Staying clear of other aircraft in uncontrolled airspace

The ATSB often receives reports from pilots that another aircraft is flying too close to them in uncontrolled airspace. Not surprisingly, three quarters of these reports involve aircraft within 10 NM from a non-towered aerodrome.

It is difficult for pilots to spot another aircraft through visual observations alone.

There are twice as many near-collision notifications where pilots had no prior warning of other aircraft in their vicinity, compared with situations when a pilot received an alert by radio, or via traffic avoidance system like TCAS. Supplementing your visual lookout with radio and TCAS information will increase your chance of detecting other aircraft before it's too late. This is known as alerted see-and-avoid.
Insufficient communications between aircraft is the most common cause of safety incidents near non-towered aerodromes.

Minimise your risk
The aim at all times is to achieve radio-alerted see-and-avoid, to be aware of other traffic, and position your aircraft appropriately to prevent conflicts with that traffic. Observing these simple points will help to you to do this.

  • Maintain a lookout for other aircraft at all times.
  • Get a radio, and always make the standard broadcasts - even when you think there is no nearby traffic.
  • Check that your radio is
    o    on the correct frequency (get into the habit of listening out for the beepback)
    o    can be heard (momentarily disable the squelch when setting up the radio to check that the volume is set and the headset is connected)
    o    is transmitting (monitor your radio if it has a transmit indication, or do a radio check with someone nearby.
  • Achieve radio alerted see-and-avoid by making all of the standard broadcasts within 10 NM of a non-towered aerodrome.
  • Use the same procedures at all non-towered aerodromes, unless otherwise stated in the En Route Supplement Australia (ERSA).
  • Be aware that any radio-equipped aircraft could be conducting straight-in approaches at non-towered aerodromes
  • Avoid overflying aerodromes where possible, and take note of IFR inbound and outbound routes.

Early knowledge is the most effective way to stay clear of other aircraft. This works best if you use all your systems to tell others where you are.

More information
You can find more information on avoiding aircraft via the publication A pilot's guide to staying safe in the vicinity of non-towered aerodromes.

Type: Educational Fact Sheet
Publication date: 1 July 2011
Related: Airspace
Last update 07 April 2014