SUBJECT - NOTIFICATION AND ACTIVATION OF AREAS FOR MILITARY
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.