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Turn up the volume

Example of a pilots headset

A runway incursion between a Fairchild SA227 and a Bell 47G helicopter at Ballina Airport is a timely reminder that to stay safe around non-controlled aerodromes, pilots need to monitor and broadcast on the CTAF and maintain a good lookout.

On 9 October 2013 the helicopter was conducting circuit training with an instructor and a student pilot on board. The Fairchild was about to commence its take-off. After broadcasting a lining-up and rolling call, which was acknowledged by another pilot inbound to Ballina, the pilot of the Fairchild commenced the take-off run. Just before rotation he saw the helicopter stopped on the runway towards the departure end. The Fairchild pilot increased the climb angle to maintain separation.

The helicopter instructor attempted to contact the Fairchild with no response received. She then realised that the radio volume had been turned down.

The Fairchild pilot had expected the helicopter to be conducting left-hand (not right-hand) circuits and for the helicopter to be in the air, not on the runway. After lining up, his attention had been directed inside the cockpit before commencing the take-off run.

The helicopter instructor commented that it was the end of a long hot day. She said they had been making calls on the CTAF but did not hear any broadcasts from other aircraft. While this might have indicated a radio problem, it was not unusual to have low traffic volume at Ballina at the time. Because the student was a commercial pilot, the instructor had not been monitoring the pilot’s actions as closely as she would with a low-hour student. Ballina has an aerodrome frequency response unit (AFRU) which provides an automatic response when transmitting on the CTAF. Because the radio volume was turned down the ‘beep backs’ from the system would not have been heard.

Following the incident, the operator of the Fairchild advised that they would be highlighting the importance of communication and situational awareness for all pilots. The helicopter operator advised that they would introduce a requirement into the start-up checklist for the pilot to check the automatic weather information service (AWIS). As well as providing weather information, this would enable the pilot to confirm that the radio is on and is audible.

The ATSB’s publication A pilot's guide to staying safe in the vicinity of non-towered aerodromes contains useful advice and is available from the ATSB website.  

The ATSB SafetyWatch highlights the broad safety concerns Safety around non-controlled aerodromes.

Read the ATSB investigation report AO-2013-177


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Last update 05 June 2014