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Requirements for autopilots in dark night conditions

Issue number: AO-2011-102-SI-03
Who it affects: All helicopters operating under the night VFR
Issue owner: Civil Aviation Safety Authority
Operation affected: Aviation: General aviation
Background: Investigation Report AO-2011-102
Date: 08 November 2013

Safety issue description

Helicopter flights were permitted under the visual flight rules in dark night conditions, which are effectively the same as instrument meteorological conditions, but without the same requirements for autopilots and similar systems that are in place for conducting flights under the instrument flight rules.

Response to safety issue by: the Civil Aviation Safety Authority

On 18 October 2013, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) advised that it would work towards promulgating Part 133 (Australian air transport operations – rotorcraft) of the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations 1998, which will include the following regulation:

133.571 Autopilot—night VFR flights on which passengers are carried

(1) This regulation applies if:

a) the flight is a VFR flight at night; and

b) a passenger is carried in the flight; and

c) the rotorcraft is not carrying a 2-pilot crew each of whom is authorised under [Part 61] to conduct an IFR flight in a rotorcraft.

(2) The operator and the pilot in command each commit an offence if, when the rotorcraft begins the flight, the rotorcraft is not fitted with an autopilot.

In addition, as previously stated, CASA advised of further action proposed to address safety issue AO-2011-102-SI-02. This included:

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. This will in effect address the root cause of the matters outlined in the … [safety issues], as pilots will need to have a discernible horizon throughout their flight.

Subsequently, CASA advised on 30 October 2013 that Part 133 is planned to be made (or become law) in the last quarter of calendar year 2013 or first quarter of 2014 and come into effect from the first quarter of 2015. This will align with the normal Aeronautical Information Regulation and Control cycle for the notification of aeronautical information changes. The period between the Part being made and having effect will allow for implementation planning and education programs.

ATSB comment/action in response:

The ATSB notes that the introduction of Civil Aviation Safety Regulation (CASR) 133.571 will require all air transport flights in helicopters with passengers at night to be in helicopters equipped with an autopilot or with a two-pilot crew. This extends the range of operations required to have such risk controls. Although it does not directly address the situation for other helicopter operations, effective risk controls for such operations will be potentially addressed in any safety action taken by CASA to address the safety recommendation AO-2011-102-SR-59. The ATSB will monitor the progress of that safety action.

   
Current issue status: Adequately addressed
Status justification: The ATSB is satisfied that the work by CASA to finalise and make CASR 133.571 will, when implemented, reduce the risk of helicopter operations at night involving commercial passenger transport. In the case of non-passenger-transport operations under the night VFR, the lack of a requirement for an autopilot or alternately a two-pilot crew increases the residual risk of aerial work and private flights. This reinforces the importance of ATSB safety recommendation AO-2011-102-SR-59.
 
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Last update 08 January 2014