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.

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


Infringement of Class D – Birmingham Control Area

Date 7 October 2020
Aircraft Category Fixed-wing SEP
Type of Flight Qualifying Cross Country PPL Training Flight 
Airspace / Class Birmingham CTA / Class D

Met information

  • TAF EGBB 070459Z 0706/0806 26009KT 9999 SCT030
  • TAF EGBB 071056Z 0712/0812 27010KT 9999 SCT030
  • METAR EGBB 071150Z 28009KT 240V320 9999 FEW035 BKN044 13/06 Q1013=
  • METAR EGBB 071220Z 27011KT 240V310 9999 BKN042 14/06 Q1013=
  • METAR EGBB 071250Z 28012KT 9999 BKN044 14/05 Q1013=

Air traffic control

The Air Traffic Controller reported being alerted, by the Airspace Infringement Warning tool, to an aircraft entering the Class D CTA-2 to the east of Coventry aerodrome at 2,500 feet, squawking 0010. The aircraft is seen to track east to west at the boundary with CTA-4 (figure 1). Due to another aircraft in the vicinity it takes a moment to interrogate the radar to establish, using MODE S, the identity of the infringing aircraft.  The aircraft, having left controlled airspace tracked south and remained outside of controlled airspace until landing at Wellesbourne Mountford aerodrome.

Figure 1: Aircraft is seen to track east to west at the boundary with CTA-4.

Figure 1: Aircraft is seen to track east to west at the boundary with CTA-4.


The pilot reported that they had planned the route to fly for their solo qualifying cross-country flight as follows:

  • Wolverhampton/Halfpenny Green Aerodrome (EGBO) to Blithfield Reservoir – 22 NM
  • Blithfield Reservoir – Pitsford Water – 48NM 
  • Pitsford Water – Wellesbourne Mountford Aerodrome (EGBW) – 29NM

The route had been planned on a VFR 1:500,000 chart (figure 2) and a neat and comprehensive Pilot Log (PLOG) (figure 3) was produced using the methods taught on the navigation module of the PPL course. Prior to departure, the student pilot and their instructor reviewed the plan and weather conditions. The reported conditions on that day seemed to be reasonable and the flight was authorised. They discussed using the Birmingham Frequency Monitoring Code of 0010 to allow for easier identification when flying close to Birmingham’s controlled airspace. 

Figure 2: Route planned on a VFR 1:500,000 chart.

Figure 2: Route planned on a VFR 1:500,000 chart.

Although the PLOG has space for Regional QNH the pilot was aware of the risks of operating close to controlled airspace if a Regional Pressure Setting (RPS) is used and elected to use the Birmingham QNH.

Figure 3: Comprehensive Pilot Log (PLOG)

Figure 3: Comprehensive Pilot Log (PLOG)

Although the pilot had flown many navigation exercises and had done two solo navigation flights prior to the subject flight, they had only flown this particular route with their instructor on one occasion, three weeks earlier. 

After departure, the pilot noted that the visibility was good, but the wind was much stronger than expected. This resulted in some challenges to maintain headings and the vertical instability of the air meant it was difficult maintaining altitude. Therefore, a large portion of their time was spent on maintaining the heading and altitude leading to a significant increase in workload in flying the aircraft. It also resulted in their calculated timings not being as accurate. The pilot had had changed frequency to monitor Birmingham Approach on 123.980 MHz and displayed the FMC of 0010. They had not spoken to them as they had been busy trying to maintain their heading and altitude as well as navigate.

During the leg between Blithfield Reservoir and Pitsford Water, the pilot became uncertain of their location and had circled above Nuneaton VRP several times to establish a positive location fix. Unfortunately, they had not reset the timer in the aircraft before setting off from this point. Continuing on with the route, they flew over a body of water (Stanford Reservoir) which they mistook for Pitsford Water. As the student neared what they thought was Pitsford Water, the pilot selected an SSR code of 7000 and called Sywell Information on 122.705 MHz to inform them of what they thought was their location. Shortly after leaving the turning point that had been mistaken for Pitsford Water, the pilot changed frequency back to Birmingham Approach and selected the FMC of 0010. Given that their timings were already out, compounded by their lack of familiarity with that area of the country, they did not realise that the lake/reservoir was roughly 10 nautical miles before Pitsford Water. Therefore, when the pilot turned onto the heading for Wellesbourne Mountford it was made too early and had put them on track towards controlled airspace (figure 4). Unfortunately, at that time, there were several other aircraft that were contacting the controller; therefore the pilot could not call them. 

Figure 4: Planned and flown routes.

Figure 4: Planned and flown routes.

Realising, that they were flying in an area that did not correlate with the route plan and being unable to contact Birmingham, the pilot changed their  heading to south and called Distress and Diversion (D&D) on 121.500MHz. They promptly provided the pilot with a position fix and, once aware of their location, the pilot was able to navigate to Wellesbourne Mountford. On landing at Wellesbourne Mountford, once parked, the pilot immediately telephoned their instructor at Halfpenny Green and explained the problems that they had experienced en-route.

Findings and causal factors

The pilot had carried out good planning which was endorsed by their Flight instructor; the plan incorporated prominent turning points and waypoints en-route.  The weather was fit for solo VFR flight by a student although some unstable air resulted in increased cockpit workload associated with aircraft handling.  The route was to be flown 1,000 feet above MSA which provided ample vertical separation from controlled airspace; in accordance with the Take 2 guidance (remaining 2NM laterally clear and/or 200 feet vertically clear of controlled airspace) the planned route demonstrated text-book Threat and Error Management in this aspect.   

The pilot has also decided to incorporate the use of a Frequency Monitoring Code (FMC) into their plan due to the proximity of the route to the Birmingham controlled airspace complex. On leaving the Birmingham frequency south of Nuneaton, they selected 7000 after selecting the Sywell Information frequency prior to transmitting.  Once west of their turning point they again selected the Birmingham frequency followed by the FMC in accordance with good practice.  The pilot was, however, not fully aware that when using an FMC, no transmissions are required with ATC unless responding to a call.

The student pilot was not flying with a Moving Map as their use had neither been taught in their training nor had they been encouraged to use one. The CAA actively encourage all pilots to incorporate the use of Moving Maps in both pre-flight planning and in-flight.  TrainingCom (Spring 2020) states that it is important that instructors teach their students the use of GPS/GNSS aircraft systems when fitted to their aeroplane. The use of Moving Map displays should also be taught to enhance the student’s situational awareness once they have the basic Dead Reckoning (DR) navigation techniques. If the student uses these systems during solo-flying, this is permissible but they need to remember that they need to have the skills to later pass the licensing skills test. Therefore, it is the skills test that will be the time when the students DR Navigation techniques will be tested. Not only would a VFR Moving  Map have provided the pilot with this enhanced situational awareness as they approached what they incorrectly thought was their turning  point at Pitsford Water, but with a  properly configured display, a visual and aural airspace warning would have been given alerting the pilot of their proximity to controlled airspace.

In the pilot’s mind they expected to see a body of water after Lutterworth, the second waypoint on the second leg.  The pilot was on the correct ground track but due to a failure to incorporate the time taken to orbit at Nuneaton to establish their position, they became subject to confirmation bias. The sight of a body of water ahead on 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 having just been unsure of their position and given the challenging air conditions.  Despite Stanford Reservoir being less than a third of the size of Pitsford Water, the pilot was probably so relieved to see a lake, as planned, that they failed to compute that they had not yet reached their turning point.  This chain of events could not have been broken when their position was passed to Sywell Information due to the lack of surveillance information available to the FISO.    

The pilot first became uncertain of their position when the expected ground features from Pitsford Water to Wellesbourne Mountford were not visible (figure 5). By now back on the Birmingham frequency and squawking 0010, the pilot was unable to seek assistance from the radar controller.  In need of assistance, the pilot immediately called D&D on 121.500MHz.  Very few pilots revert to their training and may have continued on track in the hope of finding a recognisable feature whilst compounding the risks associate with an airspace infringement.  On this occasion, the calm and logical execution of the Management technique of an identified Threat/Error enabled the pilot to establish a prompt resolution to the situation.

Any pilot who believes they are lost or temporarily uncertain of position should immediately seek navigational assistance from the appropriate radar unit. Alternatively, they should select code 0030 (FIR Lost) and contact D&D (callsign “London Centre”) on 121.500 MHz for assistance.

Figure 5

Figure 5

Post-flight analysis

Effective planning will always put you, as a pilot, in a position of strength for effective execution. But due to Human Factors, Threats and Errors will always exist and have the potential emerge.

In this occurrence, the pilot is to be commended for their handling of a stressful situation where an infringement was resolved in a timely manner.  In addition, despite limited experience in the aviation community, they carried out a detailed post-flight analysis (including the submission of a detailed and honest report) and adopted a Just Culture throughout. 

Focus on


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

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Solo cross-country occurrence

Infringement avoidance

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