Multiple infringements of Luton Controlled Airspace

On 5 March 2019, a pilot pleaded guilty to four infringements of Luton Controlled Airspace in 2018. The pilot was ordered to pay £7,576 in fines. The infringements resulted from a number of failings that the CAA’s Airspace Infringement Coordination Group (ICG) is seeing repeated frequently. Fortunately, other airspace infringements rarely have such significant consequences as these occurrences.


In September 2018, a C172 pilot departed Wellesbourne Mountford to fly to Duxford; his planned route was via the DTY VOR, Cranfield, Old Warden and Royston. He had planned the flight to take place in August, but it did not take place due to poor weather.

He undertook the flight in September and infringed Luton controlled airspace on four occasions causing multiple losses of separation and disruption to aircraft which were broken off approach, issued with vectors and issued speed restrictions to remain clear of his aircraft. Departures from Luton Airport were suspended three times.

The C172 pilot, concerned that he had become over-reliant on using moving map/GPS technology, had decided that he would navigate using a chart and visual reference points. He used the same PLOG that he had prepared for the flight in August. In August, the winds were 260-280/6kts; on the day of the flight, Luton Airport was using Runway 08 and, at the time of his morning flight, the wind at 2,000 ft was north/northeast at 5 kts, increasing to 15 kts for his return flight in the afternoon.

The Flight

Outbound from Wellesbourne Mountford, after flying 40 nm, the pilot was 30 degrees right of track and some 14 nm south of the planned position. Instead of being overhead Cranfield, the pilot was overhead Cheddington.

Prior to the first uncleared entry into controlled airspace, an inbound aircraft to Luton Airport had its descent stopped as a precautionary measure. The C172 entered the Luton CTA at 3,000 ft and flew along the final approach to Runway 08. This required avoiding action to be issued to the inbound aircraft. Despite the turn, separation was lost. Two other inbound aircraft were issued with control instructions to ensure that separation was maintained. The infringing aircraft then entered the Luton CTR necessitating all departures from the airport to be suspended. The C172 left controlled airspace to the south, between Hemel Hempstead and St Albans.

Unsure of his position and thinking he was over the M11 (the aircraft was actually over the M1), the pilot called D&D and advised he was lost. The pilot was told he was over Hemel Hempstead and requested ‘a fix for Duxford’. The pilot could not locate Hemel Hempstead on his chart as it was on the fold. When asked, the D&D assistant advised the pilot that Duxford was 29 nm to the northeast. The pilot followed the bearing for Duxford. Six minutes after leaving controlled airspace, the C172 re-entered the Luton CTR on a north-easterly heading. Departures from Luton Airport were suspended again. The C172 flew within approximately 1nm of the runway at Luton Airport. Departures resumed when the aircraft left controlled airspace 8 minutes later.

The return flight was unplanned; the pilot intended to reverse the route. The flight was going to plan until the ATC unit at Cranfield aerodrome requested the pilot flew further south. The C172 entered the Luton CTR at 2,500 ft, in the vicinity of Letchworth Garden City. Departures from Luton Airport were suspended for a third time. Two losses of separation occurred: an aircraft that was airborne from Luton Airport came within 1.1 nm of the C172 and an aircraft on approach lost separation with the C172, which was flying parallel to Runway 08 at 2,100 ft. The C172 continued to the west and left controlled airspace in the vicinity of Dunstable 4 minutes after entering.

Learning Points

Use of a Moving Map

Standard navigation skills can fade with over-reliance of moving maps and GPS. However, this would be recognised through Threat and Error Management. In this case when the pilot was refreshing his use of a chart and VRPs, using a moving map as a back-up would have provided him with immediate in-cockpit assistance and route-confirmation.

When using a moving map it is good practice to have the route marked on a current aviation chart in case the system fails. Similarly, when refreshing chart and VRP navigation, it is good practice to have a moving map as a back-up.

Whilst these flights were not instructional flights, the ICG has noted that many instructors who have infringed airspace did so whilst not using a moving map; this valuable piece of equipment assists in establishing and maintaining situational awareness in a high-workload environment where attention is divided over more tasks that during recreational flying.

85% of analysed airspace infringements in 2017 could have been prevented with the use of correct use of a moving map.

Use of the Luton Frequency Monitoring Code (FMC/Listening Squawk)

The Luton Radar controller tried on numerous occasions to contact the pilot but the he was neither employing the FMC nor was he listening out on the Luton Frequency.

Whilst this may not have prevented the airspace infringements from occurring, an earlier resolution would have been possible and the impact of the infringements would have been less.

45% of analysed airspace infringements in 2017 could have been prevented with appropriate use of an FMC.

Use of D&D

A better understanding of what to ask D&D when lost could have prevented the 3rd airspace infringement.

Pilots should practise communication with D&D on 121.5 MHz to ensure that they are competent and confident at all times when using this service.


Every flight, no matter how many times it has been made before, should be planned in detail prior to departure. This includes, but is not exclusive to, reading NOTAMS and associated Aeronautical Information Circulars and Supplements referred to in the NOTAM, checking relevant aerodrome information and gaining a thorough understanding of the forecast and prevailing met conditions.

In this case, the winds were 90 degrees different to those when the flight was planned 2 weeks earlier.

Failure to plan amounts to planning to fail.



8 March 2019

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