The Herts and Essex Observer has rather dramatically retold a story about a 25 year old pilot named Henry Marriott who could have “caused a mid-air catastrophe” in the busy skies over Stansted airport, being fined £3,400 after pleading guilty to entering controlled air space. The paper even reports that at one point, flights departing from Stansted were halted as the pilot appeared on radar to be “dangerously close” (just 1,215 feet) to an inbound Boeing 737 and it was “purely down to luck” why a mid air collision did not occur.
Of course, one has to take any general aviation or aircraft incident reported by the media with a few grains of salt and it should also be mentioned that blogger Sylvia of the Fear of Landing blog has done an excellent job of clarifying what happened without the hype or jumping to unnecessary conclusions like the need for more regulations or a ban on GA flying altogether.
With that in mind, here are the facts about the incident:
- The pilot did not have an up-to-date pilot’s licence.
- The pilot admitted to flying as a commander without an appropriate licence after failing to renew it when its five-year period expired on October 3, 2011.
- The pilot’s small white and red two-seater had little in the way of instruments and no GPS or transponder.
- The pilot entered Stansted controlled airspace at 1.20 pm and remained in it for 11 minutes, during which time all departing flights were suspended.
- The pilot also wandered into Luton’s airspace where three inbound commercial flights had to be alerted to an unknown aircraft in the area.
- The pilot said he recognized Stansted, but misjudged the distance and that he did not make radio contact because he was concentrating on his flying and navigation due to being lost.
The Magistrates chairman was then quoted as saying:
“You knew the airspace in this part of England is very congested and therefore the burden’s on you to be spot-on in your navigation. While you knew what altitude you were at no-one else did, or what your intentions were. You felt safe but that’s not the point.”
Sylvia did an excellent job of summarizing what happened by writing that:
- He was lost
- He was flying at low level and
- He would be happy with help to get back on track.
For some reason though, the pilot did not ask for directions. She also pointed out that if there was a real risk of collision, the pilot would have been charged with “a lot more than entering controlled airspace.” Nevertheless, the pilot did create enough havoc to warrant charges and fines.
The pilot ultimately pleaded guilty to two offences of entering controlled airspace en route to Cuckoo Tye in Suffolk to Tisted in Hampshire without notifying his flight plan or obtaining air traffic control clearance beforehand. In addition to a £3,400 fine, he was ordered to pay £712 legal costs.
The lessons here? Keep your licence up-to-date, tell authorities on the ground what your intentions are and make sure you can be contacted in the air. In other words, use COMMON SENSE.