There was a disproportionate rate of loss of separation incidents which leads to a higher risk of collision in military terminal area airspace in general and all airspace around Darwin and Williamtown in particular. Furthermore, loss of separation incidents in military airspace more commonly involved contributing air traffic controller actions relative to equivalent civil airspace occurrences.
Response to safety issue by: Department of Defence
The Department of Defence takes all losses of separation and losses of separation assurance seriously and investigates all incidents to identify causes and areas that can be improved in order to mitigate against further occurrences. To reduce the potential for separation occurrences, Defence are reviewing the implementation of the traffic management plans at Darwin, Townsville, and Williamtown to improve the effect of strategic separation techniques. These reviews will also be used to highlight any current airspace constructs that inhibit the controller’s ability to provide optimum separation assurance. Defence has also recently published an internal capability improvement plan that focuses on increasing experience levels at Defence air traffic locations. To improve our ability to respond to potential losses of separation, Defence has enhanced the School of Air Traffic Control simulator packages to provide greater exposure to compromised separation occurrences, with the trainee being assessed on their ability to apply compromised separation recovery. Defence has also added both theoretical and practical assessment to local training packages regarding scanning for possible losses of separation and applying compromised separation recovery techniques when required.
ATSB comment in response
The ATSB acknowledges the intended action by the Department of Defence, but considers that a broader review of Defence ATC processes and risk controls should be undertaken, including analysis of ATS related occurrence data, training, staffing and ATS infrastructure to ensure the reasons for the disproportionate risk of loss of separation incidents, and the relative higher level of controller actions contributing to these occurrences, are well understood and any additional appropriate action can be taken to minimise future risk. As such, the ATSB is issuing the following recommendation.