Sunday, May 30, 2010

Changes to Australian airspace on June 3rd

On June 3rd, a number of changes to Australian airspace classification as well as operations at non-towered aerodromes will come into effect. Whatever one may think of the changes themselves, the communication campaign run by CASA was quite impressive and, I like to believe, effective.

I read the briefing package sent to me by CASA, I attended the workshop at Bankstown and I used the online training package. I even listened to Peter Gibson, corporate communication manager at CASA, explain the changes on the always excellent Plane Crazy Down Under podcast. And I noticed the big flashing sign at the main entrance of Bankstown airport on my way to the pilot shop.

So, what are these changes about? In short, GAAP aerodromes will become Class D aerodromes, but not the Class D as we know it, a new kind of Class D that's modelled on the FAA Class D, not the ICAO Class D. This despite the fact that one of the stated goals of the changes was stronger ICAO compliance. Go figure. And airports already in Class D will of course switch to the new Class D.

So we'll end up with three types of aerodromes instead of the current four: Class C where separation is provided by ATC through radar identification, Class D where separation is provided by ATC in a purely procedural manner, and non-towered aerodromes in Class G where pilots provide their own separation using the good old see and avoid principle.

Except that see and avoid becomes alerted see and avoid since the carriage and use of a radio at all certified, registered and military aerodromes becomes compulsory on June 3rd.

In former GAAP aerodromes, taxi clearances will now be required, but only for taxiing in the so-called maneuvering area, which contains the taxiways in direct proximity to the runways and the run-up bays. No need for a clearance to move an aircraft from one end of the apron to the other for refuelling for example.

Going from GAAP to the new Class D, VMC criteria for vertical cloud clearance are increased from clear of cloud to at least 500ft below clouds and 1000ft above. This may have major consequences for circuit operations since it is not uncommon to have good visibility with ceilings below 1500ft. Will ATC instruct pilots to fly circuits at 800ft if the cloud base is at 1300ft? Or not issue clearances for circuits at all and only allow VFR pilots to arrive or leave the control zone under Special VFR? The CASA and Airservices Australia representatives at the workshop made it clear that they will be monitoring the impact of the changes closely and may issue amendments or fine-tune local procedures at certain aerodromes using NOTAMs.

The main changes at non-towered aerodromes concern circuit entry and altitude. We are now allowed, although this is not recommended, to join the circuit on base. The larger changes are about circuit altitudes: GA aircraft remain at 1000ft AGL, but ultralight with a cruise speed under 55 knots need to fly 500ft circuits, while faster airplanes, with cruise speeds above 150kt , typically turboprops such as the SAAB 340, will be flying 1500ft circuits.

I'm curious to see how this will work out in practice. I mean, whichever altitude they fly a circuit at, all aircraft need to get down to ground level eventually. Will we be safer with different types of aircraft at different speeds and different altitudes, but with the added risk of descending or climbing through someone else's circuit altitude? At least with everybody at the same altitude faster aircraft could safely overtake slower ones.

One side-effect of this rule is that overfly altitude will mechanically move from 1500ft AGL up to 2000ft AGL if turboprops may be around. Spotting the windsock suddenly became a lot harder. There is an interesting bit of information found in the CAAP 166-1(0) which states that aerodromes with runways lengths below 1400m are unlikely to receive turboprop traffic, hence overfly can take place as in the past at 1500ft.

I realise I haven't been blogging too much recently, mostly because I didn't do too much flying, and the flying I did, although extremely enjoyable, was not terribly blogworthy. But that's all going to change soon with a planned endorsement to fly the glass cockpit DA40 that the club just put online, and a very exciting trip to Brisbane in Piper Arrow VH-SFJ planned for Queen's Birthday week-end with a few other Schofields Flying Club pilots.

Which will give us plenty of opportunities to try out the new Class D procedures at Bankstown, Coffs Harbour, Archerfield and Sunshine Coast. And hopefully also visit a few non-towered aerodromes on the way. More blogging to come, more photos and hopefully a few new videos thanks a set of camera mounts I offered myself as a birthday gift. Stay tuned!


scampbell said...

Hi Julien,

Good post and it will be interesting to see how smoothly the adoption of Class D progresses. I can't help thinking ATC staff will have the hardest job on the planet over the next few weeks.
Fortunately I was able to pass my GFPT today, 2 days before Class D - frankly the idea of learning a raft of procedural changes in addition to competently controlling the 172 may have been beyond my limits :)

Look forward to hearing your impressions of the DA40, and thanks for the heads up on Plane Crazy, great show!



mlesser said...

i probably should read all that stuff and get brushed up on it, as i flew in and out of class D for well over a year in Alice. Seems like everything is going to be a bit more standardised which is good.

As for the cct procedures, its probably a good thing if it limits the amount of planes in the cct. As for the cloud, im pretty sure if its for operations within the aerodrome you can do ccts if its clear of cloud, although dont quote me on it.

Good to see more of your blog

Fly Me Friendly said...

Hi Julien,

Thanks heaps for the link to our podcast - much appreciated :)



Julien said...

Thanks guys for the comments! Indeed, this will be a busy time for ATC and all, I'm curious to see how it all works out. I just published a new blog post with extra info about the Class D changes, a few minor things were fixed by way of NOTAMs.

Congrats Sean on passing the GFPT test! Taking passengers onboard for the first time, even if it's only for a local flight to the training area, is a big thing, that's when you truly measure how much trust passengers put in your flying abilities!

hogey said...

Hey I read some of your earlier posts and and pleased to have stumbled across this one while googling the gaap to class d stuff. I am pre-ppl at Archerfield and enjoyed reading your PPL rundown - my belated congrats!

Re - circuit heights - I thought that they have been that way for a while? Or was it 800 ft for ultra lights? I am not sure about the overfly heights as 1500ft is what I was taught so is that 2000ft new? Makes sense either way.

cheers John

Julien said...

Thanks John for the comment. For overfly height, it depends on the aerodrome, if you suspect that turboprops or jets may land there then it's 2000ft, otherwise 1500ft.
Good luck with the rest of the PPL!