A small ATC unit comprising a SATCO, three controllers and two FTE assistants provides air traffic control services at St. Mary's Airport throughout the published hours of operation. It is interesting and varied work made more demanding by the very nature of air operations to remote and unsheltered islands. An emergency call-out system enables air ambulance flights and military rescue services to use the airport on a 24-hour basis and satisfy the need to maintain a lifeline to the mainland.
Situated approximately 30 miles from Cornwall on the edge of the Atlantic, weather conditions in the Islands are often subject to very rapid and sometimes un-forecast deteriorations. Sudden changes in flying conditions can result in operational challenges, particularly for those private pilots who are inexperienced, or not equipped to fly in cloud or poor visibility. Controllers are experienced observers of local weather and ensure pilots are kept informed of significant changes to conditions.
Over 90% of the operations are public transport flights, made by Islander and Twin-otter aircraft. These flights vary seasonally in frequency from 20 to 120 daily and generally operate below 4000ft in a narrow corridor of airspace that passes through a military flying area and links Lands End with the Islands. Close liaison is maintained with the radar units in the area and St. Mary's co-ordinate flights with these units (Culdrose or Newquay Radar) to ensure the safe operation of flights climbing out of the Corridor into the military area.
Pilots visiting the Isles are advised to obtain Radar Services from Newquay Radar (133.400) and Culdrose Radar (134.05) before entering the AIAA and to contact Lands End (120.25) before crossing the LND VOR.