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A pilot's guide to staying safe in the vicinity of non-controlled aerodromes

Summary

Most aerodromes in Australia are located in uncontrolled airspace and consequently do not have an air traffic control presence. At and around non-controlled aerodromes, pilots are responsible for making themselves aware of nearby aircraft and maintaining separation. This report aims to provide pilots with an appreciation of the types of safety events that are associated with operations at non-controlled aerodromes, and provide education on expected behaviours to assist pilots in being prepared for the risks. 

Generally, operations at non-towered aerodromes can be considered to be safe, but this relies on all pilots maintaining awareness of their surroundings and of other aircraft, and on flying in compliance with procedures, while being observant, courteous and cooperative. Most of the 709 airspace-related safety occurrences reported to the ATSB between 2003 and 2008 at, or in the vicinity of non-towered aerodromes, were incidents, but they also included 60 serious incidents and six accidents (mid-air and ground collisions). 

Most of the occurrences involved conflicts between aircraft, or between aircraft and ground vehicles. A large number of these involved separation issues, ineffective communication between pilots operating in close proximity, the incorrect assessment of other aircraft’s positions and intentions, relying on the radio as a substitute for an effective visual lookout, or a failure to follow published procedures. 

This report looked only at incidents and accidents prior to the introduction of changes by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) to Civil Aviation Regulation (CAR) 166 on 3 June 2010, which affected procedures at all non-towered (non-controlled) aerodromes. Although the CAR 166 changes may in time be shown to reduce incidents and accidents, a number of issues highlighted by the occurrences documented in this report persist at non-towered aerodromes which pilots can easily address. 

This guide has been released in association with a more detailed and larger report (AO-2008-044(2)) into non-controlled aerodrome operations.

Introduction

Due to the dispersed nature of Australia’s population, most aerodromes in Australia are located in uncontrolled airspace, and consequently do not have a permanent air traffic control presence. These are known as non-towered aerodromes. In the vicinity of these aerodromes, pilots are responsible for making themselves aware of other nearby aircraft and for maintaining separation.

Aircraft are in the vicinity of a non-controlled aerodrome if they are in uncontrolled airspace, within a horizontal distance of 10 NM (18.5 km) from the aerodrome and at a height that could conflict with operations at a non-towered aerodrome.

Pilots operating at non-controlled aerodromes are expected to make a series of standard broadcasts on the CTAF regarding their position and intentions.

What you need to do

Non-towered aerodromes have been, and will continue to be, a central component of the Australian airspace system. A number of issues related to communications, situational awareness, and following circuit procedures persist in occurrences at non-towered aerodromes that pilots can easily address to make sure that safe operations are always maintained.

The aim at all times is to achieve radio-alerted see-and-avoid, to be aware of other traffic, and position your aircraft appropriately to prevent conflicts with that traffic. Observing these simple points will help to you to do this4.

  • Maintain a lookout for other aircraft at all times.
  • Get a radio, and always make the standard broadcasts — even when you think there is no nearby traffic.
  • Achieve radio alerted see-and-avoid by making all of the standard broadcasts within 10 NM of a non-towered aerodrome.
  • Use the same procedures at all non-towered aerodromes, unless otherwise stated in the En Route Supplement Australia (ERSA).
  • Be aware that any radio-equipped aircraft could be conducting straight-in approaches at non-towered aerodromes
  • Avoid overflying aerodromes where possible, and take note of IFR inbound and outbound routes.

Read to research report AR-2008-044(1).

Type: Avoidable accidents
Author(s): ATSB
Publication date: 8 March 2013
ISBN: 978-1-74251-295-2
Publication number: AR-2008-044(1)
 
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Last update 17 August 2015