Sunday, 21 October 2012

Manchester ATC visit

National Air Traffic Services (NATS) which operates Air Traffic Control (ATC) at Manchester Airport today hosted a group of private pilots to show them 'behind the scenes' at ATC at Manchester. I was one of the lucky ones invited along. The purpose of the visit was for NATS to show PPLs (holders of Private Pilot's Licences) how ATC works 'behind the microphone' and the dramatic effect of pilots inadvertently infringing controlled airspace.

Our host, Chris, met us by Cafe Nero in Terminal 3 and took us through a secure entrance to a conference room in the Tower overlooking  the airfield.

As ever, click on the pictures for larger images.

The conference room in the Tower building, where we introduced ourselves and had a presentation from Chris on ATC at Manchester

'Emirates one-seven' (UAE 17), the daily Airbus A380 from Dubai on short final for runway 23R seen from our conference room

UAE 17 comes over the threshold...

...and flares for landing

A Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 400 about to line up 23R for departure; a much better looking aeroplane than the massive whale-like A380 in my opinion

From the conference room Chris took us up to the VCR (Visual Control Room) on top of the tower. I've been here before, but am always impressed by the quiet and relaxed atmosphere of the VCR.

Looking from the VCR to the south west, the new ATC Tower nearing completion by Fairey's apron. It's almost 3 miles from the existing tower to the threshold of 05R (the far end of the new runway) and the new tower is both higher and closer to that threshold and so will give a better view of it (Manchester weather permitting!). 

But the real driver for the Airport to invest the £24m the new tower is business continuity. The present tower is on top of Terminal 1, and if that terminal had to be evacuated, or worse burned down, the Tower would be put out of action and the airport would have to close down. There is an emergency 'Tower' facility in the form of a portacabin by the runway, but it would be completely inadequate for anything but perhaps landing the last few aircraft before the airport had to close.

The A380 on stand, with its double-deck jetbridges and catering truck. 

Let's have a closer look at that A380 on stand....

An unexpected arrival was this Beluga. It was inbound to Hawarden to pick up Airbus wings for the Toulouse factory but the visibility was only 200m which is below landing minima for the ILS at Hawarden. It therefore diverted into Manchester. From the VCR we could see the line of the fog about 20 miles to the west as we bathed in glorious sunshine and unlimited visibility.

To the left of the picture a Fed Ex aircraft can be seen on the freight apron.

A view across the top of the Terminal 1 multi storey car park (where I take my students for a view of the airfield on Education airport tours) to the aircraft lined up at Terminal 2

Aircraft on Terminal 1

The new Tower, with the Concorde hangar at the Runway Visitor Park beyond

A controller on duty in the VCR

Another interior view in the VCR

The ridge of Alderley Edge to the South, with the radio mast on Sutton Common visible in the left background, and the summit of Bosley Cloud near Congleton in the right background

Down on the 4th floor of the Tower is the Radar room. The Manchester sub centre used to be here controlling all traffic below 22,000 feet from the Scottish border down to Birmingham. Now, that has been incorporated into 'Scottish' ATC at Prestwick and only three radar positions remain. 

On the right is the Manchester Approach controller who is the first contact for inbound aircraft and who vectors them either into a hold or towards final approach. To his left is Manchester Director who spaces the inbounds correctly and vectors them onto the ILS (Instrument Landing System), a radio aid that guides aircraft down final approach to a landing. At quiet times both functions are carried out by the Approach controller, while at busy times the third desk (that of Approach North out of sight to the left) splits the approach workload between two Approach controllers

A plan view of the airfield

If you're wondering what mayhem can be caused by a rogue aeroplane infringing controlled airspace, consider what has to be done if ATC don't know the aircraft's altitude (and they won't unless the miscreant is squawking Mode Charlie - that is, using an altitude-reporting radar transponder). The controllers will have to maintain a 5 nautical mile separation between the rogue and all other traffic at all levels. This might entail breaking aircraft off their approaches, holding aircraft on the ground instead of allowing take offs, and of course if the miscreant comes within 5 miles of the airport, the airport has to shut down all movements.

Here's a speeded-up radar recording of an infringement of the Manchester Low Level Route (a 1,300' high north - south corridor though the Control Zone). Click on the link and scroll down to event number 7.

Thankfully the vast majority of private pilots are highly trained, conscientious, and competent, so such events are vanishingly rare.

Events such as today's help keep it so. Well done NATS! And thank you for a great visit.


No comments:

Post a Comment