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Requirements for visual flight rules flights in dark night conditions

Issue number: AO-2011-100-SI-01
Who it affects: All aircraft operating under the night visual flight rules
Issue owner: Civil Aviation Safety Authority
Operation affected: Aviation: General aviation
Background: Investigation Report AO-2011-100
Date: 03 December 2013

Safety issue description

Aerial work and private flights were permitted under the visual flight rules in dark night conditions, which are effectively the same as instrument meteorological conditions, but without sufficient requirements for proficiency checks and recent experience to enable flight solely by reference to the flight instruments.

Proactive Action

Action organisation: Civil Aviation Safety Authority
Date: 03 December 2013
Action status: Closed

Response to safety issue by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority

On 18 October 2013, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) stated that as part of the new pilot licencing rules (in development prior to August 2011), Civil Aviation Safety Regulation 61.970 will require pilots to demonstrate competency during biennial night visual flight rules assessments, which become effective in December 2013. As noted in the section titled Minimum requirements for night flights, this will certainly help maintain some pilots’ ability to a higher level than previously, but it will not ensure that the pilots are able to maintain their skills at an instrument rating standard.

CASA also advised of the following actions:

  • CASA will implement a regulatory change project to study the feasibility of rule changes that provide enhanced guidance on NVFR [night VFR] flight planning and other considerations, addressing all categories of operation.
  • CASA will clarify the definition of visibility as outlined in CAR [Civil Aviation Regulation] 2 to ensure the primary coincident safety issue above is dealt with. CAR 2 defines visibility as the “ability, as determined by atmospheric conditions and expressed in units of distance, to see and identify prominent unlighted objects by day and prominent lighted objects by night”. CASA will, via regulatory change project, explore the potential to add the requirement that for night visual flight rules the determination of visibility must also include the ability to see a defined natural horizon.
  • CASA will provide additional guidance material and advisory notes in Civil Aviation Advisory Publication (CAAP) 5.13-2:
    - distinguishing the difference between NVFR / IFR and instrument conditions; and
    - emphasising the authority given by a NVFR rating.

The proposed changes project will be subject to CASA’s normal consultation requirements.

ATSB response:

This safety issue and report of safety action by CASA in response reflects that reported in ATSB safety investigation report AO-2011-102. The ATSB welcomes the intent of this proposed action by CASA in response to this safety issue. In particular, the ATSB agrees that expanding what is meant by the term ‘visibility’ at night to include the requirement for a visual horizon will help ensure that pilots operating under the night VFR will have sufficient visual cues. However, as discussed in investigation report AO-2011-102, given the importance of the safety issue, the ATSB is concerned about the indefinite nature of the proposed evaluation and other exploratory activities proposed by CASA.

As a result of this concern, the ATSB issued safety recommendation AO-2011-102-SR-059 to CASA on 8 November 2013. Although specifically referring to investigation AO-2011-102, this safety recommendation will, when adequately addressed, also address safety issue AO‑2011‑100-SI-01 in respect of the accident involving VH-POJ, 31 km north of Horsham Airport, Victoria on 15 August 2011. The safety recommendation is therefore repeated below for ease of reference.

Recommendation

Action organisation: Civil Aviation Safety Authority
Action number: AO-2011-102-SR-059
Date: 03 December 2013
Action status: Monitor

Safety action pending and will be monitored and reported on as part of the administration of AO‑2011‑102‑SR‑059.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau recommends that the Civil Aviation Safety Authority prioritise its efforts to address the safety risk associated with aerial work and private flights as permitted under the visual flight rules in dark night conditions, which are effectively the same as instrument meteorological conditions, but without sufficient requirements for proficiency checks and recent experience to enable flight solely by reference to the flight instruments.

   
Current issue status: Safety action pending
 
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Last update 13 January 2014