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Interim Recommendation issued to: Australian Army

Recommendation details
Output No: IR19980086
Date issued: 30 June 1998
Safety action status:
Background:

SUBJECT - NOTIFICATION AND ACTIVATION OF AREAS FOR MILITARY ACTIVITY


OCCURRENCE SUMMARY


BO/9701538

An aircraft was being operated on a coastwatch flight from Darwin to Gove. The crew received a transmission from a marine very high frequency-frequency modulation (VHF-FM) radio. This transmission came from a foreign navy vessel indicating an intention to conduct live firing up to flight level (FL) 450. The firing was to be conducted on the high seas and not within a restricted area. The ship was in company with Royal Australian Navy (RAN) ships and the foreign ship's crew had been briefed on RAN live firing procedures. When the coastwatch aircraft crew reported their position to Adelaide Flight Service, they also acknowledged advice of the firing activity. Flight Service subsequently checked the aeronautical information system for a notice to airmen (NOTAM) relating to the firing activity. There was no current NOTAM. RAN procedures did not require notification of the firing to be broadcast on aviation, very high frequency-amplitude modulation (VHF-AM) or high frequency (HF) radios. The firing activity had not been notified to other airspace users.


BO/9801079

An Australian Army staff member queried Adelaide Air Traffic Control (ATC) regarding the expiry time for a NOTAM activating restricted areas R295 A, B and E. ATC had not received notification of the areas having been activated at the time. The Army member advised that missile firing was being conducted from ground level to flight level (FL) 330. Approximately 15 minutes prior to the query call to ATC, a Boeing 737 en route from Sydney to Perth at FL310, had tracked through the restricted areas. A request for a NOTAM to activate the area had been submitted by the unit conducting the firing but had not been issued at the time of the commencement of the activity.


SAFETY DEFICIENCY

Current airspace activation procedures are inadequate and are not failsafe. They do not ensure confirmation of the issue of a NOTAM for military activities; neither do they provide confirmation that other airspace users are not within the designated area prior to the commencement of a military activity.


ANALYSIS

During the first occurrence, the intention of the ship's captain was to conduct an unnotified firing activity on the high seas. RAN procedures allow for an unnotified firing activity subject to a number of criteria being satisfied. One criterion is that the ship's captain ensures that the intended area for the firing is either electronically or visually scanned so that other vessels or aircraft are not within the designated area prior to, or during, the firing activity.

Under the circumstances, it was opportune that the crew of the coastwatch aircraft were able to monitor the marine VHF-FM radio, and that they consequently received notice of the activity. However, the majority of civil aircraft are incapable of monitoring this frequency and other pilots would therefore not have been aware of such activity. The procedures do not require broadcasts to be made on aviation, VHF-AM or HF radio frequencies, nor that the appropriate air traffic service (ATS) unit be notified. Either of these actions would have increased the likelihood of the notification of the activity being heard by crews of aircraft operating in the vicinity.

Staff from Airservices Australia and the RAN had previously met to discuss issues relating to the activation of airspace. The RAN had advised that they were willing to amend their procedures to include broadcasts of intended activities on specific aviation frequencies. However, they are awaiting advice from Airservices Australia on the frequencies to be used.

In the second occurrence, a request for the issue of a NOTAM for the activation of R295 A, B and E had been submitted. However, there was no procedure to ensure that the requesting unit was either provided with a copy of the issued NOTAM, or that they checked the aeronautical information system to ensure that there was a current NOTAM.

Verification of the issue of a NOTAM covering the activity with the appropriate ATS unit prior to commencing the military activity, would limit the possibility of erroneous activation. Additionally, verification of a NOTAM with ATS could be a final check to ensure that aircraft are not inadvertently operating in the restricted area.

Following the investigation of occurrence 9801079, the Army amended procedures to ensure that a unit conducting an activity in R295 is required to obtain a copy of the NOTAM advising activation of the area prior to the commencement of operations.

The local Army procedures for operations in R295 describe maximum activity heights for the various portions of the restricted area. These heights are the same as the restricted area upper limits as detailed in the Designated Airspace Handbook. Consequently, it could be inferred from the procedures that an activity could be conducted to the limits of the area without consideration of a buffer from other airspace activities, that may be in progress outside the area. Local procedures may require a review to ensure that firing area limits are correctly described and terminology is standardised to ensure activities are not conducted to the limit of a designated area.

Conclusion

As result of these investigations, the Bureau of Air Safety Investigation considers that the Australian Defence Force needs to review airspace activation procedures to ensure that the appropriate notification of military activities is conducted in a fail-safe manner. This may require liaison with Airservices Australia in order for that agency to provide advice of frequencies, ATS personnel to be contacted prior to activation of designated areas, or other specialist advice.

Output text

The Bureau of Air Safety Investigation recommends that the Australian Defence Force, with the assistance of Airservices Australia, review airspace activation procedures to ensure that appropriate and fail-safe notification actions have been completed prior to the commencement of military activities.

Initial response
Date issued: 12 November 1998
Response from: Australian Army
Action status: Closed - Accepted
Response text:

ATSB Note: Although no direct response was received from the Australian Army, the Bureau considers the response from Airservices Australia (see Interim Recommendation IR19980087)to be an adequate response from the Australian Army.

 
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Last update 01 April 2011