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Mode Aviation
Reference No. AR201500071
Date reported 20 August 2015
Concern title Concerns related to the regular closure of the main runway at an aerodrome
Concern summary

The concern related to the regular closure of the main sealed runway at an aerodrome and how it affects the aerodrome users.

Industry / Operation affected Aviation: Airports
Concern subject type Aviation: Airport

Reporter's concern

The reporter expressed a safety concern related to the closure of the main runway at [location] [certified] aerodrome on a regular basis.

The reporter advised that the runway is closed by NOTAM on a regular basis for operations that are often not aviation related. The runway was again closed on [date] leaving the crossing grass runway for use. However, a significant number of vehicles were moving along the closed runway and equipment was placed on the open runway’s overrun. While there was a NOTAM released for closure of the main runway, there was no advice that pyrotechnics were being detonated and a remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) would be used along runway. The RPA and pyrotechnics were directly in the take-off / landing path of aircraft using the crossing strip resulting in at least one aircraft conducting a missed approach.

The reporter advised that the continual closure of runway the main runway at [location] affects the safety of aircraft operating in the area as it removes the availability of an all-weather flight strip with lighting and a straight-in instrument approach.

Reporter comment: The use of the main runway for these alternate purposes is contrary to safe air navigation, which is further exacerbated by the encroachment into the only alternate runway, with potential consequences if an arriving aircraft does not have the endurance to divert to another airfield. The use of pyrotechnics and RPAs (within 3 NM of an aerodrome, which is not permitted for commercial operations without a CASA approval), without a NOTAM being provided, are an additional and significant safety hazard.

Operator's response (Operator 1)

The main runway was closed due to the fact that to maintain an aerodrome in a satisfactory state, an income needs to be generated. Most of the users of [location] aerodrome do not pay for the privilege (this will be changing soon). Therefore if a film studio approaches me with an offer to hire the runway, I will consider the impact and follow the relevant procedures to allow the hire.

Any time that the main runway is hired out, the crossing strip is always available for use. I, along with the safety officer from the film studio, personally oversee the running of the film sequences. All staff have handheld radios and maintain constant contact on the appropriate frequency.

You should remind this disgruntled user that this is a non-controlled private aerodrome.

On the day, we had six aircraft operating in the area: an aircraft overflying for another aerodrome; an aircraft which landed on the crossing strip and subsequently departed for the south west; an aircraft overflying at 3,600; an aircraft which conducted a missed approach; and an aircraft which was doing aerial work not below 4,200 ft. 

The cars that were at the edge of the gable markers were behind the markers for crossing runway strip, not impeding its use. 

The only things that were on the main runway, were some cones placed some distance apart on the right side. The distance between the runway, the crossing strip and these cones (which were about 600 mm high) was in excess of 60 metres.

We had two cars going up and down the runway main strip but at no stage were the cars outside the parameters of safety.

Please inform this disgruntled user that pilots intending to fly to an aerodrome must obtain a NOTAM beforehand and adhere to said NOTAM.

If for any reason an aircraft has to land at a particular time and must land on a sealed runway there is always a phone number which they can ring beforehand.

I contact the only user that must use the sealed runway, before making arrangements to hire out the runway, or close it for maintenance, and always come to an amicable arrangement with them.

Please find a response from the user of the pyrotechnics and UAVs [RPAs] on the day which was requested well beforehand in anticipation just for this particular purpose. 

Response from the film company (the company that hired the aerodrome for the filming)

In relation to our filming at [location] Aerodrome on [date].

We would like to state the following:

Our RPA operator is a CASA Certified operator, who are fully insured and operate under strict safety conditions. They hold an exemption to operate in non-tower aerodromes with the permission of aerodrome management and hold an exemption to fly within 3 nm of airfields. With regard to the filming on this aerodrome runway, filming/flying of the RPA was at a maximum height of 5 meters, meaning we were not impacting operations of the grass runway at any time. The RPA was operated with the condition that it was not to fly within 30 minutes of any scheduled take-off or landing at the aerodrome on the day. The RPA was never in the air when a manned aircraft was in the vicinity.

The pyrotechnics mentioned were a very small smoke charge. They were of a capacity of less than 10 grams of pyrotechnic composition per charge, presenting no threat to anyone or anything (particularly aircraft) in the vicinity. We had our picture vehicles and crew driving within one metre of them as they were set off, to give an indication of how minor they were. Again our special effects technicians operate to the highest safety standards (with 24 years’ experience) with appropriate permits and controls from NSW Workcover in place.

It is our understanding a NOTAM was issued for the runway for the period we were on site, and at no stage did our filming impact the normal operation of the crossing runway. At all times while on the runway we were in contact via radio with the aerodrome.

On the one occasion an aircraft flew over the area (ignoring the NOTAM) attempts were made to contact it via radio which were ignored. It appeared to us that this aircraft was not looking to land, but doing an investigation of our operations.

We, and our contractors, pride ourselves on operating to the strictest safety standards. It is our belief that everything undertaken on our shoot day was both completely safe and legal, both in relation to our operations and those of the aerodrome Management.

Regulator's response (Regulator 1)

CASA has reviewed the REPCON and advises that the type of business decisions taken by the aerodrome operator in closing runways does not fall under CASA's remit. CASA can confirm inspectors examined recent filming activity conducted at the aerodrome and notes that established appropriate safety measures were implemented concerning aviation activity.

Additionally, inspectors were satisfied that NOTAMs were issued and visible to pilots obtaining briefing material from NAIPS well in advance of closures coming into effect.

ATSB comment

Following comments from the reporter in relation to this REPCON an email was sent to the aerodrome operator with the following comments:

I have received a response from my reporter with a couple of comments which I thought I would pass on in the interests of safety and cooperation at the aerodrome. This is not to apportion blame and from your response to the REPCON, I understand that you have done all the required preparation for the closure, but if things can be done to ensure that everyone is aware of what is happening, then we may get less issues arising.

Firstly, the reporter acknowledged that you have a need to generate income and they are supportive of your hiring out the runway with some minor consideration which may make it safer from both sides.

The reporter advised that while the equipment on the runway was 60 m away, if it had been moved further along the main runway and not in the overfly area for the grass strip, it could have been a safer option without affecting the filming on the day.

They do routinely check NOTAM’s before each flight and were aware that the runway was closed on the day in question. However, there was no information on the use of pyrotechnics and a RPA on the day, or the fact that if they required the runway it could have been made available by ringing you to arrange a time. They would have appreciated this information as it would have allowed them to do a more accurate risk assessment of the flights in question. They also advised that there have been occasions previously where the runway was closed on the morning of the day of the closure where more timely information would have helped them to plan better.



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Last update 19 November 2015