Leeds East RNP Instrument Approach EGCM

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After almost 10 years of Herculean effort, Leeds East and Sherburn-in-Elmet both had RNP approaches approved by the CAA in 2023. This was considered a significant new step because they are both first in the UK to gain approval despite having only Air/Ground radio service and no ATC approach control. Having flown many RNPs in many different countries, I was keen to try this out and see if there were any particular difficulties. My conclusion was that it is fairly straightforward to fly (like any other RNP), but has been so tightly constrained by regulation that it is almost worthless.

This was my third attempt. The first last year was flown on a day with low fog. The forecast was for that to clear during the day, but I arrived too early and the cloud layer was patchy but prevented a landing. I diverted VFR on top to Humberside instead. If I could have delayed by departure easily, or just arrived and scheduled on request (like any other normal airport), then this would have been much more useful, but the guidance suggests this isn’t permitted.

My second attempt was aborted due to a minor technical fault after startup, when the alternator switch failed.

Today’s flight wasn’t a certainty either, given strong winds and isolated CBs preceding Storm Kathleen, but I thought it would be within limits.

Planning and preparation

There is a 20 page briefing document which is mandatory reading before phoning for permission to fly the approach. This is full of warnings and concerns, with repeated instructions to keep looking out the window for other traffic, caveats about the service that may or may not be available from nearby radar, but omits several more practical aspects.

These approaches overlap uncontrolled airspace with that of nearby Sherburn-in-Elmet, so a co-ordination system has been put in place. Pilots request an approach at a specific time prior to departure, and the two airfields communicate before confirming the slot has been allocated. A slot takes up a whole hour, but you can’t commence an approach more than 15 minutes before or after your pre-booked arrival time. The guidance suggests you can’t change the arrival time while airborne. If you need to fly the missed approach, you can’t recommence a second attempt if you don’t start that within the 15 minutes of the original approved time.

I phoned Leeds East, gave my details and was quickly issued with an approval number. It didn’t sound like anyone else would be flying any approaches that day.

I booked for 3pm to be on the safe side rather than 2pm, which I thought I could probably have made.

FIRST ATTEMPT (last year)

On my first attempt last year, I had filed IFR and flown airways above Manchester. Leeds East was using runway 06 so it would have been optimal to fly via IVGOB through Leeds Bradford airspace. In retrospect, I should have requested that earlier from Scottish Control. When I requested an initial descent from FL100, Leeds Bradford had an airliner inbound and so I was spat out at FL100, had to descend and turn rapidly to reposition towards EPJUG while talking to Leeds Bradford Approach then quickly switching to Fenton Radio.

My learning point from that would be to request the approach early and when still with Scottish Control so that you could be positioned laterally and vertically in co-ordination with Leeds Bradford.

SECOND ATTEMPT (today)

The wind today was definitely from the south-west, so I was certain it would be runway 24. Given the relatively clear weather, I planned to fly VFR east of Manchester & Leeds outside controlled airspace at 5,000ft, starting the approach via VUSFO. This was very much more straightforward and didn’t require talking to either Leeds Bradford or Humberside.

Enroute. Fairly windy but a high cloud base, so most of the flight was VFR.
SkyDemon track recorded

Fenton Radio has a declared range of 30 miles, so at that point you squawk 5077 to indicate that you will be flying the approach. As with any call when arriving at an airfield, I was given the QNH and runway in use, then asked for my estimate at VUSFO. The radio operator broadcast to all traffic that the ATZ would be closed five minutes later than my arrival at VUSFO due to RNP being in use.

GTN 650 showing the turn onto final approach track at the intermediate fix CM24I
CM = EGCM (Leeds East); 24 = Runway 24; I = Intermediate Fix
2 miles to run to the Final Approach Fix CM24F

I selected the approach from the onboard navigation database and flew it like any other, making position reports at every turn. Once passed the final approach fix, the radio operator announced that the ATZ was closed and gave me the wind. After landing, there was a further announcement that traffic could resume. We parked up and paid our landing fees plus an approach fee.

There was scattered cloud around 1,500 feet, and it would have been quite feasible to convert to a visual approach but this is not mentioned anywhere in the extensive guidance. The guidance seems to be written by a committee of experts that was focussed more on listing every possible caveat and threat, rather than enabling a useful safety capability both for actual and training purposes. I can only admire the determination and patience of those applying for the approval over many years and hope it doesn’t become a template for other equally inaccessible RNP approaches.

The airport itself is well equipped but wasn’t busy. The airport cafe closes at 3pm but we were fortunate that they served us with take-away hot drinks minutes before they locked up. Other potential customers arriving a few minutes later were disappointed.

There is an additional charge for using the instrument approach. The landing fee is waived if you upload sufficient fuel.

The Flying Reporter posted a video where he flew the approaches at Sherburn-in-Elmet under the guidance of their instructors. It warns that the initial cost of the approaches was somewhere in the region of £100,000 and that the CAA imply a further similar cost will be required to revalidate them in five years time, which is commercially unviable. He shares my scepticism of the current procedures, describing them as “private, disjointed, uncoordinated”. We can only hope that at some point common sense prevails, the guidance document is revised, the silly PPR approval numbers withdrawn and some more pragmatic and proportionate method of arranging an approach can be agreed.

PIC today: 2:30
Total PIC: 2410:35
Total time: 2616:50

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