While we understand that many pilots are currently unable to fly due to COVID-19 restrictions we aim to continue to release safety education and Due knowledge of the area awareness material to support the GA community with the future return to flying and continue to help promote longer-term safety awareness. To meet that aim we have launched a new series of narratives focusing on infringement occurrences.

Infringement of Class D and Class A airspace – Gatwick Control Area and London Terminal Control Area

Date 6 August 2020
Aircraft Category Fixed-wing Microlight
Type of Flight Recreational Flight
Airspace/Class Gatwick CTA / Class D and
London Terminal Control Area (LTMA) / Class A

The Air Traffic Controller

The Air Traffic Controller reported receiving a Controlled Airspace Infringement Tool (CAIT) alert of an aircraft squawking 7000 indicating 1,800 feet briefly enter the Gatwick Control Area (CTA). Some 13 minutes later, the aircraft was seen to enter the LTMA in the vicinity of the Mayfield VOR/DME (MAY) at 2,900 feet. Whilst the controller was planning what action was required to ensure separation was maintained with an aircraft inbound to Gatwick Airport, the unknown aircraft descended below controlled airspace.

These infringements did not result in a Loss of Separation due to the significant reduction of commercial traffic at Gatwick associated with COVID-19. But under normal traffic conditions, due to the location of the infringements, this event may have caused a safety event and considerable workload for commercial pilots and controllers.

The Pilot

The pilot reported that the flight was planned to fly from Headcorn to Deanland and return to Headcorn later. The cloud base at the time was approximately 1,600 feet and the visibility was good. Despite the good visibility, the lower than expected cloud base did cause some distraction.

The aircraft was equipped with, and the pilot was operating, a MODE S transponder and squawking 7000 with MODE C. Whilst aware of the benefits of moving map technology, the pilot had chosen not to use one as they did not want to become over reliant on it to avoid degradation of conventional navigation skills.

The pilot had planned the flight, and was using a 1:250, 000 VFR chart, although no route line was drawn on the chart. Flying a heading of 240 degrees the pilot misidentified Bewl Water as Darwell Reservoir resulting in them being north of their intended track. This led to being too far to the west when trying to visually locate Deanland, the destination aerodrome. Having failed to locate Deanland, the pilot decided to return to Headcorn and turned left onto a reciprocal track when approximately 3NM southeast of Haywards Heath. When the cloud base improved, a climb was initiated but as they were further west than they thought, the pilot infringed the LTMA as they were still under the area where the base is 2,500 feet.


The TAF at the time of the Infringement forecast an improving cloud base after 0700 hours UTC:

EGKK 060458Z 0606/0712 20007KT 9999 BKN010
TEMPO 0606/0607 BKN007
PROB30 TEMPO 0606/0607 6000 -RADZ BKN004
BECMG 0607/0610 SCT030
PROB30 0702/0707 8000=

The METARS as issued:

0750 EGKK 060750Z 19007KT 160V230 9999 BKN013 20/17 Q1007=
0820 EGKK 060820Z 21006KT 160V240 9999 BKN012 20/17 Q1018=
0850 EGKK 060850Z 22007KT 190V250 9999 BKN015 21/17 Q1018=

Causal Factors

The pilot had planned to carry out a direct flight to Deanland.  Based on the aircraft’s speed and the relatively short distance of the flight the decision to fly using 1:250,000 chart was sound and greater definition of route features were available.  However, in selecting an initial incorrect heading, the outbound track was offset to the north of the water feature of Bewl Water (A in Figure 1).  The pilot knew that they wanted to be north of Darwell Reservoir (B in Figure 1) and once airborne from Headcorn and visual with a large water feature, the pilot became subject to confirmation bias.

In the pilots mind they expected to see a water feature to the south. Because the pilot was familiar with the area and had flown the route many times, they knew that they needed to be just to the north of Darwell Reservoir. The sight of a body of water to the left of the route meant that the pilot’s expectations were confirmed, and the sensitivity of the error detection mechanism was reduced at a time when mental capacity was also taken up with the distraction of lower-than-expected cloud. By keeping Bewl Water to their left the pilot was destined to infringe the Gatwick CTA.

Figure 1 Bewl Water and Danwell Reservoir

Figure 1 Bewl Water and Darwell Reservoir

The pilot’s planning was complacent due to the number of times the route had been flown and their knowledge of the area:

  • No attempt was made to obtain the upper winds by using the MetForm 214 or other APPS.
  • A line was not drawn on a chart between Headcorn and Deanland.
  • A Navigational Plan/ Log (PLOG) was not constructed for the flight.

As a result of the 2,000 feet wind on the day (approximately 180 degrees /10 knots), the heading flown gave a ground track (red line in figure 2) of approximately 250 degrees.  The heading required to fly a direct track from Lashenden to Deanland was approximately 224 degrees (purple line in figure 2). With a lowering cloud base en route, the pilot became distracted from the navigation task and the effects of the initial heading error were not challenged.

Figure 2 Ground and direct tracks

Figure 2 Ground and direct tracks

The pilot’s normal method of navigation was to use dead reckoning techniques. Had the pilot used a moving map, even just as a back-up, they would have quickly identified that the aircraft was significantly off track and that Bewl Water was not Darwell Reservoir.  In addition, as the pilot approached the Gatwick CTA, with correct configuration, a visual and aural warning could have been provided. These warnings are triggered when the horizontal and vertical trajectory would take an aircraft into a volume of controlled airspace. An onscreen warning is often accompanied by an audible alert, the form of which depends on the type of airspace, and a thick border may be drawn on the map accompanied by large coloured arrows to highlight which piece of airspace is associated with the warning. The CAA and safety partners actively encourage all pilots to incorporate the use of moving maps in both pre-flight planning and during flight.

At no time did the pilot believe they were lost. They became uncertain of their location when they were unable to locate Deanland which the pilot commented is not an easy aerodrome to locate due to the surrounding landscape. However, being unable to locate the aerodrome should have been a trigger to seek assistance from an Air Traffic Service Unit.  A number of options were available including calling D&D on 121.500MHz for either a position fix or a steer to Deanland; calling Gatwick on 126.825MHz or Farnborough LARS (East) on 123.225MHz.

A chart showing areas of responsibility for the UK LARS units can be found in the UK AIP at ENR6.11. In the case of Farnborough LARS, there are annotations on the VFR Charts (see figure 3). A last barrier could have been the use of the Frequency Monitoring Code (FMC) for Gatwick.  Although the intended track of the flight would have been 2NM to the south of the published area for the Gatwick FMC (7012 and 126.825MHz), the first, brief, infringement, would have been acted upon by the Gatwick Director which may have acted as a trigger to the pilot that they were some 8.5NM north of track.

Figure 3 Farnborough LARS East

Figure 3 Farnborough LARS East

Focus on


Other narratives in this series can be found on the Infringement occurrences page

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Infringement updates

Class D and A occurrence

Infringement avoidance

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