The reporter expressed a safety concern related to the ATC's reluctance to issue clearances for instrument approaches at night into [Location 1] Airport in VMC conditions.
The reporter advised that on a number of occasions they have arrived at [Location 1] requesting an instrument approach and both [Location 2] radar and [Location 1] Tower are reluctant to issue clearances for the instrument approach when VMC conditions exist at night. The minimum safe altitude (MSA) within 15 NM of [Location] is 2,500 ft. Descent below this altitude at night can only occur under certain circumstances that the reporter does not believe can be met.
Reporter’s comment: When pilots are questioned by controllers as to why they require an instrument approach and show reluctance to issue clearances on a regular basis, this is creating pressure on less experienced pilots to descend below the MSA illegally. The instrument approach is clear of all controlled airspace until entering the class D boundary at [Location 1].
Operator's response (Operator 1)
Airservices Australia (Airservices) appreciates the opportunity to respond to the reported safety concern related to the ATC’s reluctance to issue clearances for instrument approaches at night into [Location 1] Airport. Without any specific information regarding any actual occurrences to enable us to conduct a closer review, Airservices can only provide general response to this REPCON.
Airservices notes that the REPCON mentions that ‘ATC's are reluctant to issue clearances for instrument approaches at night into [Location 1] Airport in VMC conditions’. The instrument approaches into [Location 1] can affect the arrivals sequence and possible separation issues for arrivals both into [Location 1] and [Location 2] Airports. ATC must consider the sequencing, separation with other aircraft, and delays that will be incurred to both the [Location 1] and [Location 2] sequences to allow such an approach to proceed. ATC must consider all factors prior to granting such a request, which additionally includes aircraft priorities as outlined in AIP and the duty runway at [Location 1] as the instrument approaches from the west create a nose to nose confliction with other traffic departing the [Location 1] control zone.
Additionally, the REPCON also states that ‘the minimum safe altitude (MSA) within 15 NM of [Location 1] is 2,500 ft. Descent below this altitude at night can only occur under certain circumstances that the reporter does not believe can be met’. Airservices clarifies that it is up to the pilot to assess their requirements to fly the aircraft in a safe manner and advise ATC if they are unable to safely proceed with the flight. Practice instrument approaches, or instrument approaches in VMC, may be asked to maintain 1,500 ft depending on other traffic in the [Location 1] control zone. This assists with segregation from other traffic.
Airservices and CASA are currently jointly working to resolve airspace issues around [Location 1] as part of a joint coordination group. One of the objectives of the group is to reach a common understanding of the systemic factors that influence the current [Location 1] airspace system and air traffic management environment in order to facilitate safety and efficient arrival into, and departure from, the [Location 1] airport for both IFR and VFR aircraft.
Regulator's response (Regulator 1)
CASA has reviewed the REPCON and provides the following comments. CASA conducted surveillance of the operations at [Location 2] Terminal Control Unit (TCU) between 6 and 8 December 2016 and will conduct further surveillance of the [Location 2] TCU between 15 and 18 June 2017, which will include how Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) arrivals into [Location 1] are managed.