Aviation safety issues and actions

Limited visual cues for approach at Darwin runway 11/29

Issue number: AO-2016-166-SI-02
Who it affects: Pilots operating into Darwin airport
Issue owner: Darwin International Airport
Operation affected: Aviation: Airports
Background: Investigation Report AO-2016-166
Date: 15 May 2019

Safety issue description

The absence of centreline lighting and the 60-m width of runway 11/29 at Darwin result in very limited visual cues for maintaining runway alignment during night landings in reduced visibility.


Action organisation: Darwin International Airport
Action number: AO-2016-166-SR-014
Date: 15 May 2019
Action status: Released

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau recommends that Darwin International Airport address the risk of very limited visual cues for maintaining runway alignment during night landings in reduced visibility that arise from the combination of the absence of centreline lighting and the 60-m width of runway 11/29 at Darwin.


Date received: 18 September 2018
Response from: Darwin International Airport and Defence Flight Safety Bureau
Action status: Released
Response text:

On 18 September 2017, Darwin International Airport (DIA) advised:

The Department of Defence position in 2011 was as follows and DIA is not aware of any change to that:

a. Existing approach lighting at Darwin is appropriate for a Cat 1 precision approach runway.

b. Installation, upgrade and maintenance costs do not represent value for money.

c. The installation of runway centreline lighting is not imperative and will not be pursued (DIA are in agreement).

d. The option of reverting the runway lighting to 45m width would be costly and viewed as a low priority infrastructure change.

In previous correspondence Defence did indicate a concern for potential damage to tail hook equipped aircraft.

Under the terms of the Joint User Agreement, Defence is responsible for airfield pavements and lighting and is considering resurfacing of Runway 11/29 in about 2022. Replacement of runway lighting may occur as part of that project. Provision of centreline lighting could be considered at that time.

On 25 January 2019, DIA advised:

Darwin Airport is a Joint User aerodrome with the Department of Defence. As previously advised, and under the terms of the joint User Deed, the Department of Defence is responsible for forward planning of pavement overlays and upgrading or replacement of airfield lighting.

DIA will continue to consult with Defence on whether lighting upgrades, including centreline lighting could be considered for future works. A planning meeting is proposed for March 2019.

On 8 February 2019, the Defence Flight Safety Bureau advised:

The lack of centre line lighting at Darwin has been an ongoing issue for some time. Under the Joint User Deed, Defence and DIA are required to work together on any infrastructure matters. To date, Defence and DIA have been in agreement that runway centreline lighting is not supported for reasons that include upfront capital cost, ongoing maintenance issues and consideration of the potential effects of runway centreline lighting on aircraft taking the arrestor cables.

On 26 March 2019, DIA advised:

Northern Territory Airports (NTAP) and Defence met on Wednesday 13th March in Canberra to discuss maintenance, projects and operational matters associated with the Joint User Area at Darwin International Airport / RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force] Darwin. A topic of tabled discussion was Airfield Ground Lighting (including a session on Runway Centreline Lighting) for RWY 11/29.  Both NTAP and Defence agreed that the use of Hook Arrestor Cable System on RWY 11/29 prevented the safe introduction of CASA MOS139 compliant Runway Centreline Lighting since the risk of FOD [foreign object debris] caused via damage to Runway Centreline Lights by the Hook Arrestor Cable was of significant concern. It was however tabled that both Runway Centreline Lighting and reducing the runway width from 60m to 45m would be re-considered in future major project design briefs.

ATSB response:

After a similar occurrence in 2003, the ATSB issued a recommendation that the Department of Defence (airport infrastructure owner) and Darwin International Airport (civilian facilities operator) consider the installation of centreline lighting and touchdown zone lighting on runway 29. The ATSB later reclassified the issue as ‘Closed – Not accepted’.

In response to safety issue AO-2016-166-SI-04, Darwin International Airport has undertaken safety action enhancing the en route supplement guidance to flight crews, which will help flight crews conducting operations into Darwin to more effectively plan for and respond to a partial loss of visual cues during approach. However, this action is not a completely effective way of addressing the risk: crew preparedness can reduce the likelihood of, but not prevent, an undetected loss of adequate visual cues.

The ATSB acknowledges the practical limitations of installing and maintaining runway centreline lighting, and notes that DIA have also stated that the feasibility will be reconsidered in future major project design briefs. The ATSB continues to encourage additional safety action by DIA and Defence, and has released the following safety recommendation.

Current issue status: Safety action pending
Last update 15 May 2019