How to fly UK style

If you are a pilot from across the pond and plan to visit the UK to do some flying, a recent post Jill W. Tallman for the AOPA Reporting Points blog about the differences between flying in the USA verses flying in the UK is a must read. Jill began her post by noting that a friend of hers named Fox Cutter had visited the UK and spent some time at the airport in Cardiff to find out what its like to fly UK style. According to Fox, there are a couple of things that will trip up pilots from the USA if they are flying in the UK:

1) How pressure is measured

In the UK, pressure is measured in millibars instead of inches and there are actually two pressure measures: QNH and QFE. According to Fox:

QNH is the setting for sea level, it’s just like you would get in an ATIS over here. QFE is where you might have trouble, this is the pressure setting for your altitude over the airport. As the highest airport in Britain is about 700 feet, the use of QFE is a convenience, it lets you land at zero. You might be tempted to ignore this, you’re used to landing at every elevation so it’s natural for you, do not do that.

Many of the altitudes for VFR approaches are based on QFE. If you don’t know this you can find yourself flying two or three hundred feet lower than you should be.

2) How airspace is used

In the UK, there is no Class B airspace while Class F “sneaks in” around the north parts of the country and Class A airspace all over the place. Hence and if you are flying in the UK, Fox noted that you will need to be familiar with the local airspace.

3) Lack of online charts

In the UK, there is “no good way” to view the relevant aeronautical charts online. Hence, Fox pointed out that you will need to pick one up at the airport. Moreover, you will also need to double check if your planned altitude will get you anywhere near Class A airspace.

Jill’s post and Fox’s comments provide a great summary of the differences between flying in the USA verses flying in the UK. However, we would like to ask our readers who have flown both in the UK and the USA one quick question: Are there any other items not mentioned above that might trip up USA based pilots flying in the UK for the first time? Feel free to comment below.

UK Flag

9 Responses to How to fly UK style

  1. Fred Woodbridge July 21, 2010 at 15:07 #

    How about more expensive? WAY more expensive?

    • Matthew Stibbe July 23, 2010 at 18:00 #

      If god had meant us to fly, he'd have given us more money.

  2. Gary and Alice Nelso July 23, 2010 at 13:55 #

    There are lots of differences. A few more are:

    1) Many (most) of the airports require prior permission to land.

    2) Many airports require you wear a high visibilility vest to be on the apron.

    3) Many airports have mandatory handling. Handling may be as little as escorting you from your airplane to the office, but it can cost a lot ….hundreds of dollars, for example.

    4) Most of the UK airports are not open at night. And night may arrive at 5 or 6 pm, even in the summer. Unlike in the US where if the tower is closed you can operate as an uncontrolled field, in the UK you cannot operate if the airport is not "open".

    5) If you fly from (or to) Ireland or the Channel Islands a flight notification must be faxed to the local police department where you intend to land before you depart.

    6) The UK is not a Schengen state. They are a member of the European Union but you must still clear customs coming entering the country. Customs may require 6 hours prior notice at many airports.

    7) Because the UK only provides IFR clearances in class A airspace, the MEA for a flight from London to Ireland under IFR is 14,000 feet.

    8) Don't expect any GPS LPV approaches. They have very few or no GPS approaches of any type.

    9) The UK has a quadrantal rule instead of a hemispherical rule for direction of flight. The quadrantal rule divides the compass into four quadrants and specifies altitudes in 500 foot increments for all traffic within each quadrant.

    There are lots more differences. The biggest one is that in the UK if you are on the ground and look up at the sky you will rarely see an airplane.

  3. Robert Chambers July 23, 2010 at 15:02 #

    One thing my friend Ray and I noticed when we flew over from the US to the UK was that on a flight down from Wick to Cranfield we got handed off from sector to sector as you'd expect but got a new transponder squawk as we went. Also we needed (we thought) a clearance to descend through some overcast prior to landing and expected to be given a vector and altitude to descend to etc but all they said was "OK, let us know when you're in the clear" so that was unexpected given the red-tape with everything else.

    Avgas is very expensive, landing fees are everywhere and not cheap, instrument approaches (even practice) ka-ching for each one. Handling fees and VAT (Value Added Tax – which the US government is considering) at something like 18% is exhorbitant. You can get some of this back if you are leaving the country with the fuel you purchased etc.

    It doesn't take long flying overseas to realize how good we have it here.

  4. Pete July 23, 2010 at 17:54 #

    'There are lots more differences. The biggest one is that in the UK if you are on the ground and look up at the sky you will rarely see an airplane.'

    Err… you sure about that? Admittedly I've been out of the UK for about 5 years now, but I remember quite an active GA scene over there, not to mention the dense commercial traffic in and around london, manchester, liverpool etc Depends where you are I guess, but I always remember the busy skies south west of london – Concorde used to fly over my school, what an awesome racket that was!

    Also some of the larger GA airports in the south are usually humming – Blaskbushe, Redhill and Biggin Hill for instance. I understand there are quite a few airplanes to be spotted over Farnborough right now too 😀

    Some crucial differences not yet pointed out – (correct me if I'm wrong)

    1. I think VFR night flying in the UK is a no-no. You have to land by sunset or file an IFR flightplan, that's one big luxury you have in the US – if you're delayed and the sun sets before you get home, you legally finish your flight instead of having to land, get a cab and then come back for the airplane the next day. (See the 'top gear' bugatti veyron/cessna race accross france for an example of this – hammond and may had to land after running out of daylight)

    2. Expect to pay landing fees at all airports – there is no $100 hamburger, it's more like $500 bangers 'n mash , I remember you can get 'free landing' vouchers in 'pilot' magazine. The fees vary widely because most of the fields are privately owned – we don't have 'municipal airports'.

    3. Runways may be shorter and narrower than a typical ex-military US GA field – some UK runways will resemble a typical taxiway in the US, there are also many grass fields like RAF halton for example, and some fields with an asphalt runway will have no taxiways, just grass – and if the grass is freshly mown it will collect in your wheel spats!

    Of course the biggest kicker is the fuel cost – VAT is actually 20% now, so the grass really is greener here in the US for recreational flying, this is born out by the fact that a lot of student wannabe-airline pilots will come to florida for cheaper flight training.

    I miss a lot of things in the UK, the taxes are not one of them.

    • Matthew Stibbe July 23, 2010 at 17:58 #

      VFR at night is legal in the UK if you have the rating and your plane is suitably equipped. The problem is that you'll never find a small airport to let you land. Everything affordable shuts and so you end up having to land at a big regional airport and pay for the privilege. In many parts of Europe, night flying is automatically IFR. But you're absolutely right about landing fees. I've never paid less than

  5. Robert Bowie July 26, 2010 at 08:37 #

    Can anyone recommend a DVD or book that describes U.K. VFR navigation and radio procedures?

    Are U.K. pilots required to have a separate radio telephone license in addition to their pilot's certificate?

    If yes, is there anything in the curriculum that a U.S pilot would not already be familiar with?

    • Matthew Stibbe July 26, 2010 at 08:59 #

      The CAA's "CAP 413" manual describes UK radio procedures very clearly. (Link to free download:…. It's very similar to the US. VFR navigation here works the same as anywhere so any good book on VFR navigation should help. There are some nuances of course, such as overhead joins at airfields and military airfield MATZs but the best way to learn about those is to have a good ground school session with a local instructor. I have a UK (JAR) and a US licence and I would say that any US pilot will be able to make the transition to UK procedures very quickly; probably within the compass of a flying club's checkout session. I am not absolutely certain, but I think that an FAA licence is recognised in the UK and that you should be fine with that alone and that you won't need a separate radio licence (although you will need this if you want to get a standalone UK licence).

  6. Gary and Alice Nelso July 26, 2010 at 15:13 #

    Robert – I have a Word Document on "Flying in the UK" that is perfect for you…but I don't know how to send it to you. How does one attach it to a comment? Or, can I have your e-mail address? Mine is

Leave a Reply