATC systems, according to telecommunication specialists at London City Airport.

The moving gondolas may have a slightly different effect from the static element of the building. Officials told the authority considering whether to give planning permission that construction on the 305m (1,000ft} tower must not be started until its potential impact on radar systems at the airport, six miles to the east, has been assessed.

This month’s picture is of an Avenger at Duxford – the very aircraft once flown by the recently-deceased ex-US President George Bush Senior. The clue is in the name…. 



ATC Profiles 10: Belfast Aldergrove Airport





Frequencies                             (MHz)                                       Hours of Operation


Aldergrove Approach/Radar          128.500                                     H24

Aldergrove Director                     120.900                                     As directed by ATC

Aldergrove Tower                        118.300                                     H24

Aldergrove Ground                      121.750                                     As directed by ATC

Aldergrove Fire                           121.600 (non-ATC)                      Fire vehicles attending aircraft on the ground                                                                                                                                  


Aldergrove Information                128.200                                     H24


Navaids                                    ILS CAT III on Runway                                                                                                                                                                25 CAT I on Runway 17

                                                NDB OY 332kHz

                                                DME/VOR BEL


Runways                         07  2780m x 45m

                                                25  2 x 45m




Holds                                       BEL VOR

                                                OY NDB


Notes (A-Z)


CAT II/III Operations                          

Runway 25, subject to the serviceability of the required facilities is suitable for Category ll/lll Operations by operators whose minima have been accepted by the CAA. During Category II/III operations, ATC Low Visibility Procedures will be applied. Pilots will be informed when these procedures are in operation by ATIS or by radio. Pilots can expect a flow rate of ten per hour for arrivals, and ten per hour for departures. Runway 25 is suitable for Lower than Standard Category I operations, subject to the ILS radiating at CAT III and LVPs being declared in force by ATC, and for operators whose minima have been accepted by the CAA.          


Frequency Monitoring Code (FMC)

Pilots operating in the vicinity of, but intending to remain outside, Belfast Aldergrove controlled airspace and maintaining a listening watch only on Aldergrove Approach frequency, 128.500 MHz, are encouraged to select SSR code 7045. Selection of 7045 does not imply the receipt of an ATC service. Aircraft displaying the code are not expected to contact Aldergrove. While squawking 7045, pilots should be aware that Aldergrove Approach may make ‘blind’ transmissions in order to ascertain a particular aircraft's intentions/route.

When a pilot ceases to maintain a listening watch, code 7045 should be deselected.                                     


Handling Agents

HAE, Jet Assist, Swissport 130.600MHz

Global Trek Aviation, Woodgate Executive Charter (UK) Ltd 130.175MHz

EAC (GA and private jet aircraft).



When Runway 25 or 17 is in use, in order to expedite traffic, aircraft may be transferred from VOR BEL holding pattern to NDB OY holding pattern, prior to carrying out the approach procedure. The primary holding pattern will be a 1-minute race-track pattern based on VOR BEL. An alternative holding pattern based on NDB OY may be used instead.


North Atlantic Jet Departures                     

Jet aircraft routing via Oceanic Entry Points GOMUP or ETILO must request oceanic clearance from Aldergrove ATC at least 30 minutes prior to departure. Jet aircraft entering oceanic airspace at all other entry points should request oceanic clearance from Shanwick as soon as possible after departure. Pilots are reminded that oceanic clearance (including level allocation) issued prior to departure is valid only from the Entry Point. Domestic ATC clearance to the Entry Point is issued separately.                


VFR Helicopter Operations Within Aldergrove Control Zone

Operation - Outbound: The pilot must lift into the hover to a height of not greater than 200ft above ground level, squawking 7000 and obtain zone clearance. Aldergrove ATC will pass on any appropriate traffic information. Only when clearance has been received, can the flight set course, subject to any restrictions, which Aldergrove ATC may impose. Operation - Inbound: Contact should be made, where possible, with Aldergrove Approach, at least ten minutes flying time before Belfast-controlled airspace, with a request for clearance to enter. The pilot must report when descending into the private site.


Visual Reference Points (VRP)                         

To facilitate the integration of VFR flights within the Belfast Airspace, pilots may be required to join/leave the airspace via specified VRPs:

Ballymena; Cluntoe (Disused aerodrome); Glengormley (M2 Junction 4); Toome (Disused aerodrome).                          



The attention of pilots is drawn to the existence of Langford Lodge aerodrome. This unlicensed aerodrome, situated 3nm south-west of Belfast Aldergrove, is provided with crossed Runways 08/26 and 03/21. Pilots making approaches to Belfast Aldergrove, when Runway 07 is in use, should exercise due caution to ensure they have identified the correct aerodrome. The 07 approach and runway lights will be selected 'ON' whenever 07 is in use, regardless of weather conditions. Model aircraft flying takes place at Nutts Corner, a disused aerodrome situated 3nm south-east of Aldergrove, and also at Langford Lodge.


This article was featured in the February 2019 issue of Radio User 

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