Rush hour at Coventry

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I flew from Kemble to Coventry in the Arrow for a fly-in, attending a meeting of PPL/IR. The flight there and back were both pretty routine (and VFR), but with some 40 aircraft arriving and departing in a short space of time, it did get quite busy.

Heading North
Heading north from Kemble to Coventry

Rusty on some of the full ATC phrases

I aimed to arrive around 10:30, one of the last slots, and so there was little other traffic around to affect me at that time. After listening to the ATIS, my first call to Coventry Radar when 20 miles away was very short. They didn’t need me to pass my full details and simply allocated me a squawk code, advised me to expect a right base join for 05 and report when overhead the cement works VRP. At that time, I was transferred across to the Tower, who confirmed the base leg join. My only minor error was replying to the “Cleared to Land” instruction with a “Landing” statement (as I do with AFIS operated towers) rather than repeating back the “Cleared to Land” in full. A quick prompt from the controller (not quite “pardon – what did you say?”) and I remembered to repeat back properly.

Taxying off to the South Side, I was clearly directed by marshallers where to park, one directly ahead and one at the side keeping a close eye on the wing tip. I was asked if I wanted to be refuelled, which I did, and this was to be effiicently done during the meeting to save time overall. The airport certainly seemed to be buzzing with activity, a citation jet and other GA aircraft were also in use independently from our meeting.

Flightline
Flightline at Coventry on South Apron of visitors (Arrow towards left with blue bottom half)
Arrow parked up
Arrow parked up nicely

PPL/IR

PPL/IR is a pilot association which encourages and supports IFR flight in Europe. Members are mostly, but not exclusively from the UK, and many have the full IR qualification while others (like me) have the more limited IR(R) – formerly known as the IMCR – which can’t be used in airways or outside the UK.

EASA’s regulatory process

The meeting had several interesting talks. The first was about EASA’s regulatory process, not the most exciting topic perhaps, but we were given an update on the forthcoming CBM IR. This will provide the same rights and privileges as today’s IR, but should be much more accessible to private pilots. Whereas some 30-40% of US private pilots have achieved an IR qualification, it’s more like 1% here in Europe. The Competency Based Modular IR scheme (conceived and championed by PPL/IR) should reduce the amount of theory knowledge to be studied (e.g. there’s no real need to understand what flight level a 747 uses mid-atlantic etc.), and remove the current 50 hour minimum flight training which currently doesn’t make any allowance for IMCR/IR(R) training or experience to date. The latest news seems to be optimistic that EASA will issue an Opinion during April 2013. This then goes to the EU Commission who review it under behind closed doors for many months. There’s an indication that this could become law by April 2014 but the timescales are by no means certain.

There was also an excellent presentation from Garmin, who walked through some of their equipment. They realise that there are several reasons preventing them selling more of it – one is the ridiculous amount of paperwork to approve any equipment installation for any aircraft – a small private GA aircraft is treated almost the same as a 747 Jumbo. They’ve addressed this in one case by obtaining a European-wide STC (approval) for their GTN 650 series which includes about 600 aircraft. This means that installing it should only cost about ¬£300 in paperwork, making it more saleable. A second aspect is the ongoing cost of Jeppesen digital charts. A full European chart licence with updates throughout the year costs anything up to Euro 4000, although typically a more restricted set would be used by private pilots at perhaps a tenth of that headline figure. Garmin are considering developing their own digital chart service which would be done almost at cost – they are motivated more by selling more equipment than growing a sideline business.

RocketRoute

RocketRoute then took to the stage and ran through their product and plans. They provide a service to IFR pilots prior to take-off, with an internet service that calculates which IFR route is legal and shortest, then filing a flight plan. This is no trivial matter because airspace changes frequently – they often find errors in the airspace definitions which they report and are fixed. Their typical client would be a bizjet commercial pilot looking to plan and file flights at short notice to meet their clients needs. Private pilots also use this service, which isn’t very expensive (initial membership is free), and can take advantage of their telephone helpline/backup service to resolve more difficult issues. Once airborne, they are less involved and have no current plans to provide any real-time moving map navigation products, so are an ideal complement to Garmin rather than a competitor.

Finishing up

It was also mentioned that SkyDemon, up to now a VFR only product, has now developed IFR route mapping. This is still a beta-product, but looks very competitive already and brings their solution closer to something like ForeFlight – a popular US flight app.

It’s really good to see both these UK startup companies doing so well, and starting to expand to customers worldwide.

Lastly, the AGM was held which was pretty straightforward and mostly a formality.

To go or not to go

Holding
On the hold at Coventry

The meeting was closed, the flightline was sitting outside and the question for me was whether to try to get away quickly or wait until the fuss died down. In the end I did neither, and regretted having started up waiting taxi instructions for some minutes. However, the tower controller was doing a great job moving some aircraft down to the far end of the field, while others were allowed to depart directly from the mid-point. After a while, it became clear that part of the reason for holdups was a delay in IFR clearances due to commercial traffic at Birmingham. At least one aircraft cancelled IFR in order to expedite their departure. I guess it probably took 15-20 minutes between startup and takeoff, which isn’t that much longer than the 10 minutes minimum I’d normally expect. Perhaps next time though, I’ll hang back and wait for the crowd to have dispersed.

Once airborne, it was a straightforward flight back to Kemble.

Returning leg
Returning leg

Closing time

I returned to Kemble a few minutes before 5pm when the tower shuts, but they stayed open for a few extra minutes to deal with several movements (not just mine) and closed down just as I arrived back at parking. Having fully refuelled in Coventry, I didn’t feel too bad about not being fully topped up – the short flight wouldn’t have used much up.

After a pleasant chat with some pilots from the nearby Bristol Aero Club, it was time to head off home for tea and medals.

Total PIC Time today: 1:30
Total PIC Time: 150:45
Total Time: 248:00

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