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
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
(b) discussions with Australian regional airline employees 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.
Procedures used by some pilots of regional airlines to update
operational information in flight, may not be effective.
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.
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then Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) were withdrawn.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
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
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"
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.