Archive for the Air Law Category

Lesson 24: Circuits (Cancelled – High Wind)

Monday, June 25th, 2012 | Permalink

The day before the lesson, the wind was forecast to be 24 mph (20 knots) and gusting even higher.

So, I was well prepared when the phone rang for this lesson to be cancelled.

It wasn’t a total loss, I guess as my instructor was just going to be sitting around anyway she said to come in and we could get some other ground work bits and pieces signed off in my training record.

You don’t pay if the propeller ain’t spinning (money makes the propeller go round), so this was a bit of a freebie, we like free stuff 🙂


Metars are actual observations of the weather, they attempt to give you a picture of what it’s like right now.

TAF’s (Terminal Aerodrome Forecast) are, as the name suggests, forecasts of the weather and give you a ‘best guess’ at what it might be like in the near future and for how long it might be like that.

Both come in an encoded text format, standardised by the ICAO if you can read them in one location, you should be able to read them anywhere in the world.

Met Office : Aviation Services

If you want accurate and up to date METAR’s & TAF’s, one of/the best source at least in the UK is The Met Office and thankfully they offer an “Aviation” service, for free.  You just need to register (free) and then login and you can get at all the information.

In addition to METAR’s & TAF’s, The Met Office provides Form F214 & 215, which provide wind speeds and graphical displays of the weather updated regularly during the day.

Really good service, if you haven’t found it/aren’t fully using it to its full potential yet, check it out.   As with all big websites there’s a lot of information and it’s sometimes hard to find where the good stuff on there is, but just those handful of bits are useful.

Aerodrome Information

Having gone through that lot and decoded a few METAR’s & TAF’s (more stuff signed off in the training sheet), I was shown possibly the only book I’ve yet to buy, the UK VFR Guide.

Maybe I shouldn’t have jumped in with “Ahhh yes, I need one of those….”  Because the excitement was shot down pretty promptly by a reminder that actually, it can go out of date and the publisher is under no requirement to inform you.

The official source of information for aerodromes, should be the CAA’s AIP, specifically the Aerodrome section.   If something changes, they will re-issue the page(s) affected.   So another useful bookmark to have is where you can find all of this information.

In addition on there you can quickly search NOTAM’s (NOtice To Air Men) and find out things like why an area is currently marked as a danger area etc.

The Out of Date Chart

When you start to fly, there’s a lot of stuff you need and you’ll either buy it all in one big spending spree of ‘super preparation’ (there’s not masses of point to this), or you’ll add loads of it to wish-lists etc. and get friends & family to buy it you….. After years of “What do you want for….???”   I finally had a huuuge list I could point people at 🙂

So of course when asked “Do you have a chart?”

The answer was an excited “Yes”, finally the beginnings of using it in anger for something!

Nicely folded, we began to unfold it and discovered it was Issue 37……bought just around the new year marker (guess), we had sailed past April and well, now it was out of date!    Issue 38 is now out 🙁

If you ever wanted proof that buying stuff before you really need it  isn’t useful, this is it – but hey, I got to practice my map folding with it so it wasn’t a total loss.

Now for the bad news, I couldn’t get the box for “Current / Valid Chart” ticked off, I might have had a very recent chart, but it wasn’t the current one  🙁

A good hour on the ground

All in all, a very enjoyable hour on the ground learning some new things, getting better at others and being shown around a few sites I probably should have been playing with a long time ago but have been far to busy with flying 🙂



Air Law Exam : Passed

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012 | Permalink

This is a bit of a belated post, but in the grand scheme of things is largely in sequence.

For those thinking about learning to fly, passing the air law exam is 1 of 3 tick boxes for being allowed to fly solo (the others:  Hold a Class 2 Medical, Have an instructor say you’re good to go……it’s as simple as that :-\  ).

The air law book is one of the thicker books in the set of material to learn and more than once it certainly went through my head “How on earth do you memorise all of this…?”   Countered of course with the fact that people do, all the time, so it must be possible.

40 questions, multiple choice (4 answers per question), with an hour to reach the finish, a pass mark of 75% is required.

In my experience, most of the questions had 1 answer you should be able to immediately dismiss, one you should be able to reasonably dismiss and then two that are both reasonable.

Looking back I found that if you try and pick it up and read sections, what actually happens is you start reading the same sections over and over and get quite good at them.   However, the sections you’re not so interested in don’t get much coverage or the sections that the book doesn’t naturally open to gets sparse coverage.   The best solution I found for this is not actually to read it cover to cover and then repeat, but actually to follow a recommendation from someone else at the aero club, get the Simplifier book.   This has 3 example papers in it, now when you think you’ve read up and know your stuff, run through a paper.   Any questions you don’t immediately know the answer to, make a note of/mark, then take your best guess and keep going.  Three important facts will come out of this:

  1. What areas of questioning needs more attention.
  2. Can you get through a paper within the time allowed.
  3. Did you pass – and did you pass by fluke (how many marked up questions did you have), or did you pass by knowing your stuff without hesitation.

Be careful though, with only 3 example papers it’s very easy to become an expert at the questions on those papers (effectively you’ve memorised the answer sheet, not learnt the subject material).

You can read and read and read…..and if you have no purpose for the reading, you can put the book down for a bit, then pick it up, read some more, put it down, pick it up and put it down again.   I had the air law book months before I started learning to fly and I’d been reading it off/on like this for months into my training.   Nothing quite focuses the mind like having a fixed in stone date.   So as a top tip to others, I’d say once you’re approaching your first circuit lesson (e.g. somewhere just after the time you do stalls), start reading up as if you mean it – then set a date to do the exam.  Once you have a date in the diary, you should find it focuses the mind and gives a purpose to the revision.

How did I do on the day?

My preparation results suggested I could finish in time and that I should pass it, but with such a wide topic area there’s always a chance each one will pick the one thing you missed.

The strategy was to make a first pass blitz through the paper and only answer the questions I knew, with absoluteness, the right answer.

On a separate piece of paper I marked up those I thought I knew but could be wrong and from there I would know just how far away from passing I was.

It’s easy to write only about the positives and how well it’s all going for you in blogs like this, I don’t think that adds much value to other readers though and it doesn’t really capture the memories of the experience for myself…..

Suffice to say, by the end of the first run through the paper, I’d counted 11 questions I was doubting myself on – any other day of the week I probably would have been absolute on 7 of those, but when you’re doing it for score it’s amazing how doubt creeps in.

11 questions!    If I got them all wrong, I’d have just failed my first attempt at air law and would have two attempts remaining – this is not the position I expected to be in from the hours of revision and test prep that had gone in the weeks before.   However, statistics were on my side, if I guessed 11 questions I should statistically get 1 in 4 right by pure fluke (2.75).   If I rounded that down to 2 by pure fluke, so long as nothing was wrong in my “absolute right” answers, we’d have 77% and a pass.   That’s with a 1 in 4 guess, I said earlier you can get it down to about 1 in 3 or 1 in 2 with a bit of thought, it’s not like I hadn’t revised this stuff so I should be able to get it in the ball park.   That would put the worst case score closer to 5 out of 11 and give a little margin on the others.

In the end I made my best and final answers, went back through the paper a couple of times just to make sure nothing really silly had happened (like start on line 2 of the answer sheet with the answer for question 1 etc.) and went back to the office to hand the paperwork in for marking.   I’d reached the point of “this is as good as it gets on the day.” inside of 30 minutes, upon returning I got the impression I was quicker then expected.

I walked away with 11 questions engraved in my brain, how I’d answered these I was sure would be the decider on whether I passed or not.   Thankfully it’s not far to drive from the aero club back to my house……..and there I had an answer book 🙂

Armed with the answer book, I worked out that unless something else had gone wrong, I’d scored about 85%.    Some of the stuff I got wrong, I still kick myself about but there are two things to remember here:   1.)  Exam environments change things, you doubt yourself a bit more, you second guess your instincts etc.   2.)  The objective is to pass, setting a record here is both impossible and pointless.

It would take 24 hours to mark the paper, so we’d have to just wait and see.

End Result

There was clearly nothing wrong with my ‘absolutely sure I’m correct’ answers, because when I called the aero club, the shout I heard from across the room of their office was “He passed, 85%”

Tick in the box………One step closer to flying solo.

As a foot note as this post is written up some weeks after the event, nobody has ever asked me what score I got.   The act of passing is a demonstration of knowledge competence in the area of air law – you could debate what questions you were asked verses the next person all day, but there’s no point.   Either you passed or you didn’t, if you did, it’s a tick in a box that opens a door to attempt the next tick box.


Lesson 12: Spiral Dives (Cancelled) / Revising for Air Law

Friday, December 2nd, 2011 | Permalink

Well I guess I knew my luck on the weather wouldn’t last this late into the year.  Booked as back-to-back lessons the second part had to be cancelled (before I even got to the aero club, which is a rare thing) due to gusting winds going up to 36kts.   It’s a shame, as it’s always nice to tick related lessons off as close together as you can and then move on to the next topic, but it’ll get there – try again a week on Saturday and see what the gods of weather think about going flying then.

Meanwhile I’ve been busy reading up on air law.  On a recommendation from someone at the aeroclub that the Simplifier was invaluable to them passing, my wife got me a copy (ordered while talking about it driving up the M6 – mobile Internet is a good thing!). I can see where they’re coming from, I’ve found it very useful in identifying my weaker areas of revision.

You don’t do it intentionally, but there are bits of the subject that will always interest you more then others.   Or chapters that are say 2-3 pages long which you never seem to flick to in the book…….those seem to be the areas that don’t get enough time spent on them and then when you pick a few sample questions from the simplifier book, you realise “ahhh maybe I need to go back and look at that topic again.”

Right now Search & Rescue, runway distances and associated names for each part – and finally when and for what the various air reports should be filed, all needs a bit more work.   The rest I’m beginning to feel quite confident about, so it’s coming together.

Visual Flight Rules (VFR)

Monday, September 5th, 2011 | Permalink

To fly Visual Flight Rules (VFR), you must be flying in Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC).

Yet while VFR is typically wrapped up into a quick statement like:  ‘Able to see the ground’.  Visual Meteorological Conditions vary.


Airspace is broken up into a number of categories (A to G).

The type of airspace dictates if you’re allowed to fly VFR at all and if so, what visibility you must have both horizontally and vertically.

So for example, VFR flight in Class A airspace is not permitted.

Class C..E airspace:  Requires 5km forward visibility, 1500m horizontal and 1000ft vertically from cloud (below FL100 [~10,000ft subject to air pressure]).

Class F..G airspace:  Below FL100 and Above 3000ft Above Mean Sea Level (amls), Requires 5km forward visibility, 1500m horizontal and 1000ft vertical from clouds.   Below 3000ft amls & 140knots indicated air speed, you need the same forward visibility but be insight of the surface and free of cloud (i.e. no clouds).

* Class B airspace in the UK is only allocated above FL245, outside of the ceiling range of aircraft like Cessna’s so you don’t need to worry about it.

Eight, Five and Three….

The visibility rules are fairly straight forward because in almost all airspace the distances group into sets.   Above FL100 you need Eight kilometres of forward visibility.   At all times you need at least five kilometres forward visibility.  Above three thousand feet you need 1000ft vertical height from cloud, 1500ft horizontal, below it you need to be clear of cloud.

….The exceptions to this are Class A and Class B airspace, you can’t fly in either.   Eight and Five still apply, but if you could fly there you’d need to be clear of cloud.

Radio Contact

An aircraft cannot fly in Class B, C or D airspace during the notified periods of Air Traffic Control operation until the pilot has obtained an air traffic clearance to do so.   While in the airspace the pilot must listen to the appropriate radio frequency and comply with ATC requests wherever able to do so – therefore the plane must have a working radio (and the pilot must hold a license to use it [or be ‘permitted’ to use the radio]).

In Class E, F and G airspace, radio contact with air traffic control is not mandatory outside of Aerodrome Traffic Zones (ATZ’s).

It is worth noting that the pilot is responsible for keeping his/her plane flying legally, so while Air Traffic Control can request you to do something in controlled air space, if this would stop you from flying in VFR/VMC conditions, it is the pilots responsibility to say they cannot comply with the request.

Special VFR

…..The get out for how to fly into an aerodrome that is within a Class A control zone (i.e. London).   And something for another post.

Is it safe to fly in a General Aviation aircraft?

Sunday, August 21st, 2011 | Permalink

The probability of being in a fatal airline accident is ridiculously small, so small in fact that if you make it to the airport, the odds are well in your favour you’ll get to your destination airport (The chances you won’t are around 0.5 x 10^-6)*.

Airliners have lots and lots (and lots!) of redundancy in their systems and propulsion though, so you’d expect that even if they suffer a single failure, they could ride it out and land safely somewhere……..General Aviation aircraft, particularly your typical Cessna style Single Engine Piston powered machine, have somewhat less layers of redundancy (the lack of a second engine being the obvious one!).

Next to pilot error, engine failure is going to be the most likely cause of an emergency / accident.   It’s about 0.00315789% probable of occurring* (2006-2007 it happened just 24 times for 760,000 hours flown by GA aircraft, 4 of which were on the ground).

As a result, the rules for how low you can fly come from Rule 5 of the ‘Rules of the Air’, it’s goal is to ensure pilots are flying high enough at all times such that should they suffer an engine failure, the pilot has enough altitude to make an emergency landing without endangering those on the ground.

It defines three key provisions:

  1. 500ft :  An aircraft must not fly closer than 500ft to any person, vessel, vehicle or structure.
  2. 1000ft: When flying over the congested area of any city, town or settlement, an aircraft must fly high enough to land clear of the area without damage to people and property on the surface should an engine fail.  OR fly not less than 1000ft above the highest fixed object within 600m of the aircraft – whichever is higher.
  3. 1000 People:  When flying over an organised open air assembly of more than 1000 people, the aircraft must fly high enough to land clear of the assembly without danger to people and property on the surface should the engine fail.  OR fly not less than 1000ft above the assembly – whichever is higher

So how safe is it to fly in a single engine piston class general aviation aircraft?   EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency), have done some risk assessment work.

They found that the fatal accident rate in a single engine general aviation aircraft caused by engine failure, was 0.66 x 10^-6 per flight hour (0.00000066).    So statistically, you’d have to fly a little over 1.5 million hours before the accident would occur……I’m willing to bet most non-instructor GA pilots in the UK don’t clock more than 100 hours per year, so statistically it’s still an unbelievably safe way to travel.

* EASA Risk Assessment Report

Air Traffic Service Units: Call Signs

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011 | Permalink

Think of air traffic services units and most people will think exclusively of “Air Traffic Control“.  However, not all airspace is “controlled”, but you can still have radio communications with an air traffic service and in many cases the communication will sound not dissimilar to what a typical person would assume to be ‘Air Traffic Control’ (e.g. Class F airspace)……..Call signs are what differentiates the type of service you’re talking to.

Air Traffic Control Unit (ATCU): “Control”, “Radar”, “Approach”, “Director”, “Tower”, “Ground”

Aerodrome Flight Information Service (AFIS): “Information”

Aerodrome Air/Ground Communication Service (AGCS): “Radio”

Without going into detail a Control Unit has the highest qualified employees and you’ll be dealing with professional controllers who’ve passed a set of CAA exams, an ATCU is the only service which can provide a Clearance (A Permission or Instruction to act).   ‘Information’ will have you talking to someone who’s passed a few less exams and likely have less equipment, as such they can only provide ‘information’.    Finally AGCS means you’re talking to someone who has a ‘certificate of competence’, AGCS can only give information with regard to the aerodrome itself and any traffic they know about.

If ATCU’s are the only people who can tell you to do something:

  • All other actions taken are the responsibility of the Pilot In Command (PIC)
  • It’s really important to know who you’re talking to!

Because Callsigns are the only means of telling who you’re talking to:

It is an offense to use an inappropriate Callsign.

As such, if an AGCS started declaring itself to be “Tower” or “Control” (instead of “Radio”).  They would be fast tracking themselves to having their licence removed and potentially other legal actions taken against them.

It’s worth a reminder here that there is a difference between the types of “Air Traffic Services” and the types of “Air Traffic Service Units” described above.

Rights of Way

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011 | Permalink


Right, Right and Right…..The aircraft ‘on the right is in the right’, if two aircraft’s are converging it is for the aircraft who is not on the right hand side to give way or take appropriate measures to avoid collision.

If approaching head-on, both aircraft’s should manoeuvre to their right hand side to avoid collision

When overtaking, the aircraft being overtaken has right of way.  The overtaking aircraft must keep clear and perform the overtake by manoeuvring to the right hand side of the aircraft being over taken.

Right of Way Order of Precedence

  1. Aircraft Taking Off or Landing
  2. Vehicles Towing Aircraft
  3. Aircraft
  4. Vehicles.

Note: Being under Air Traffic Control (ATC) direction, does not alleviate the Pilot In Command (PIC) of responsibility of avoiding collisions.   Even under ATC guidance the PIC is responsible for avoiding collisions and the rights of way still apply…….as with all instructions from ATC, if you cannot comply – tell them and don’t!


Under Visual Flight Rules (VFR), flights will have a tendency to follow natural/major land marks (e.g. railway lines, rivers etc.).   When doing so the aircraft must fly on the right hand side of that feature (thus keeping the railway or whatever on their left).

This aims to ensure that if two planes are following the same feature in opposite directions, that a head-on collision would be impossible.