Safety in the vicinity of non-towered aerodromes


Most aerodromes in Australia are located in uncontrolled airspace and do not have an air traffic control presence. At these non-towered aerodromes, and in the vicinity of them, pilots are responsible for making themselves aware of nearby aircraft and maintaining separation. This report aims to give pilots an appreciation of the types of safety events that have been associated with operations at non-towered aerodromes and provide education on expected behaviours to assist pilots in being prepared for the risks.

Generally, operations at non-towered aerodromes can be considered to be safe, but this relies on all pilots maintaining awareness of their surroundings and of other aircraft, and on flying in compliance with procedures, while being observant, courteous and cooperative. Most of the 709 airspace-related safety occurrences reported to the ATSB between 2003 and 2008 at, or in the vicinity of non-towered aerodromes, were incidents, but they also included 60 serious incidents and six accidents (mid-air and ground collisions). Most of the occurrences involved conflicts between aircraft, or between aircraft and ground vehicles. The most common types of occurrences involved ineffective communication between pilots operating in close proximity, separation issues, incorrect assessment of other aircraft's positions and intentions, relying on the radio as a substitute for an effective visual lookout, or a failure to follow published procedures.

This report also documents changes in the number of aircraft movements and changes in the traffic mix into 20 non-towered aerodromes since 2003. Aerodromes experiencing significant growth could potentially be exposed to higher risk. Port Macquarie, Kununurra, Ballina, and Mt. Gambier all have experienced a recent increase in large passenger transport aircraft movements.

This report looked only at incidents and accidents prior to the introduction of changes by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) to Civil Aviation Regulation (CAR) 166 on 3 June 2010, which affected procedures at all non-towered (non-controlled) aerodromes. Although the CAR 166 changes may in time be shown to reduce incidents and accidents, a number of issues highlighted by the occurrences documented in this report are likely to persist at non-towered aerodromes, but associated risks can be minimised through greater awareness of the importance of clear and concise communications, effective visual lookout and adherence to published procedures.

Type: Research and Analysis Report
Investigation number: AR-2008-044(2)
Author(s): ATSB; Taylor, R. P.
Publication date: 10 November 2010
ISBN: 978-1-74251-093-4
Publication number: Sept10/ATSB124
Related: General Aviation
Last update 07 April 2014
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