Australia’s airspace management critically deficient

Australia’s airspace management critically deficient

Results from a recent survey of Australian commercial pilots indicates air traffic delays in Australia are becoming more frequent, lengthy and severe yet often go undocumented.

Following a survey of members conducted in June, the Australian Federation of Air Pilots (AFAP) has concluded that there are implications for safety, compliance and crew fatigue resulting from the frequent airborne (unpublished) traffic delays pilots are experiencing.

Airservices Australia's increasing reliance on contingency measures like Traffic Information Broadcast by Aircraft (TIBA) raises significant risks and concerns regarding the air navigation agency’s ability to provide an adequate air traffic control (ATC) service.

To mitigate these risks, it is essential to invest in robust air traffic staffing levels, proper training, and effective communication between pilots and air traffic controllers.

The AFAP has noted Airservices Australia’s disingenuous suggestion that this severe and ongoing problem is not as a direct result of poor forecasting and management decisions about ATC staffing levels (during, after and even before the pandemic).

The AFAP has called for acknowledgement from Airservices Australia that staffing is not at required levels, as well as an independent review of staffing requirements.

“The AFAP calls on Airservices Australia to immediately put robust procedures in place to manage the airspace with the current staffing levels while it continues to increase air traffic controller numbers,” said AFAP President Captain Louise Pole.

“We also want to see notifications of foreseeable delays due to staffing issues published ahead of flights becoming airborne so that pilots can plan for extra holding or extra flight time.”

Undocumented delays threaten flight safety, operational efficiency and compliance with flight and duty limits. Yet without being properly reported, they cannot be assessed, mitigated, or prevented.

The AFAP has also asked its pilot members to report undocumented delays to:

·       The ATSB via the online form Occurrence Notification –Aviation. Reports to the ATSB help provide an independent perspective and build a fuller picture of the situation. 

·       The operator’s Safety Manager including details such as frequency and length of delays, potential contributory factors and any impacts.


Survey Findings

Key findings of a recent short survey of the AFAP’s pilot members flying in Australian airspace:

Pilots experience frequent delays and holding beyond published times, especially into major airports like Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. Many of these delays are unnotified until airborne. This gives rise to increased fuel consumption, flight crew fatigue and disrupted passenger schedules.

• Almost a third (31%) of respondents experienced delays multiple times a month

TIBA airspace is seen as unsafe and inefficient by most pilots. There is a lack of adequate notification for TIBA activations. Better communication and mapping of TIBA areas is needed.

In line with ICAO Annex 11, the use of TIBA procedures should only be a temporary measure, and efforts should be made to restore normal air traffic services as soon as possible to maintain optimal safety and efficiency in the airspace.

• Almost three-quarters (72%) have had an efficiency of flight issue due to contingency measures

Some usually-controlled airports are frequently operating on CTAF (Common Traffic Advisory frequency) procedures within published tower hours due to staff shortages. This is seen as unsafe for high-capacity air transport operations.

• 44% are encountering CTAF contingency monthly or more, with 15% reporting traffic proximity or separation issues in the last six months.

Pilot safety reports are not being submitted to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) because they are deemed by the operators to be below the mandatory reporting threshold. This means the safety concerns of pilots (who rely on their operator to forward reports on their behalf) are not being considered as valuable data for the ATSB.

• Almost half (47%) of pilots report that they are unsure of whether their operator is reporting occurrences of unpublished traffic holding


Protecting Australia's Pilots