Jill Tallman

Flying in the U.K.

July 19, 2010 by Jill W. Tallman, Associate Editor

Fox Cutter of Redmond, Washington, is a pilot after my own heart. On a recent vacation to the United Kingdom, he took some time while visiting the city of Cardiff to locate the airport there and find a flight instructor to take him up. (Fox is a student pilot who’s getting close to checkride time.) I asked him to share his impressions of flying “over there,” and here’s what he had to say:

“There was a couple interesting things I noticed that might catch up pilots from the U.S. The first thing was the way pressure was measured; it’s in millibars instead of inches. You’ll see this on the METAR with a Q notation and it’s also listed in the ATIS, but not quite how you expect it. There are actually two pressure measures: QNH and QFE.

“QNH is the setting for sea level, it’s just like you would get in an ATIS over here. QFE is where you might have trouble, this is the pressure setting for your altitude over the airport. As the highest airport in Britain is about 700 feet, the use of QFE is a convenience, it lets you land at zero. You might be tempted to ignore this, you’re used to landing at every elevation so it’s natural for you, do not do that.

“Many of the altitudes for VFR approaches are based on QFE. If you don’t know this you can find yourself flying two or three hundred feet lower than you should be.

“The second thing that might catch up a U.S. pilot is how they used their airspace. The airspace classes are the same over here, but they aren’t used in the same way. There is no Class B airspace. Class F sneaks in around the north parts of the country, and you’ll encounter Class A airspace all over.

“The biggest piece of Class A airspace is around London Heathrow itself and it goes all the way to the surface, the floor rises as you expand out from there. All the main corridors around Britain are also Class A. Once you get away from London they have a pretty high floor, but they can still sneak down in some places. There was one section of Class A just north of Cardiff that started at 5,500 feet. Because of this it’s even more important to become familiar with the local airspace.

“Sadly there is no good way to view the relevant aeronautical charts online, so make sure to pick one up at your airport and doublecheck your planned altitude if you get anywhere near close to Class A.”

So there you have it–your ground school course in flying in the United Kingdom. Thanks, Fox, for sharing this and providing the photo of Cardiff Airport (EGFF). You can follow Fox on Twitter (@foxcutter).

2 Responses to “Flying in the U.K.”

  1. Dan Collins Says:

    Another important fact to remember about UK (and European) airspace is that the transition altitude is much lower than in the US and varies depending on location. This means that some Class A airspace has a lower limit defined as a flight level (eg FL035). That’s 3500ft on an ISA standard day.

    If you forget this fact on a non-ISA day without setting your altimiter to the standard setting, you could find yourself climbing above the transition altitude and therefore violating Class A airspace.

  2. Jesse Says:

    Thanks for this article. I am in the USAF and will be relocating back to the UK (I was there previously). I earned my license while ive been back in the US, and need all the pointers I can get to transitioning to their rules. Is a new British license required?

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