Mode Aviation
Reference No. AR201300036
Date reported 08 May 2013
Concern title Excessive flight crew workload during an approach to Sydney
Concern summary

The concern related to the excessive workload experienced by the flight crew during an approach to Sydney due to unnecessary instructions from ATC.

Industry / Operation affected Aviation: Air transport
Concern subject type Aviation: Flight crew

Reporter's concern

The reporter expressed a safety concern regarding the management of traffic flow by ATC during approach to Sydney which resulted in the flight crew being overloaded and reduced aircraft separation.

  1. The reporter stated that they were the pilot in command of a flight to Sydney with the first officer as the pilot flying for this sector. The crew were cleared for a RIVET 9 arrival RWY 34 L and when established on downwind they were passed to Director on frequency 126.1. The Director then cleared the crew to 4000 ft. Prior to abeam SOSIJ, while at 4000 feet with speed 250 kts, they were instructed to turn left onto heading 060 and descend to 2000 feet. The wind was 270 / 25 kts which meant a significant tailwind on base leg.
  2. The FO started to reduce speed at the same time as ATC requested a speed reduction to 210 kts. The higher than normal altitude at this stage in combination with the tailwind indicated that the crew would most likely have a glide path intercept from above. On heading 060, they were instructed to reduce speed further to 180 kts and asked if they could see an aircraft in their 1 to 2 o'clock position which was for RWY 34R. It was dusk and they could not sight the aircraft. They were then informed that other aircraft was IVP compliant but in any case they assumed that ATC would not have cleared the aircraft unless it was compliant with visual approach rules. This information was superfluous and caused unnecessary distraction.
  3. They were then instructed to turn onto heading 360 to intercept the LLZ and cleared for the visual approach. At the same time they received a TA alert and the FO sighted a Qantas aircraft in their 5 o'clock position. This was a different aircraft to the one which was previous mentioned by ATC. At this stage, the crew adjusted the heading through North so that they would turn inside the LLZ. The Director then asked if they could see a Saab. The reporter asked for which runway. The Saab was for 34L and the reporter could just make out that the aircraft was on short final. The reporter states there was no separation issue with this aircraft and having to sight this aircraft distracted further from the tasks that were required to be performed in the cockpit at that time.
  4. After being transferred to the tower, the crew were asked to reduce to minimum speed which had already been done. The crew heard an aircraft being lined up for departure and the crew did not receive a landing clearance until 150 ft while the other aircraft was still on the runway albeit committed to take-off.
  5. During this approach, the FO commented that he had 'load shed' much of what ATC was saying as he was fully occupied with flying the aircraft. This approach required out of normal sequence gear selection, after Flap 1, and speed brake in order to get down and slowdown with a strong tailwind and reduced track miles. Glide path intercept was from above and the threat was that this type of approach could become unstable.
  6. The Captain stated they had to answer numerous rapid fire calls from ATC which interrupted gear and flap selections, running the checklist and monitoring the FO who was managing a high workload situation.
    The reporter phoned ATC while parked at the gate in Sydney. They explained the events that had happened during the approach and were then told that "Sydney is a busy airport" and that they should expect TAs during an approach?
  7. The reporter states that the ATC representative was dismissive and disinterested in the safety aspects that were being raised and that ATC terminated the conversation.

Operator's response (Operator 1)

Airservices Australia (Airservices) appreciates the opportunity to respond to the reported safety concerns regarding the management of traffic flow by ATC during approach to Sydney.

Due to the de-identified nature of the report Airservices is unable to substantiate or investigate specific reported traffic flow management concerns. However, Airservices would like to provide the attached commentary to address the reporter's concerns.

Commentary in Response to REPCON

  1. SOSIJ is a position 13NM from touchdown to runway 34L (RWY 34L) at Sydney Airport. ATC considers an aircraft to be on profile abeam SOSIJ as it has at least 17NM to run, considering the turn onto base at A040 and assigned A020 even taking the tail wind into consideration.
  2. The controller may have informed the pilot of the other aircraft to mitigate a possible TCAS RA between aircraft approaching for the parallel runways.
  3. It is unusual for ATC to ask the pilot to sight an aircraft if separation is not close to the required minima. However it may have been mitigation against TCAS RA. However Airservices is not able to further comment without further details.
  4. Minimum spacing is often used by Sydney ATC to manage the traffic demand. If the circumstances above had occurred, the controllers would have been required to submit an occurrence report as it would be a breach of separation standard. Airservices is unable to confirm the details of the reported concern. It is noted that Airservices ESIR report [number] was submitted on [date] which appears to be similar to the occurrence described in the REPCON. Airservices is currently investigating the ESIR.
  5. The pilot would have been issued with track miles to run on first contact with the Sydney Director. The STAR for runway 34L (RWY34L) ends with an expectation of vectors to final and does not provide a definitive distance to run. The ATC procedure is based on a 3 degree approach path. There may have been a disconnect between the pilot's understanding of the distance to run and advice by Director on initial contact.
  6. The RWY34 independent parallel approach scenario is based on the highest acceptance rate at Sydney. Airservices utilises the required separation standards between multiple aircraft, but acknowledges that due to the closeness of the parallel runways and the aircraft systems that situations exist where aircraft receive a TCAS TA.
  7. Due to the de-identified nature of the report (i.e. without further information as to the date and time of the occurrence and the aircraft involved), it is difficult to investigate

Regulator's response (Regulator 1)

CASA has reviewed the REPCON and notes the response from Airservices. The issues identified are matters of air traffic service provision and therefore for Airservices to resolve.

CASA believes that Airservices could retrieve the logged telephone call from the pilot and a record of that discussion should be available for review.

Last update 24 March 2014