Flying VFR in Class D in Europe

SERA.5001 Flying VFR in Class D

EASA rules don’t allow helicopters to fly VFR in Class D unless they are 1000ft or more below the cloud base.  In practical terms this means that you would need a cloud base of 2000ft or above to fly through Class D.  In the south UK, the cloud base is lower than 2000ft 73% of the time.  And the new Farnborough Class D air space will, along with Heathrow and Gatwick, make flying around the south of the UK mostly impossible.


SERA.5001 exemption remains in effect to March 2020 (a 6 month extension)
The general exemption from the requirements of SERA.5001 will remain in place until 25 March 2020. This means that until 25 March 2020 pilots can continue to fly VFR:
at or below 3000 ft AMSL within Class D airspace;
duringday only;
indicated airspeed of 140kts or less;
clear of cloud, with surface and:
for aircraft other than helicopters,a flight visibility of at least 5 km;
for helicopters,a flight visibility of at least 1,500 m.

The CAA recognised this and they received an exemption in 2014 from the Department for Transport to simply fly “clear of cloud” but this exemption expires on September 19th 2019 with an understanding that the UK would fall into line with the rest of Europe.  As a result, the SERA.5001 distance from cloud minima will apply to class D airspace in the UK from 12 September 2019.  

Helipaddy has asked the CAA, on behalf of Helipaddy members, to try to renew this exemption.  However they want to change it to a different one which is for pilots to request Special VFR and for ATC not to be required to provide separation.  In theory, if you were passing through some Class D with cloud at 1500ft, you would ask for SVFR clearance and the ATC would give it to you without trying to keep 3nm separation.  You would not simply ask for transit as we do now.

Helipaddy believes this may end up being a problem and, along with the Helicopter Club of Great Britain, are concerned about what it will mean for helicopter pilots in the south of the UK in particular.  The presence of cloud below 4000ft, common in the UK, will limit the maximum altitude for VFR flight. Significant cloud with a base of 3000ft will limit VFR flight to below 2000ft and a base of 2000ft will limit VFR flight to below 1000ft which is generally impracticable. VFR aircraft transiting controlled airspace will often have to route around it – this is a very long way around once Farnborough gets Class D extension. VFR aircraft operating into or out of airfields such as Denham and White Waltham and a large number of private sites within controlled airspace will have restricted access.

We anticipate that ATC will rarely issue an SVFR clearance to helicopters and ignore the collision risk – after all that’s the whole reason why Southend,  Farnborough (and soon Oxford) are extending Class D airspace in the first place.
potential collision risk between them.

The CAA’s proposal is explained in 25 pages here: proposal.

You can respond either via the instructions here: respond. The deadline is the end of May 2019.

If you fly a helicopter VFR through Class D airspace and/or your landing site is in Class D (or future Farnborough and Oxford Class D) then you are strongly urged to contact Helipaddy at support@helipaddy.com so that we can explain your options.

Our own response to the CAA is:

– Do you agree with the CAA’s assessment of typical weather conditions in the UK?
Not entirely – Section 3.2 confirms that VFR flights would be affected 22 days in each calendar month.  In other words, if you were taking off from a helicopter landing site inside class D, there is a 73% chance you would not be given clearance. Section 3.8 counts days where all 24 hours were <3000ft.  The proportion would be even higher if you included days where it was <3000ft for, say 4 hours.  It is an incorrect conclusion to say there is “no significant impact”.  Helipaddy have identified at least 20 active helicopter landing zones that would have to all but abandon helicopters as a viable transport option.

– Do you support the CAA’s preferred option and the associated assumptions?
No.  The current exemption (clear of cloud) provides a greater level of safety than the CAA’s proposal and should not be changed.  I would strongly discourage adoption of the NATS advance notification portal on grounds of operational efficiency and safety.

– Do you agree with the CAA analysis of the projected workload change for ATC units and the effectiveness of the proposed mitigation?
No, the figures in 3.1 are missing several key airports e.g. Gatwick!  It is also missing the summer months when there is more VFR flying.  It is missing all the movements out of Denham and Waltham so the Heathrow figures must be incorrect.

– Do you agree with the CAA analysis of the potential impact on the provision of non-IFR flight? Are there any additional factors you feel should be considered?
No. The analysis is incorrect due to incorrect weather analysis, movement analysis and understanding of helicopter activity in and around Class D.

– Do you agree with the CAA’s assessment of safety impact?
No. Option 4 does not increase safety for VFR helicopter traffic because it fails to consider the nature of that traffic.

Background to SERA

Since the introduction of the Standardised European Rules of the Air (SERA), the UK has exempted any aircraft being flown within the UK at or below 3,000ft AMSL and within class D airspace from the requirements of SERA.5001 (VMC visibility and distance from cloud minima) Table S5-1 and SERA.5005(a) (visual flight rules), subject to specific conditions.

The SERA requirements are derived from ICAO Annex 2 ‘Rules of the Air’ Chapter 4, Section 4.1. The UK exemption applies when the aircraft is flying in accordance with specific conditions listed in Official Record Series 4 (ORS4) No 1302, which is effective until 12th September 2019.
In October 2018 the Department for Transport (DfT) agreed to a continuation of the exemption whilst the CAA undertook activity to comply in full with SERA.5001.
Consequently, the CAA is proposing that the VMC distance from cloud minima defined in SERA 5001 are applied to class D airspace in the UK below 3000 ft.  VFR flight within class D airspace will therefore be required to comply with the SERA (and therefore ICAO) vertical distance from cloud.

SERA rules

The full document is at https://www.easa.europa.eu/document-library/general-publications/easy-access-rules-standardised-european-rules-air-sera.  Here are excerpts of chapters 5001 and 5005 that are relevant to VFR flying.

SERA.5005 Visual flight rules

These are edited to be relevant to lower level, slower helicopter traffic and were based on the December 2018 version of SERA.

(a) Except when operating as a special VFR flight, VFR flights shall be conducted so that the aircraft is flown in conditions of visibility and distance from clouds equal to or greater than those specified in Table S5-1 (shown above).

(b) Except when a special VFR clearance is obtained from an air traffic control unit, VFR flights shall not take off or land at an aerodrome within a control zone, or enter the aerodrome traffic zone or aerodrome traffic circuit when the reported meteorological conditions at that aerodrome are below the following minima:

(1) the ceiling is less than 1,500 ft; or

(2) the ground visibility is less than 5 km.

(c) When so prescribed by the competent authority, VFR flights at night may be permitted under the following conditions:

(1) if leaving the vicinity of an aerodrome, a flight plan shall be submitted in accordance with SERA.4001(b)(6) – A flight plan shall be submitted prior to operating any flight planned to operate at night, if leaving the vicinity of an aerodrome;
(2) flights shall establish and maintain two-way radio communication on the appropriate ATS communication channel, when available;
(3) the VMC visibility and distance from cloud minima as specified in Table S5-1 shall apply except that:

(i) the ceiling shall not be less than 1,500 ft;
(ii) the reduced flight visibility provisions specified in Table S5-1(a) and (b) shall not apply;
(iii) in air space classes B, C, D, E, F and G, at and below 3000ft AMSL or 1000 ft AGL, whichever is the higher, the pilot shall maintain continuous sight of the surface;
When flying in airspace classes B, C, D, E, F, or G, more than 3,000 ft AMSL or 1,000 ft AGL, whichever is higher, the pilot may elect to fly above a cloud layer (VFR on top). When making the decision on whether to fly above or below a cloud at night, consideration should be given at least but not limited to the following:

(a) The likelihood of weather at destination allowing a descent in visual conditions;
(b) Lighting conditions below and above the cloud layer;
(c) The likelihood of the cloud base descending, if flight below  cloud  is chosen, thus resulting in terrain clearance being lost;
(d) The possibility of flight above the cloud leading to flight between converging cloud layers;
(e) The possibility of successfully turning back and returning to an area where  continuous  sight of  surface  can be maintained; and
(f) The possibilities for the pilot to establish their location at any point of the route to be flown, taking into consideration also the terrain elevation and geographical and man-made obstacles.

(v – there is no iv in SERA) for the mountainous area, higher VMC visibility and distance from cloud minima may be prescribed by the competent authority;

(5 – there is no number 4 in SERA) except when necessary for take-off or landing, or except when specifically authorised by the competent authority, a VFR flight at night shall be flown at a level which is not below the minimum flight altitude established by the State whose territory is overflown, or, where no such minimum flight altitude has been established:

(i) over high terrain or in mountainous areas, at a level which is at least 2 000 ft above the highest obstacle located within 8 km of the estimated position of the aircraft;
(ii) elsewhere than as specified in i), at a level which is at least 1 000 ft above the highest obstacle located within 8 km of the estimated position of the aircraft.

(d) VFR flights shall not be operated:

(1) at transonic and supersonic speeds unless authorised by the competent authority;
(2) above FL 195.

(e) Authorisation for VFR flights to operate above FL 285 shall not be granted where a vertical separation minimum of 1 000 ft is applied above FL 290.

(f) Except when necessary for take-off or landing, or except by permission from the competent authority, a VFR flight shall not be flown:

(1) over the congested areas of cities, towns or settlements or over an open-air assembly of persons at a height less than 1,000 ft above the highest obstacle within a radius of 600 m from the aircraft;
(2) elsewhere than as specified in (1), at a height less than 500 ft above the ground or water, or 500 ft above the highest obstacle within a radius of 500 ft from the aircraft.

Subject to an appropriate safety assessment, permission from the competent authority may also be granted for cases like:

(a) aircraft operating in accordance with the procedure promulgated for the notified route being flown;
(b) helicopters operating at a height that will permit, in the event of an emergency arising, a landing to be made without undue hazard to persons or property on the surface;
(c) aircraft picking up or dropping tow ropes, banners or similar articles at an aerodrome;
(d) any other flights not specified above, where specific exemption is required to accomplish a specific task.

(g) Except where otherwise indicated in air traffic control clearances or specified by the competent authority, VFR flights in level cruising flight when operated above 3000 ft from the ground or water, or a higher datum as specified by the competent authority, shall be conducted at a cruising level appropriate to the track as specified in the table of cruising levels.

(h) VFR flights shall comply with the provisions of Section 8 (Air Traffic Control):

(1) when operated within Classes B, C and D airspace;
(2) when forming part of aerodrome traffic at controlled aerodromes; or
(3) when operated as special VFR flights.

(i) A VFR flight operating within or into areas or along routes designated by the competent authority, in accordance with SERA.4001(b)(3) or (4) (which refers to any flight within or into areas, or along routes designated by the competent authority, to facilitate the provision of flight information, alerting and search and rescue services; and any flight within or into areas or along routes designated by the competent authority, to facilitate coordination with appropriate military units or with air traffic services units in adjacent States in order to avoid the possible need for interception for the purpose of identification) shall maintain continuous air-ground voice communication watch on the appropriate communication channel of, and report its position as necessary to, the air traffic services unit providing flight information service.

(j) An aircraft operated in accordance with the visual flight rules which wishes to change to comply with the instrument flight rules shall:

(1) if a flight plan was submitted, communicate the necessary changes to be effected to its current flight plan; or
(2) as required by SERA.4001(b), submit a flight plan to the appropriate air traffic services unit as soon as practicable and obtain a clearance prior to proceeding IFR when in controlled airspace.

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