The vast majority of Civil Air Support aircraft are dual crewed and fitted with dual controls. Most are simple 2-seat types possessing good performance, safe handling, adequate cruising speed of around 100mph and an endurance of several hours. These aircraft can operate safely out of small and basic airstrips and can deploy relatively long distances whilst still achieving useful periods of time on any assignment. Many Civil Air Support aircraft are of high wing configuration making them ideal for ground observation and photography. A few Civil Air Support types are multi-engine/multi seat which makes them particularly suitable for longer range transport missions. In the UK Civil Air Support has regular availability to around 150 privately owned aircraft.
All manned Civil Air Support aircraft are operated within the ‘private category’ which means that all flights are private and entirely voluntary. Civil Air Support cannot, therefore, be held under contract; neither can it receive payment nor can it operate under any form of ‘mutuality of obligation’ with another party. It cannot be ‘tasked’ – instead, a request may be made for assistance. Many Civil Air Support crew members are ex-military, ex-police or are high time civilian aircraft operators.
Some Civil Air Support pilots have less experience but all pilots are matched to appropriate missions by a supervision system involving direct input from charity officers. The final decision to respond to a request for airborne assistance always rests with the individual pilot in command who also carries full responsibility for the mission. Whilst the Civil Air Support has a number of dedicated observers, most crews comprise two pilots (the second pilot acting as observer) with the inherent safety benefit of that arrangement. Pilots and observers are encouraged to fly as ‘constituted crews’ so that they become thoroughly familiar with their aircraft and achieve a high level of crew cooperation. All Civil Air Support operations fall well within the privileges of the UK private pilot licence and within the limits of the UK Air Navigation Order as it relates to private flying.
No alleviations from these rules are granted and none are required. Civil Air Support flying is not only well supervised but it is usually very straightforward and planned to involve relatively low work rates. Skills that new crew members must acquire relate to developing familiarity with certain items of equipment and with developing high levels of crew cooperation rather than additional aircraft handling skills. Civil Air Support missions will routinely be notified to the UK Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre and details are also passed, if appropriate, to the RAF Low Flying Cell, local police control rooms, local air traffic control units and even local flying clubs. Every effort is made to coordinate Civil Air Support operations with other airspace users. Written crew reports from every mission detailing lessons learned and technique development are combined with feedback from user agencies to continuously evolve the Operations Manual and maintain the Civil Air Support Safety & Quality Management system
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