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!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Spot the airfield: Casino

Birds do it. Bees do it. Even pilots with over 10,000 hours do it! Let's play spot the airfield again. This time on a flight from Sydney to Brisbane in a Qantas Boeing 767-300. Our track took us right over the town of Casino in Northern NSW, just south of the Queensland border.

The horseshoe-shaped lake on the right-hand side of the airport is called Horseshoe Lagoon. Casino being about 30 nautical miles from the ocean, I reckon calling this pond a lagoon is a stretch of the imagination. Global warming may prove them right eventually though.

The main runway is 10/28, with a strip for gliders right next to it. I mean, not a parallel grass runway, the glider strip is adjacent to the runway and form part of the same runway surface, the limit of which is marked by just one set of gable markers.

Casino is named after its sister city of Cassino in Italy. No significant gambling activities there, which didn't prevent a facetious person at Airservices Australia from assigning the name GAMBL to a nearby IFR waypoint.

The airfield being uncertified it does not receive any RPT traffic, the locals go to nearby Lismore to catch up a Rex flight to Sydney.

The Casino region is a big cattle farming area. With the Casino Beef Week only a few weeks away, this is as good a reason as any other for a cross-country flight. For a very tasty $100+ burger, straight from the producer!