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Mode Aviation
Reference No. AR201500085
Date reported 14 October 2015
Concern title Safety around Palm Island Airport
Concern summary

The concern related to communication problems around Palm Island Airport.

Industry / Operation affected Aviation: Air transport
Concern subject type Aviation: Airport

Reporter's concern

The reporter expressed a safety concern relating to the safety around the Palm Island Airport.

The reporter advised that there is a high chance of a mid-air collision occurring. This is due to communication problems on the CTAF and operators conducting straight in approaches to the opposite direction runway with a tail wind component.

The reporter has advised that Palm Island operates on multicom 126.7, but a number of other airports in the area are also using this frequency including Bowen, Charters Towers, Ayr, Innisfail and airports as far north as Cairns, which results in aircraft over transmitting on the frequency. There are also communication problems on the ground, with a number of buildings shielding transmissions from taxiing aircraft, which means over transmission is a common occurrence.

There are also problems with operators conducting straight-in approaches. These operators are not joining the circuit direction in use and often result in a conflict with a departing aircraft sometimes coming head to head with a departing aircraft.

The reporter has suggested the following in relation to these issues:

  1. Setup a unique frequency for Palm Island.

i. This will decrease the chances of over transmission by CTAF traffic in Bowen, Charters Towers, Ayr, Innisfail, and even up to Cairns.

ii. This will also decrease the problems with shielding on the ground

  1. Restrict straight-in approaches counter to circuit direction

i. At present some operators are conducting straight-in approaches counter to the wind direction, with the intent of saving time

ii. With the limited radio communication, this becomes unsafe, literally putting aircraft head-on as has happened three times in the last three weeks.

iii. This question then has to be raised: is conducting a straight-in landing with a tailwind component conducive of safe operations?

Operator's response (Operator 1)

Airservices Australia (Airservices) appreciates the opportunity to review the reported concern relating to the safety around Palm Island Airport.

Airservices considers that this safety issue should be referred to CASA for a response as common traffic advisory frequency (CTAF) changes are requested through CASA and the Regional Airspace and Procedures Advisory Committees (RAPAC) process.

Regulator's response (Regulator 1)

CASA has reviewed the REPCON and notes that neither Defence nor Airservices have particular comments regarding provision of a discrete Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF) around Palm Island.

Airservices is however, concerned over any assumption that a new frequency will necessarily overcome on-ground coverage issues. The new 'Cassowary Coast' Broadcast Area CTAF on 132.9 took effect to the north of Palm Island on 12 November. This removes from 126.7 MHz most, if not all, fixed and rotary wing operations to the north of Ingham, which includes:

  • at least two regular skydiving operations (at Innisfail and Tully),
  • Cairns/island traffic (to/from Bedarra Island and Dunk Island), and
  • a variety of training operations, from ab initio to instrument approaches (at Innisfail). The latter has a particularly high starting altitude over water due to terrain.

On the new 'Cassowary Coast' Broadcast Area CTAF of 132.9 MHz, two of the aerodromes are 14/32 runway-aligned (Innisfail and Cardwell/Dallachy) as is Palm Island, significantly reducing the number of radio broadcasts that could be misinterpreted as applying to the Palm Island runway configuration.

The North Queensland RAPAC has also suggested some other possible measures for consideration by CASA. This matter will be added to the RAPAC Agenda for the North Queensland meeting in April 2016.


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Last update 15 April 2016