4th Jul, 2022

Pilot who landed at Coventry Airport without air traffic control's permission loses appeal

A PILOT fined for landing a six-seater plane at Coventry airport without gaining permission from air traffic control has lost an appeal against his conviction.

And David Harbottle will have to stump up more than £6,000 on top of the fine and costs he had already been ordered to pay following his conviction at Coventry magistrates’ court.

In a prosecution brought by the Civil Aviation Authority, Harbottle (70) of Ottershaw Park, Ottershaw, Surrey, had denied landing at Coventry airport in June last year without permission.

He also denied failing to use the correct radio frequency to communicate with air traffic control at the airport.

But following a trial at Coventry magistrates’ court earlier this year he was found guilty of both charges and fined £3,600 and ordered to pay £4,500 costs.

And at Warwick Crown Court, Harbottle, who had had his pilot’s licence suspended following the incident, appealed against the convictions.

He said he was flying a twin-engine six-seater aircraft from Woodley airfield in south-west London to Coventry, with the identifying ‘squawk code’ he had been given set in his transponder.

Having crossed the Chilterns, he said he got the Coventry information and set his radio to its 123.825 frequency ‘because that is the approach frequency.’

Harbottle said that when he had earlier phoned Coventry air traffic control, he had not been told that the frequency had changed, which he would have expected them to do if there had been a change.

He told the court he had made a number of radio calls on the 123.825 frequency, without any response.

“That made me think there was a pre-existing error. I have come across that before.”

But the court heard that a NOTAM, a notice to airmen, had notified a change in frequency to the air traffic control tower frequency of 118.175.

Harbottle’s barrister argued it was ‘far from clear’ whether the NOTAM was a withdrawal of 123 in total or simply that the tower service was only available on 118 frequency.

But Judge Barry Berlin told Harbottle: “You were the commander of the aircraft without causing a continuous watch to be kept on the appropriate frequencies.”

Rejecting the appeal, Judge Berlin, sitting with two magistrates, said: “He failed in his duties as a pilot. He travelled without having the appropriate frequencies for Coventry airport.

“A pilot is expected to check any updates to frequencies. It is suggested the notification is misleading. We disagree. This notification would have been clear to a competent pilot.”

Of the fact that a helicopter and a commercial aircraft had operated on the 123.825 frequency, the judge said: “The fact that others might have failed to check the proper frequency does not absolve this appellant.

“He says that he didn’t even read the NOTAM, which we consider to be a serious omission. The duty or burden is on the pilot to make sure.

“He didn’t even try to use another frequency. If he had, he would have made contact with the tower. We find he was seriously negligent.”

Judge Berlin said the fines imposed by the magistrates should remain – but increased the costs Harbottle has to pay from £4,500 to £19,689 to cover the cost to the CAA of the appeal.

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