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consultation Policy on Conditional / Flexible Use Airspace in the UK


Harry Sugden

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Harry Sugden

Dear all,

Behind the scenes, I have been working to more formally outline our approach to Conditional / Flexible Use airspace in the UK. This is airspace that is only activated at certain times according to restrictions published in the UK AIP. I wanted to share the outcome of my behind-the-scenes discussions, to invite your comments on the matter.

It's quite a technical subject, but the summary of the proposed approach is that we assume pilots will follow airspace as it is notified in the AIP, rather than actively seeking out how VATSIM might differ.

If you're interested in the topic, please have a read of the attached document. I would suggest reading page 1, and then maybe looking at a few airspace examples: the Birmingham CTA on page 20 might interest some, or the P18 on page 16 others.

The intention is for the first release of the Scottish vMATS to contain instructional material in line with this proposal, but we're open to hearing any more thoughts or questions on the matter.

Thank you.

UK Conditional Airspace_FUA on VATSIM.pdf

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Adam Arkley

I think this would be a GROSS over-complication of what we have. We are not NATS and do not need to stoop to this level. 99% of VATSIM pilots don't even understand what this is and so the benefit in us implementing it is, in my view, slim to none. Your average VATSIM pilot:

  • Probably doesn't know what an AIP is
  • Probably doesn't know how to read it
  • Probably doesn't care to read it
  • Doesn't understand the implications

Moreover, on VATSIM:

  • Your average pilot doesn't understand the implications of Basic, Traffic, Deconfliction or Procedural services
  • Your average pilot don't care for them
  • Your average pilot probably just wants to fly from A to B.
  • PIlot's can fly at whatever time of the day or night they like at whatever time of the day or night.

A safer position would be to always assume the airspace is controller, or uncontrolled and act accordingly.

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James Horgan

This is an impressive bit of work Harry. Unfortunately though, it is wholly unnecessary. People have no idea what an FIS even is, especially with everyone bouncing around in FS2020 default A320's these days. 

I concur with Mr Arkley. We have bigger fish to fry. Even I as a professional aviator take no interest in minutiae like this. Please don't take that as a slight against your intention and dedication to task, I just think it's not required.

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Harry Sugden

Hi Adam

I think you've rather missed the point of this proposed policy. I'll just try to explain a little of the reasoning behind it.

Firstly, it only assumes that the most clued-up pilots will treat airspace as controlled when it is published in the AIP as being controlled. Other pilots are likely to either treat conditional/flexible airspace as controlled all the time - which is fine, because they theoretically then shouldn't fly into it without clearance - or, alternatively, they will treat it as uncontrolled all the time - in which case, we need a common approach for controllers as to whether they should treat that as an airspace infringement to sort out, or something to just ignore.

As described in point (a), any airspace that changes depending on the opening hours of real world ATC is simplified for VATSIM: if the position is online, or a controller covering 'top-down', then that airspace is active. Because of course, when there is no ATC online, the VATSIM pilot won't care! This also addresses your point about flying at any time of day/night - if Solent is online at 1am, then regardless of the AIP, their airspace is 'active'.

The proposal also takes into account that this is VATSIM, and people want to fly from A to B. Hence, in point (b): "CDRs that are available at specific times and subject to military or other activity at other times shall be
flight plannable at all times". So from a pilot's perspective, they can file and fly these routes whenever they want, and it will be ATC's responsibility - on the very rare occasion that it's unavailable - to deal with that unavailability and re-route them accordingly.

For any CAS that switches on/off in real world, we are proposing it is treated like it is in real world from a controller's perspective. Using TopSky, airspace can be turned 'on' and 'off' automatically to aid this, and it's becoming increasingly more widespread amongst UK Area controllers. In certain places - like the NITON CTA near Liverpool - treating the airspace as inactive during the day is something many controllers are already familiar with doing. Either way, to prevent controllers from using airspace that isn't active if they do not use TopSky, "where there is a flexible base, the higher shall always be labelled in a default display [...] This doesn’t preclude the controller from knowing the airspace and therefore using the lower base."

I do not believe this is wholly unnecessary. In writing a vMATS and procedures for controllers to follow, I would not feel comfortable in writing "none of the pilots on here know this airspace so you can just do what you like". I actually find that the large majority of VFR pilots do know what they're doing and know what service to request. More IFR pilots than VFR don't understand the types of service, but this proposal isn't affected by that - I tend to say "leaving controlled airspace in 2 miles, deconfliction service. Remain on this frequency".

As I said in the OP, it's a technical subject, and this is very much a behind-the-scenes document. I would urge people to read the 'VATSIM Implementation' rows in each table - they are very simple 😉 

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Adam Arkley

Just consider the scope of what you're suggesting, Harry.

Firstly, we need to produce documentation to support this effort. then you have to get people to read it. Then you have to force it upon all of the existing, rated controllers. Then it adds another horn to the bull that is training. If you're training it, the mentors need to know it and they need to teach it to the students, so the already steep learning curve for our area students is steepend further. Then the examiners need to worry about it. And that's before we even consider the pilots. Oh, and I'm not using Topsky, so where do I stand?

I wholeheartedly guarantee that most pilots on VATSIM get their routes from one of SImbrief, the SRD or EDi-GLA (other flight planning tools are available). Those VFR pilots probably see an airspace block and think 'oh, I'll avoid that' and won't go in it.

Regarding missing points - you have missed mine. If I'm bimbling along enjoying the high workload of Midweek Madness in my Crash-8 at 2030z, but my in-sim time is 1145, is the airspace active or not? If I'm enjoying my lunch break and whip out the sim at 1315z, but I want to practice some night flying and I set the time to 0200, is the airspace active or not? Is it the pilots' say, or the controllers? Why?

Ask yourself this please, Harry: what problem are you trying to solve? I can see no genuine way in which this will benefit the simulation experience for 99.9% of VATSIM's traffic. I understand that you have a thirst for this kind of immersion and realism and the knowledge and depth to which you know our FIR is truly commendable, but please, apply your talents where they're more needed.

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David Woodward

Hi Harry,

I very very rarely comment in the forums, but feel I must in this case. Firstly Harry, this is an impressive piece of work for which you should be commended. However I am in agreement that this isn't necessary, and actually could prove to be a major problem if implemented. You have mentioned that " we need a common approach for controllers as to whether they should treat that as an airspace infringement to sort out, or something to just ignore." I agree completely, but we cannot be in a situation where we are treating some pilots as being under Radar Control, but having to avoid the pilots who elect to 'follow the AIP'. This isn't reasonable, and I don't want to be the person who takes the flack from a pilot who claims to know better because the airspace isn't controlled at that time of day.

I'll put forward a case which actually took place. From a former life controlling with VATUSA, we DID implement that airports were only 'controlled' when within the published times. This caused a lot of issues. Pilots would call for a clearance through a piece of airspace to be told it wasn't controlled. Then, twelve hours later, they would go through without talking. When we got hold of them they would argue that they had previously been told a piece of airspace wasn't controlled. We need a common approach here. Airspace is either controlled, or it isn't. One or the other. I know historically VATSIM UK have tried to mimic real life, however this is one case where I very strongly feel it would be detrimental to what is actually a hobby, not the real world. Please, I urge you, make this an exception and don't break what isn't broken.

Dave

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James Horgan

I use the VATSIM UK Controller Pack. If it can be automated into that so the sectorisation changes based on Time Of Day and Adjacent sectors to draw the airspace correctly then great. If not then sorry - I'm just not going to do this. I use Euroscope, not TopSky (like most UK controllers I think) and the level of detail required to memorise all these conditional airspace activations is beyond the scope of what is basically a hobby. I restate what Arkley said - we are NOT NATS.

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Jonas Hey

Very impressive and intricate piece of work here, I do agree it is complex and some may struggle to get a handle on it however this is London, one of the busiest and most complex pieces of airspace on the network after all.

Both Finland (and the rest of VATSCA I believe) as well as Austria have similar procedures already in place which works without any issues. With the implementation of topsky more widely on the network it should make the knowledge and availability of this information much easier to apply to a 'VATSIM' context.

I fail to see why we should dumb down our standards of controlling because some new pilots wont be aware of every little detail, in these instances we can act differently on a case by case basis anyway as we do daily anyway.

I believe if the procedure is there real world we should try our hardest to implement it on this real life simulation network 🙂

 

Edited by Jonas Hey
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Harry Sugden

Thank you for your comments!

3 hours ago, Adam Arkley said:

A safer position would be to always assume the airspace is controller, or uncontrolled and act accordingly.

The issue myself and others saw with this approach is that it requires the pilot to seek out information on the VATSIM UK website or similar, which is not as good as the AIP which feeds into other common navigation applications/charts, if they are the type that likes to be clued up!

34 minutes ago, Adam Arkley said:

Oh, and I'm not using Topsky, so where do I stand?

I have already answered this. Here:

53 minutes ago, Harry Sugden said:

Either way, to prevent controllers from using airspace that isn't active if they do not use TopSky, "where there is a flexible base, the higher shall always be labelled in a default display [...] This doesn’t preclude the controller from knowing the airspace and therefore using the lower base."

---

34 minutes ago, Adam Arkley said:

If I'm bimbling along enjoying the high workload of Midweek Madness in my Crash-8 at 2030z, but my in-sim time is 1145, is the airspace active or not? If I'm enjoying my lunch break and whip out the sim at 1315z, but I want to practice some night flying and I set the time to 0200, is the airspace active or not? Is it the pilots' say, or the controllers? Why?

During MWM, it's not active, because as ATC we work on the current time. Pilots can fly in whatever time they wish, but it doesn't change the real time. If you're doing some night flying, then if ATC is online this policy suggests that the controller should be able to treat it as controlled airspace because the Solent CTA's existence in real life is determined by opening time, which don't exist on VATSIM.

25 minutes ago, David Woodward said:

You have mentioned that " we need a common approach for controllers as to whether they should treat that as an airspace infringement to sort out, or something to just ignore." I agree completely, but we cannot be in a situation where we are treating some pilots as being under Radar Control, but having to avoid the pilots who elect to 'follow the AIP'. This isn't reasonable, and I don't want to be the person who takes the flack from a pilot who claims to know better because the airspace isn't controlled at that time of day.

Thanks Dave for your points and the example from VATUSA. Although you only seem to be disagreeing/targeting one part - part (a) - of the (a)(b)(c) items in the document with the example you cite? This is one part I am very keen to hear further opinions on though. There are only two examples in the document this applies to, however:

  1. If you were logged on as SOLENT_APP at 11pm to control a group flight, would you want to treat the Solent CTA as controlled airspace, or uncontrolled - because the real world Solent closed 2 hours earlier?
  2. If you were logged onto Jersey Control outside of the hours of Jersey ATC in real, would you want to treat the TMA as non-existent and the airspace as Class G, or as active?

---

To give background to this document, it stemmed from a discussion on what we write in our procedures about the new Birmingham arrival/departure that makes use of Birmingham CTA 10 and the Cotswold CTA. I took the approach that anyone who files these routes should be allowed to fly them whenever, not just during the times that this airspace is active real world. But if these aircraft were given a radar control service as if the airspace were active, then other (VFR) pilots would be well within their rights to argue with the controller and say that the airspace isn't active and they don't need clearance to enter it. So - approve all routes where we can, but treat airspace as uncontrolled when it is supposed to be. 

Additionally, a number of pilots have pointed out to controllers who are less familiar with West (including me once!) that the Berry Head CTA (2 and 4) is not active on weekdays, and so aircraft should not be given directs through it without a UK FIS/asking them. I actually agree with these people - if there are pilots who will treat it as uncontrolled, then I should too. But when it is controlled, let's make use of it!

To all: For any further replies, I would appreciate references to specific bits of airspace that you disagree with and why the 'VATSIM Implementation' could be a problem. I'm very up for hearing how this could be changed, or I wouldn't have posted it on the forum. Thank you for the comments regarding the effort I've put in - but simply bashing the whole document is not going to "cancel" this I'm afraid 🙂 

Edited by Harry Sugden
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Adam Arkley

Harry,

The last sentence in your most recent post is all I needed to hear - this isn't a consultation at all. You've already decided that this will take place. Go ahead and put it in your vMATS - it will make 0 difference to how I control or fly within UK airspace.

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Harry Sugden

🤦‍♂️ It isn't going to "cancel" the need to do something about the fact that we need a common approach! 

7 minutes ago, Harry Sugden said:

I'm very up for hearing how this could be changed, or I wouldn't have posted it on the forum.

Please don't put words into my mouth, Adam. Rather than just bashing the whole thing because you think it's OTT, I implore you to read bits and point out specific bits that you have a problem with.

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James Horgan

I don't understand. You have asked for feedback and thus far you have received mostly supportive, yet negative responses. You talk about wanting SPECIFIC examples, but to be honest, I don't know the airspace well enough to this level of simulation to be able to produce them. Hence why I speak in generalities.

If a pilot wants to file one way, then so be it. If a VFR guy wants to bimble around in it, then so be it. The chances of both occuring, within the small pieces of space described, within the time frame is infinitesimally small as to be a non event. Give the IFR a heading or ask the VFR to remain below X Alt. Job done. Why does it have to be so complicated?

As I said earlier, this is not a criticism of the intention of what you are trying to achieve. I applaud your enthusiasm. But on a sector like North, I don't have the time or capacity to split hairs about airspace activity, the same way I don't keep people high because there might be para dropping at Hibaldstow. We'd be better off encouraging training progression with the ability to control generically and getting more people through, than potentially staging more obstacles.

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Adam Arkley
Just now, Harry Sugden said:

🤦‍♂️ It isn't going to "cancel" the need to do something about the fact that we need a common approach! 

Please don't put words into my mouth, Adam. Rather than just bashing the whole thing because you think it's OTT, I implore you to read bits and point out specific bits that you have a problem with.

You've unilaterally avoided one of my earlier questions Harry. What problem are you trying to solve here? I have been on VATSIM for 13 years now and I can remember someone talking about conditional airspace once. Who has been confused by this? How? Why? Tell us why this is necessary. I haven't put words in your mouth at all - you've labelled this a consultative piece and then in less than 12 hours turn around and say that its not going to be "cancelled." That's about as consultative as this lockdown.

I can't - and won't - reference specific bits that I don't think will work because the whole thing is fundamentally delivering no value to our operation. It will not expedite training, it will not improve workload management and it will not increase enjoyment. It is simply an obstacle.

You cannot purport to be 'as real as it gets' and then operate the entire UK FIR on a top-down basis - we have to find balance and we have to find pragmatism. We've managed since the dawn of VATSIM with no formal policy or procedure on this topic, yet here we are, two weeks after you've been in post trying to solicit feedback on something that's already been decided, and then when people try to voice their opinion that it's unnecessary you tell them it's done and dusted! Please, please help me and the several people I am having 'behind the scenes discussions' with understand what possible value this brings to the division, network or simulation experience for the masses. You will possibly find 5% of movements through our airspace on a good week making use of this (and that includes the small number of people who will now go out of their way to fly in conditional airspace to prove me wrong). 

Where do we draw the line? Are we going to roll a dice on when and which Danger Areas are active? Shall we spuriously NOTAM tanker tracks being active? 

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Paul McHutchison

Apologies if I haven't understood this correctly, but is the implication that if a pilot chooses to treat the Channel Islands as Class G after 2100 then I would have to accommodate that regardless of the traffic levels at the time? If that is the case (and again, I've just finished a super long shift and am knackered, so apologies if I'm getting the wrong end of the stick here) then it seems to be solving one tiny realism problem that affects relatively few people and replacing it with a big realism problem of two aircraft flying in the same airspace that is effectively both class A/D and class G at the same time.

 

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Thomas Greer

Forgive me if I'm wrong, but I think it's more simple than all of this. If the sector is being controlled on VATSIM during the hours that the airspace has a 'change of status', then we will simply also follow that change - whether that be controlled/uncontrolled, change of base of CAS etc. I'm not sure why this would be such an inconvenience, and is no different to a change of local procedures being replicated in a vMats. Isn't something similar already in force at Heathrow? We change runways at 15:00L on westerlies.

I think we should always be striving for greater standards on VATSIM, whether that be a better quality of training and controlling, which may involve becoming more in line with real operations (to some extent). This has been discussed in depth for various other procedures. Yes, for some it is merely a hobby, but it is also something that a lot of us take get great enjoyment and satisfaction from. What's the harm? 

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Darren Hill
8 hours ago, Thomas Greer said:

Forgive me if I'm wrong, but I think it's more simple than all of this. If the sector is being controlled on VATSIM during the hours that the airspace has a 'change of status', then we will simply also follow that change - whether that be controlled/uncontrolled, change of base of CAS etc. I'm not sure why this would be such an inconvenience, and is no different to a change of local procedures being replicated in a vMats. Isn't something similar already in force at Heathrow? We change runways at 15:00L on westerlies.

I think we should always be striving for greater standards on VATSIM, whether that be a better quality of training and controlling, which may involve becoming more in line with real operations (to some extent). This has been discussed in depth for various other procedures. Yes, for some it is merely a hobby, but it is also something that a lot of us take get great enjoyment and satisfaction from. What's the harm? 

Hiya! Just gonna put 2 scenarios here with regards to this standpoint, and I'd like to see how they would be handled.

1) If no LON/LTC sectors are online, then does ALL the Class A/E as well as the airports (also 'uncontrolled') become Class G? This effectively allows VFR to fly in what is classified as Class A airspace, and we could see (thanks MSFS) a C172 doing VFR KK-CC at FL120 along the T420 airway, which could cause MASSIVE disruptions.

2) If Manchester is completely uncontrolled, and we have Liverpool Tower online, then it can be assumed CC's airspace is "inactive". Does this mean pilots on UNICOM can come off their STAR, plough through the SANBA/LISTO departures, and not deconflict themselves. If they should deconflict themselves, who is responsible?

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David Woodward

Further to my previous comments on this topic, Harry has been great and engaged in discussion with me on this, to try to understand my position. I think one of the issues is that the document is quite detailed and therefore there something relatively simple actually seems quite complex when written down. This isn't Harry's fault - it is necessary because of the depth of the simple change.

I have personally never used TopSky, and never actually heard of it until this discussion. However any airspace base changes are clearly displayed to controllers, Harry's proposal could work. This would need to be incorporated within the UK Controller Pack though, and full details of what to do clearly explained to controllers. Having said this, my preference would be a permanent base of controlled airspace within VATSIM, and not to simulate the real world in this case. The problem is that some pilots would like this, and some wouldn't. Yesterday for example, myself and a friend flew southbound to Jersey through BHD. I filed to SKERY, he filed to BIGNO. Why? I knew it wasn't available whereas he had no knowledge and simply saw the route available on skyvector. Some pilots want reality, and some don't even know what reality is.

Harry has put a lot of work into this document, and quite a lot of the comments are negative here. We all have an opinion, but Harry is in the role where he has to make these decisions. Yes, my preference would be for a permanent base of controlled airspace, but Harry has taken the opinion of a lot of people who haven't, to date, commented on this thread. Proposals get a lot of feedback, usually from those who disagree with the procedure, whereas those who support it don't often say a great deal. 

Chatting to Harry over the last few hours has shown me that this procedure is well thought through, and even though I still disagree with one or two aspects of it, the basis of it is sound. I therefore think we should support Harry and the others who have worked on this proposal. Would it be worth considering a trial of it for a month or two before including it within the vMATS and making it permanent?

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Chad Byworth

Just to provide a summary of the three scenarios outlined in the proposal:

1 - Airspace that is closed when the controlling unit is closed (eg Solent CTR/CTA) - The airspace is open whenever the position is controlled (ie we don't worry about the times).

This is essentially the status quo, sensible and (I suspect) uncontroversial.

2 - Airspace that closes due to military activity - Is open unless the vRAF etc issue a NOTAM 'closing' - in this case we will likely have Swanwick Mil on and the options for the pilot are:

A - be rerouted by London AC.

B - route through the controlled airspace under the control of Swanwick Mil on a deconfliction service or other FIS.

This is a little more complex but again, I don't see it being controversial.

3 - There are a few volumes of enroute airspace that are only available at certain times. The final section is that these volumes are open/closed in line with real world timings. When the airspace is closed IFR flights can continue to route but will receive a FIS from London AC (which is what we already do for flights that route through the Class G FIR by mistake).

I suspect this is the bit most of the objections relate to. The total amount of airspace is fairly small. Breaking it down by AC sector:

South - nil to worry about

West - two pieces

Central - one piece

North - one piece (the NITON CTA which we already document and simulate...)

Scottish - a whopping 5 pieces (which will be fully documented in the upcoming EGPX vMATS no doubt).

Controller tools are available to automate the display. For controllers that do not want to use TopSky the relevant portions can probably be easily summarised in the Agreed Level Diagrams.

Addressing some of the other concerns:

We need to generate documentation - this is why the Ops department and its contributers volunteer.

It will be 'forced' on controllers - every procedure change is 'forced' and this isn't a useful argument, our procedures will evolve with time and controllers need to keep themselves up to date.

It will confuse pilots - I suspect it won't. Nobody is banning pilots from filing routes or planning to fly in the affected airspace. If the airspace is closed then they will receive FIS. If you think the pilot won't understand what you mean by "deconfliction service" there is nothing to stop you from just omitting this information for the weaker pilots.

We will end up with different pilots on different "rules" - the controller applies the same airspace classification to all pilots - if the airspace is closed and a clues up pilot wants to fly VFR and your IFR pilot is on a deconfliction service then that's exactly what would happen in reality - our controllers have the training to deal with this.

What happens when AC is closed - nothing, pilots can already do whatever they want 😅

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Paul McHutchison
9 hours ago, Thomas Greer said:

I'm not sure why this would be such an inconvenience, and is no different to a change of local procedures being replicated in a vMats. Isn't something similar already in force at Heathrow? We change runways at 15:00L on westerlies.

 

I think that some of the changes being suggested here are a lot more complex than a runway change, and may inadvertently lead to a situation that would simply never occur in real life. Here's an example:

  • I log on to Jersey Control at 2100 because there's a stream of 5 inbounds from LELNA to both Jersey and Guernsey, and 3 outbounds to ORIST - not an unusual situation these days. In real life the Channel Island airports are closed after this time - in the AIP, Jersey even has an entry which says the airport is not available under any circumstances except medevac after 2300.
  • The AIP makes it clear that the TMA reverts to French control after 2100 local because in real life JJ_C_APP and all of its subordinate positions are closed. 
  • According to this new procedure the onus would be on me to provide a "Flight Information Service en francais" (remember we're technically in French airspace now) to an aircraft that wants to fly an extended orbit at FL180 10 miles south of ORIST and LELNA, at a point where 8 SIDs and STARs converge. If I say no the pilot would be within their rights to complain because they're following the real world procedures and not getting the service they asked for, and I would also be at fault if a loss of separation were to occur from the perspective of the other aircraft flying in what is, during the daytime, class A/D airspace.
  • Let's say that after 15 minutes Brest Control or Rennes Approach logs on - the pilot holding south of LELNA and following the AIP would be within their rights to request a service from them instead, or indeed not to request any service at all if they're not in controlled airspace. I'm now in the situation of having to get my inbounds and outbounds around an obstruction which isn't under my control because of a quirk in procedure - frankly I'd rather log off than deal with that!

 

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Harry Sugden

No @Phil Hutchinson, you have got the complete wrong end of the stick - please don't fret!

We are aiming to formalise the exact opposite of what you're saying. As per the first page of the document:

Quote

(a) Where airspace is active coincident with the hours of operation of real world ATC, then whenever the equivalent VATSIM position is online or a CTR position covering said position top-down, that airspace is to be considered active (i.e. as CAS).

This is, in effect, already what is the case. We do not want pilots to be able to argue (not that they do at present) that places like the Channel Islands TMA or Solent CTA are not controlled airspace when Jersey Control or Solent Radar are online. This is because - on VATSIM - the 'opening times' of a position are determined not by the AIP but by when people log on.

1 hour ago, Darren Hill said:

1) If no LON/LTC sectors are online, then does ALL the Class A/E as well as the airports (also 'uncontrolled') become Class G? This effectively allows VFR to fly in what is classified as Class A airspace, and we could see (thanks MSFS) a C172 doing VFR KK-CC at FL120 along the T420 airway, which could cause MASSIVE disruptions.

2) If Manchester is completely uncontrolled, and we have Liverpool Tower online, then it can be assumed CC's airspace is "inactive". Does this mean pilots on UNICOM can come off their STAR, plough through the SANBA/LISTO departures, and not deconflict themselves. If they should deconflict themselves, who is responsible?

Again, you've got a little confused with what's trying to be achieved here. This document only applies to airspace that is conditional - i.e. its existence depends on something, like an ATC position being online, military activity not taking place, or it being a certain time. Not that it matters what happens when we - as ATC - log off or aren't online anyway, but there is no airspace around Liverpool or Manchester (except the NITON CTA) that is conditional. It is always controlled airspace. Your question 2 seems outside the realms of this discussion and more about unicom etiquette though 🙂 

Edited by Harry Sugden
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