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Safety Advisory Notice issued to: Operators of regional airlines

Recommendation details
Output No: SAN19980092
Date issued: 29 June 1998
Safety action status: Closed
Background:

SUBJECT - UPDATING IN-FLIGHT OPERATIONAL INFORMATION


INTRODUCTION - REGIONAL AIRLINES SAFETY STUDY

Between October 1995 and July 1997 the Bureau of Air Safety Investigation undertook a study of the safety of Australian regional airlines. The objectives of this study were to:

(a) identify safety deficiencies affecting regional airline operations in Australia; and
(b) identify means of reducing the impact on safety of these deficiencies.

For the purpose of the survey, regional airlines were grouped according to the number of passenger seats fitted to the largest aircraft operated by that airline in January 1997. The groups are defined as follows:

(a) Group 1: 1-9 seats;
(b) Group 2: 10-19 seats; and
(c) Group 3: more than 20 seats.

The study involved analysing data obtained from:

(a) responses to a survey of Australian regional airline employees;
(b) discussions with Australian regional airline employees and managers; and
(c) air safety occurrence reports involving regional airlines over a 10-year period (1986-1995) from the BASI database.

This Safety Advisory Notice addresses one of the safety deficiencies identified as a result of this study.


SAFETY DEFICIENCY

Procedures used by some pilots of regional airlines to update operational information in flight, may not be effective.


FACTUAL INFORMATION

Survey results

Operational information, such as meteorological forecasts and the status of airfields and navigation aids, is critical to flight safety. Knowledge of this information is the basis for many operational decisions made by flight crews, such as whether to continue the flight to the planned destination or to divert to another airfield. Operational information obtained prior to a flight should be updated in flight, where necessary, so that decisions are based on the most current information.

With regard to this issue, the study indicated that 72% of pilots considered that their procedures for updating operational information in flight were adequate. However, 18% said they were not, while 10% were unsure. The pilots who felt that their procedures were not effective came from airlines of all three airline groups. These results suggest the need for regional airlines to review their procedures and training for the provision of in-flight operational information to flight crews.


Background

In January 1992, the operational control service functions of the then Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) were withdrawn. The responsibility for ensuring the safe conduct of a flight became a shared function between the pilot in command and the operator, without the oversight previously provided by the Operational Control Service. These changes have resulted in crews being forced to seek more pre-flight and in-flight information for themselves and to act upon this information without the same degree of assistance from Air Traffic Services (ATS) that many were previously used to.


ATS in-flight information

ATS currently provides an in-flight information service enabling flight crews to obtain information on which to base operational decisions for the continuation or diversion of a flight. Knowledge of this information, and decision-making based upon it, assists crews to ensure the continued safe flight of their aircraft.

A hazard alert service provides flight crews with information on meteorological phenomena and aeronautical facilities where this information is considered to be of a critical or unforeseen nature. This information is either broadcast, or directed specifically to flight crews, depending on the circumstances.

Additionally, pilots can request weather and notices to airmen (NOTAM) information at any time during flight by using the Flightwatch facility available on the appropriate airways frequency. A note in the Aeronautical Information Publication (AIP-RAC-11), states that "Pilots are responsible for requesting information necessary to make operational decisions".

Crews are required to obtain an updated briefing in those instances where an aircraft may be required to wait on the ground for extended periods, as can occur on multi-stage flights. This should be accomplished by accessing the electronic briefing system or by contacting a briefing office by telephone. If crews do not observe this procedure there may be an unnecessary delay in receiving critical information about a destination aerodrome.


Company in-flight information

The Commercial Review of Operational Control by Captain M Terrell (June 1989), inquired into the feasibility of a company operational control service as an alternative to the service provided by the then Civil Aviation Authority. The report acknowledged that this would incur a significant cost to operators in terms of both communications equipment and personnel, and that it represented a considerable duplication of effort. However, the report recommended that operators requiring an operational control system should be identified prior to the withdrawal of the operational control service.

This recommendation was not adopted and the subsequent closure of the operational control service went ahead with only a requirement for operators to review the adequacy of the provision of in-flight information to crews. In almost every instance, except for the major domestic carriers, this was assumed to be the sole responsibility of the flight crews.

In both Canada and the USA, the regulatory authorities require commuter and domestic carriers to provide a dispatch and flight-following service. The dispatcher must be appropriately trained and qualified, depending on the type of operation, to fulfill a function similar to that of a former Civil Aviation Authority operations controller. The current Regulatory Review Program is considering the adoption of Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) parts 121 and 135 from the USA. A decision has not yet been made as to whether all or part of these regulations will be adopted for Australian regional airline operations, including those aspects related to dispatch and flight-following.


Impact of proposed ATS changes

The introduction of "Airspace 2000" will result in the withdrawal of the directed traffic service and search-and-rescue component, currently provided by ATS, to all flights operating in designated "G" airspace. This will further diminish the amount of information provided to flight crews and place an even greater workload on them. For example, to obtain traffic information, flight crews will be required to listen to all aircraft broadcasts and to evaluate each to determine its relevance to traffic separation criteria, instead of a third party only providing relevant traffic.

Company messages of an operational nature may be communicated to crews through the ATS communications network but only on a workload-permitting basis. There is no obligation on ATS to ensure receipt or acknowledgment of these company messages. This would preclude ATS involvement in any company flight-following arrangement.

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority is currently trialling a requirement for all operators of Regular Public Transport aircraft with more than 10 passenger seats to provide a third-party communication service at uncontrolled aerodromes. The role of the proposed certified air/ground operator would satisfy this requirement and, in part, restore some of the functions currently provided by ATS at those locations. In addition, this facility could provide limited operational and company information to flight crews. Regional airline operators may find that, following the introduction of "Airspace 2000", the provision of this type of service enhances their ability to monitor progress of flights and maintain a greater level of search-and-rescue protection in "G" airspace.


ANALYSIS

The changes explained in this document have meant that flight crews must be more diligent in obtaining their in-flight information. Instead of being routinely provided with updated weather and NOTAM information by an operational control service, the flight crews themselves must now actively seek this information from Flightwatch. Flight crews who have been slow to adapt to these changes may not have received crucial in-flight information.

Some flight crews trained under the previous system could be labouring under the misapprehension that updated operational information is still automatically passed to them. On those occasions when information has not been automatically passed to a flight crew, it may have been perceived as a failure by ATS to provide an in-flight update of operational information, or that the information was not available.

Shortcomings in flight crews' knowledge of procedures for updating in-flight information may need to be reviewed and addressed through company training and checking programs.

Regional airline operators, whether required by legislation or not, may wish to consider the provision of some form of dispatch and flight-following function for their flight operations. Such a service would complement pre-flight planning and be an additional in-flight resource for flight crews, especially for single-pilot operations where there is already a high pilot workload.

Output text

Operators of regional airlines should take note of the safety deficiency identified in this document and take appropriate action.

Initial response
Date issued:
Response from: Regional Airlines
Action status: Not Required
Response text:
 
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Last update 01 April 2011