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This airstrip is not open

On 17 November 2012, a pilot approaching Geelong (Grovedale) airstrip in a Piper PA-28R was feeling some apprehension: he did not hear any broadcasts from aircraft operating at the airstrip and could not see any aircraft on the ground.

The pilot considered diverting to Barwon Heads, but for a number of reasons, he decided to continue to Geelong. He conducted a precautionary flight over the runway, and he and his passenger saw no signs indicating the airstrip was closed. There were cars and umbrellas on the ground, and the runway appeared the same as it had when he had visited on previous occasions. He elected to land.

The pilot had a message on his home phone and mobile from Airservices Australia
advising that Geelong was closed.

After landing safely, the pilot noticed that the office buildings were unoccupied and a fence had been placed across one of the runways. He was later told by people on the ground that the airstrip had been closed since April and was going to be redeveloped as a residential estate.

This incident demonstrated the vital importance of reviewing all available flight information, including the condition and suitability of the selected landing areas. When preparing for the flight, the pilot looked at a number of potential landing areas including Barwon Heads and Geelong. The pilot initially referenced the En Route Supplement Australia (ERSA) and noted that there was airstrip information for Barwon Heads, but not Geelong. He then referred to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association of Australia (AOPA) National Airfield Directory 2010/11 to obtain runway information for both airstrips. The latest edition of the AOPA Directory (2012) was released at about the same time the incident occurred. It stated that the Geelong (Grovedale) airstrip was closed.

When an aerodrome is rendered completely unserviceable for all operations, an unserviceability cross marker is displayed in the signal circle (a coloured area near the windsock that is used for displaying ground signals to pilots). During the precautionary flyover, the pilot and passenger did not see any cross markers, although they did observe a light coloured section near the end of the runway. 

After landing, the pilot contacted Airservices Australia to cancel his SARTIME (the time nominated by a pilot for the initiation of Search and Rescue action if a report from the pilot has not been received by the nominated unit.) As they acknowledged the cancellation, the Airservices employee made reference to Barwon Heads as the planned destination. When he returned to Bairnsdale, the pilot noted that he had a message on his home phone and mobile from Airservices Australia advising that Geelong was closed and his flight planned destination had been changed to Barwon Heads.

The full investigation report, AO-2012-155, provides more detail on the incident and the advice of the ATSB.


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Last update 28 February 2013