Steve Cooper from City Airport (Barton) explains the airfield's electronic conspicuity trial
Providing an air traffic service at a predominantly GA airfield can be one of the most rewarding and also one of the most challenging of air traffic jobs. Rewarding, because you get to see people taking their first flight as a pilot and make a real difference to the GA community. Challenging, because we quite often fulfil this role with nowhere near the same kind of technology or flight information available to radar controllers or those working at larger airfields.
I'm one of the Flight Information Service Officers (FISO) in the tower at City Airport and Heliport (Barton for those who've been in GA for a while!). Like others around the UK providing a FISO our only real data on them is what we see with our eyes and what the pilot tells us on the radio.
So at City Airport we're really excited about being part of the new ADS-B trial that we're running with the CAA and Airspace4All who have provided a Uavionix pingStation aerial which we've mounted up on the roof of our control tower . It sits there quite happily receiving ADS-B transmissions from aircraft as far away as the Scottish Borders and down to the south coast of England, across the North Sea and out towards Dublin - A massive area of airspace!
ADS-B is an emerging technology for GA but more and more aircraft are being fitted with the equipment and the CAA is putting a lot of emphasis in 2019 in getting much more of what flies in UK airspace to use electronic conspicuity (EC) equipment - ADS-B being one such solution.
The data is fed into a standard computer running an application called Virtual Radar Server, which allows the aircraft's positions to be plotted on a highly customisable map. At Manchester Barton we'll be monitoring an area roughly 10 nautical miles around the airfield and have depicted airspace boundaries and 'Visual Reference Points' (VRPs), where aircraft commonly report.
As a FISO unit like ours is not licensed or trained to provide any form of radar service we've agreed a training package and a full safety case with the CAA to start the trial use of the display.
So, during the trial we will be able to broadcast information like generic traffic information to aircraft and warnings as to when they appear to be approaching controlled airspace. There will be no passing of specific traffic information, or deconfliction of aircraft - that remains firmly the preserve of Air Traffic Controllers with Radar ratings!
Over the comings months as the trial develops we hope it will prove to be a significant asset to us and help to show just what will be possible in the coming years as the UK really starts to make the most of EC technology. You can read more background on the trial and other EC work here: https://airspace4all.org/barton-go-live-on-our-ga-airfield-ads-b-traffic-display-trial-1st-march-2019/
Steve Cooper is a Flight Information Service Officer at City Airport (Barton), working at weekends at the airfield he also has a full-time career as an IT Manager. Steve has a Private Pilot's Licence and learnt to fly at Woodford Aerodrome in 1999, he now flies EV97 Eurostar microlights from City Airport (Barton).