Friday, August 17, 2018
Transport Canada - Aviation Safety Letter I’ll Just Sneak Through Here…They’ll Never See Me if I Stay Low

I’ll Just Sneak Through Here…They’ll Never See Me if I Stay Low

by Bob Grant, Civil Aviation Safety Inspector, Airspace Standards and Procedures, Standards, Civil Aviation, Transport Canada

Of all human failings, the most insidious and probably the most common is “If I had it to do over again, I would have done it differently.” But, unfortunately, we can never should have, would have, could have the next day.

The pilot was delayed, the departure time was set back, and the schedule was now very restrictive. He could make the trip before dark if he took the direct route through the hills to the north of a large metropolitan area. Getting to destination before nightfall was essential as he had an early evening sales appointment that his boss said he could not miss. There was no room for compromise.

The weather was forecast to be fairly good en route with lowering ceilings and visibility in the hills to the north. He could alter his track a bit to the south to stay in the lower terrain if he ran into weather problems. He’d increase his speed a bit and still make destination on time. There was one more problem, and it was a big one. NOTAMs revealed that a 30-NM restricted area had been created around the international airport of the metropolitan area to help provide security for a visiting head of state. Passage through the area was based on a number of requirements, one of them being a serviceable transponder, and his was down for maintenance. He knew there was no point in asking for clearance without a transponder and, as he was being forced toward the restricted airspace by deteriorating weather, he was compelled to make a decision that he would live with for the rest of his life.

He elected to descend. His rationale was that air traffic control radar wouldn’t be able to see him and he would get through the area quickly and be on his way. His rationale was flawed. ATC had a backup. The military was present to provide security identification and possible enforcement. His track was observed, and a fighter aircraft was dispatched to escort him out of the restricted area.

He was about halfway through the top 4 NM of the restricted area when his system received a large jolt of reality that would forever affect his life. A large, ominous, dark aircraft appeared off his left wing. The appearance of an aircraft, so close and of this type, had never crossed his mind.

His first and last reaction was to bank hard away from the perceived danger. His last conscious thought was of a crushing substernal chest pain followed by shortness of breath and darkness.

This is a bit of fiction, but could it be true? Unfortunately, yes.

In late 2008, a congress of leaders from Francophone nations was held in Québec City. The federal agency responsible for security at the event asked the Canadian Forces for some air support. During the three-day event, 22 airspace violations were recorded. Military aircraft prosecuted most of these violations. To say that a number of pilots in the Québec area were surprised by visits from military aircraft would be an understatement.

Earlier this year, the President of the United States visited Ottawa. During his short six-hour visit, a commercial helicopter violated restricted airspace that had been established to add security.

Over the past five years, over 400 airspace violations have occurred in Canadian airspace.

People make mistakes—that’s human nature. But post 9/11 security of airspace has increased dramatically, and there is less margin for error. Military presence has increased with more and more intercepts being conducted. If pilots continue to disregard restricted areas, it’s only a matter of time before a very serious occurrence takes place with, perhaps, loss of life. In simple terms, restricted airspace means just that: Don’t go there unless you request and receive permission from the controlling agency.

The Aeronautics Act

Article 5.1

The Minister or any person authorized by the Minister may by notice prohibit or restrict the operation of aircraft on or over any area or within any airspace, either absolutely or subject to any exceptions or conditions that the Minister or authorized person specifies, if, in the opinion of the Minister or authorized person, the prohibition or restriction is necessary for aviation safety or security, is necessary for the protection of the public or is in the public interest.

Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs)

Orders Prohibiting or Restricting Aircraft Operation

601.18 The Minister may make orders prohibiting or restricting the operation of aircraft over such areas as are specified by the Minister, either absolutely or subject to such exceptions or conditions as may be specified by the Minister.

IFR or VFR Flight in Class F Special Use Restricted Airspace or Class F Special Use Advisory Airspace

601.04 (1) The procedures for the operation of aircraft in Class F Special Use Restricted airspace and Class F Special Use Advisory airspace are those specified in the Designated Airspace Handbook.

(2) No person shall operate an aircraft in Class F Special Use Restricted airspace unless authorized to do so by the person specified for that purpose in the Designated Airspace Handbook.

(3) For the purposes of subsection (2), a person specified in the Designated Airspace Handbook may authorize the operation of an aircraft where activities on the ground or in the airspace are not hazardous to aircraft operating in that airspace and access by aircraft to that airspace does not jeopardize national security interests.

What is it about these documents that is so hard to understand? Restricted and prohibited mean just that: Stay out unless you have been granted permission to enter. If you violate restricted airspace, you will be charged under the CARs. Penalties upon conviction range from monetary fines and/or loss of pilot privileges. In addition, depending on the security to be enforced, punishment could be far more severe. I quote the last line from interception procedures issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for all aircraft operating in United States national airspace: “BE ADVISED THAT NONCOMPLIANCE MAY RESULT IN THE USE OF FORCE.” Similar words were used in 2002 when Canada hosted the G8 Summit in Kananaskis, Alta. The threat of a terrorist situation is real, and so are the counter-measures.
The Winter Olympics will be held in the Vancouver area next February, and special airspace restrictions will be in place to provide appropriate levels of safety and security. For those who, for whatever reason, find themselves inside restricted airspace, rest assured you will be intercepted.


All pilots should know the interception signals, in case something like this happens.

To that end, I’m repeating the information found in part or in total in the CARs, Canada Flight Supplement (CFS), section F on “Interception of Civil Aircraft” and “Signals For Use in The Event of Interception” and the Transport Canada Aeronautical Information Manual (TC AIM).


Interceptions are made only where the possibility is considered to exist that an unidentified aircraft may be truly hostile until definitely proven to the contrary. Intercepted aircraft should maintain a steady course and under no circumstances take retaliatory action such as shining a light on an interceptor or attempt evasive action. Retaliatory action on the part of an intercepted aircraft could be construed as a hostile intent and might result in drastic consequences. Practice interceptions are not carried out on civil aircraft.


The word “interception” in this context does not include intercept and escort service provided, on request, to an aircraft in distress, in accordance with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue (IAMSAR) Manual (Doc. 9731).

An aircraft which is intercepted by another aircraft shall immediately:

  1. follow the instructions given by the intercepting aircraft, interpreting and responding to visual signals (see following page);
  2. notify, if possible, the appropriate air traffic services unit;
  3. attempt to establish radio communication with the intercepting aircraft or with the appropriate intercept control unit, by making a general call on the emergency frequency 121.5 MHz and repeating this call on the emergency frequency 243.0 MHz, if practicable giving the identity and position of the aircraft and the nature of the flight;
  4. if equipped with transponder select Mode A Code 7700, unless otherwise instructed by the appropriate air traffic services unit.

If any instructions received by radio from any sources conflict with those given by the intercepting aircraft by visual or radio signals, the intercepted aircraft shall request immediate clarification while continuing to comply with the instructions given by the intercepting aircraft.



Intercepting Aircraft Signals


Intercepted Aircraft Responds



DAY - Rocking wings from a position in front and, normally, to the left of intercepted aircraft and, after acknowledgement, a slow level turn, normally to the left, on to the desired heading. Flares dispensed in immediate vicinity.

NIGHT - Same and, in addition, flashing navigational lights at irregular intervals. Flares dispensed in immediate vicinity.

NOTE 1. Meteorological conditions or terrain may require the intercepting aircraft to take up a position in front and to the right of the intercepted aircraft and to make the subsequent turn to the right.

NOTE 2. If the intercepted aircraft is not able to keep pace with the intercepting aircraft, the latter is expected to fly a series of race-track patterns and to rock its wings each time it passes the intercepted aircraft.

You have been intercepted.
Follow me.

DAY - Rocking wings and following.
NIGHT - Same and, in addition, flashing navigational lights at irregular intervals.

Rocking aircraft, flashing navigational lights at irregular intervals and following.

NOTE - Additional action by intercepted aircraft is prescribed in paragraph “INTERCEPTION SIGNALS”.

Understood, will comply.


DAY or NIGHT - An abrupt breakaway manoeuvre from the intercepting aircraft consisting of a climbing turn of 90 degrees or more without crossing the line of flight of the intercepted aircraft.

You may proceed.

Rocking wings.

Rocking aircraft.

Understood, will comply.


DAY - Circling aerodrome, lowering landing gear and overflying runway in direction of landing or, if the intercepted aircraft is a helicopter, overflying the helicopter landing area.
NIGHT - Same and, in addition, showing steady landing lights.

Land at this aerodrome.

DAY - Lowering landing gear, following the intercepting aircraft and, if after overflying the runway landing is considered safe, proceeding to land.
NIGHT-Same and, in addition, showing steady landing lights (if carried).

Following the intercepting aircraft and proceeding to land, showing a steady landing light (if carried).

Understood, will comply.



Intercepted Aircraft Signals


Intercepting Aircraft Responds



DAY - Raising landing gear while passing over landing runway at a height exceeding 300 m (1 000 ft) but not exceeding 600 m (2 000 ft) above the aerodrome level, and continuing to circle the aerodrome.
NIGHT - Flashing landing lights while passing over landing runway at a height exceeding 300 m (1 000 ft) but not exceeding 600 m (2 000 ft) above the aerodrome level, and continuing to circle the aerodrome. If unable to flash landing lights, flash any other lights available.

Aerodrome you have designated is inadequate.

DAY or NIGHT - If it is desired that the intercepted aircraft follow the intercepting aircraft to an alternate aerodrome, the intercepting aircraft raises its landing gear and uses the Series 1 signals prescribed for intercepting aircraft.

If it is decided to release the intercepted aircraft, the intercepting aircraft uses the Series 2 signals prescribed for intercepting aircraft.

Understood. Follow me.

Understood, you may proceed.


DAY or NIGHT - Regular switching on and off of all available lights but in such a manner as to be distinct from flashing lights.

Cannot comply.

DAY or NIGHT - Use Series 2 signals prescribed for intercepting aircraft.



DAY or NIGHT - Irregular flashing of all available lights.

DAY or NIGHT - Irregular flashing of all available lights.

In distress.

DAY or NIGHT - Use Series 2 signals prescribed for intercepting aircraft.


In closing, it is imperative in today’s security environment for pilots to be cognizant of airspace restrictions and fully aware of the procedures to follow if intercepted. When it comes to restricted airspace, fly smart and fly safe.

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