Radio frequencies used
Birmingham Tower – 118.300 MHz
Birmingham Ground – 121.800 MHz
Birmingham Approach – 118.050 MHz
Birmingham ATIS – 136.025 MHz
Birmingham Delivery – 121.925 MHz
Birmingham Director – 131.000 MHz
Air Traffic Control (ATC) services at Birmingham are provided by National Air Traffic Services Limited (NATS), under contract to Birmingham Airport Limited. NATS controllers perform Ground Movement, Tower and Approach control functions. Traffic inbound to Coventry may also be controlled by Birmingham Approach (118.050), who can also provide a radar advisory service to traffic in the Birmingham area, but at peak times this is becoming more difficult to accommodate.
Because of its geographical location under some of the busiest airspace in Europe, and with the north-south orientation of the main runway, routing arriving and departing traffic offers some interesting challenges. To avoid conflicts with London TMA traffic to the south and Manchester area traffic to the north, a series of Standard Routes, Standard Arrivals (STARs) and Standard Instrument Departures (SIDs) are utilised.
There are two sets of Standard Arrivals (STARs). The CHASE STARs deal with arrivals from the north and GROVE STARs with arrivals from the south. The following is a brief description of the principle routes followed by arriving traffic. Space allows only the principal routes to be described here.
Traffic arriving from the north west and Ireland will route via the WAL VOR beacon at Wallasey (near Birkenhead) then route to reporting points at CREWE and CHASE (near Cannock), before being vectored by radar, either to a straight in approach to runway 15, or downwind (usually a left hand pattern) to runway 33. Traffic from Scotland usually routes overhead Manchester to the LIC NDB beacon at Lichfield, then to CHASE and as above.
From the south it is normal for Birmingham inbound traffic to route to the east side of London. Traffic arriving from northern Europe will normally route via the LAM VOR at Lambourne to the BUZAD reporting point near Leighton Buzzard, then via the DTY VOR at Daventry, and the HON VOR at Honiley and vectors to the ILS approaches to 33 or downwind for 15. At busy times these arrivals may further route to the EBONY and GROVE reporting points out towards Redditch before being vectored in. From northern Spain and eastern France aircraft cross the UK coast near Hastings and route via the BIG VOR (Biggin Hill) to BUZAD and as before. The route from Southern Spain and western France comes over the Cherbourg peninsular and routes via KATHY (near the Isle of Wight), the MID (Midhurst) and OCK (Ockham) VORs in southern England then via HEMEL (Hemel Hempstead) and BUZAD. Finally turbo prop aircraft (and jets at night and weekends) can route from MOSUM (near Brecon) direct towards HON under the control of London Military Radar.
Departures are organised into six Standard Instrument Departures (SIDs). These are designed to route traffic expeditiously into the airways system and also take into account noise preferential routings to minimise disturbance to local communities and form part of the airport “good neighbour” policy.
Taking these clockwise we have TRENT departures for Scotland (via the POL VOR at Pole Hill, Lancashire) and the northeast (via POL or the OTR VOR at ottringham near Hull). DAVENTRY departures for departures to Holland and northern Germany (routing out to the REDFA reporting point in the North Sea off East Anglia). WESCOTT for the London area; via BNN (Bovingdon) for Heathrow arrivals, BKY (Barkway) for Luton & Stansted, or via MAY (Mayfield) for Gatwick. COWLY for aircraft routing over Belgium (via the BIG VOR at Biggin Hill and DVR at Dover), and over central and eastern France (via SFD Seaford and DPE Dieppe for Paris or MID Midhurst and VEULE on the French coast, north of Rouen). COMPTON for western France and the Channel Islands via SAM (Southampton) and ORTAC (in the English Channel). WHITEGATE for Ireland via WAL Wallasey and LYNAS in Anglesey or the IOM VOR on the Isle of Man. Some flights also route direct to the MOSUN reporting point near Brecon in South Wales, then down over BHD Berry Head for southern Spain and the Canaries but for jets this is restricted to nights and weekends.
Arriving aircraft will be handed to the Birmingham Approach controller from either London Terminal Control or Manchester Control.
The approach controller (118.050) sequences the aircraft for the Instrument Landing Systems (ILS) on the runway in use, 15 or 33 depending on the wind conditions (33 is designated the primary runway unless the wind favours 15). At busy times the sequencing is handed on to Birmingham Director (131.325 or 131.000) with Approach dealing with initial calls and departures. Once established on the ILS, aircraft call the Tower (118.300) for clearance to land. The Ground controller (121.800) takes over once the aircraft has cleared the runway and clears them to their parking stand.
On departure, Delivery (121.925) will give the airways clearance while Ground (121.800) will give approval to start, pushback and taxi. Approaching the runway holding point the aircraft is handed off to the Tower (118.300) who will find a convenient gap in the landing sequence for line up and take off clearance. Once airborne aircraft follow the SID routing and there is an automatic change to the Approach (118.050) frequency when passing 2,000 ft. Approach will then pass them on to appropriate airways sector at London or Manchester control.
Universal Coordinated Time (UTC)
All times used in ATC radio exchanges are given in UTC or “Zulu” time, once better known as GMT. During the winter period the UK time is the same as UTC. In the summer months BST is UTC plus one hour while most of Europe is UTC plus two hours. To avoid time zone confusion around the world all flight plans and operational schedules are given in UTC.
ATC slots and delays
Flightplans for all Birmingham flights and those throughout Europe are centrally processed by Eurocontrol’s Integrated Flight Planning System (IFPS) based at centres in Haren near Brussels and Bretigny near Paris. ATC capacity is managed by another Eurocontrol function in Brussels called the Central Flow Management Unit or CFMU.
The CFMU has updated information on ATC capacity throughout Europe and allocates departure “slot” times accordingly. The system is designed to smooth the flow at peak periods and usually works very well but occasionally factors such as bad weather, industrial action or equipment failures can lead to long delays.
At these times Birmingham ATC and the aircraft operators can only liaise with CFMU to try and mitigate the problem, often by re-routing the flight plan. In addition when an aircraft is fully ready for departure ATC can send a “ready” message in an attempt to gain an earlier “slot” should one become available at short notice.