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Ballina Airspace

The AFAP has dedicated years to advocating for increased attention from CASA regarding rising traffic volumes at Ballina. In November 2022, CASA recognized heightened aircraft activity and collision concerns in the Ballina/Byron Bay airspace. As a response, they proposed essential measures such as frequency separation and the establishment of a control tower. By November 2023, CASA unveiled its comprehensive plans for air traffic control implementation by mid-2025. Nevertheless, AFAP has voiced reservations concerning Airservices' reliance on a remote tower service for ensuring airspace safety.

In December 2022 CASA’s Office of Airspace Regulation (OAR) published the airspace review of Ballina, New South Wales.

The review assessed the airspace architecture as well as the aircraft activity within the airspace surrounding Ballina, Lismore, Casino and Evans Head aerodromes from the surface up to 8,500 feet above mean sea level.

You can Read the full report and feedback on the CASA Consultation Hub.

The report identified a growth in aircraft movements and an altered risk profile in the Ballina airspace since 2017, driven by the introduction of new carriers and additional airline services. Despite existing controls, incidents related to airspace collision risk continued to be reported*, with the rate of separation incidents increasing at a disproportionate rate to traffic growth. As a result, the report makes several recommendations, including the separation of common traffic advisory frequencies, installation of an Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast ground station, exploration of a regulatory framework for sport and recreational aircraft, and the establishment of a control zone and control area for Ballina Byron Gateway Airport. The report also recommended promulgating uncertified aerodromes and flight training areas in aeronautical publications and conducting safety promotion programs in relation to Ballina operations. Some of the recommendations were enacted on 16 June 2022, and the report advised referring to the AIP/NOTAM for further details.

On the 21st of November CASA announced that the airspace around Ballina Airport would be controlled by air traffic controllers from 2025.

  • The first phase will see the airspace reclassified and an approach control service provided by Airservices by 12th June 2025.
  • The second phase will see the establishment of a new aerodrome control service by Airservices no later than 27th November 2025.

Although this CASA plan to establish controlled airspace around Ballina is encouraging, AFAP are concerned that Airservices are inappropriately flagging a remote tower service as the solution. The AFAP as part of AusALPA created a position paper on remote towers in October 2022.

Here’s a summary of that paper.

The Australian Airline Pilots Association (AusALPA) emphasizes a cautious approach to the implementation of Remote Tower Services (RTS) in a detailed position paper. AusALPA asserts that full support for RTS is contingent on the establishment of safety standards equivalent to or surpassing current standards, along with agreed-upon procedures by all stakeholders.

Introduction:
The document provides an overview of Remote Towers, explaining that it involves performing air traffic services (ATS) at an airport remotely from a control tower. The relocation of controllers to a Remote Tower Centre (RTC) and the use of cameras and sensors for data provision are key components.

Concept Overview:
The concept of RTS fundamentally differs from traditional tower operations, utilizing cameras and sensors for virtual observation. It is adaptable to airports of all sizes, and various modes of operation include Single Remote Tower, Multiple Remote Tower, Contingency Tower, and Supplementary use of Remote Tower.

Considerations & Requirements:
AusALPA outlines critical considerations and requirements for the introduction of RTS, emphasizing the need for safety equivalence or improvement, comparable workload and procedures, and collaborative risk mitigation among stakeholders. The document stresses the importance of standardization, redundancy, and the evaluation of potential risks associated with RTS.

Multiple-mode Operations:
AusALPA expresses reservations about the less mature and challenging nature of multiple-mode RTS, citing the need for thorough research on human factors, operational implications, and adequate mitigation measures before supporting such operations.

Safety:
Safety is paramount, and AusALPA insists that any implementation of RTS should not compromise aviation safety. The association requires a demonstration of RTS benefits in terms of improved safety and efficiency, rather than cost savings.

Conclusions:
AusALPA acknowledges the potential benefits of RTS, particularly for small rural airports and as contingency towers. However, the association stresses the importance of meeting specific requirements to ensure and enhance safety levels. It suggests converting relevant regulations and committing to an ongoing review process that considers all stakeholders' input.

In summary, AusALPA cautiously supports the consideration of RTS in Australia but sets stringent conditions related to safety, standardisation, and stakeholder collaboration. The association advocates for a phased trial of RTS systems, primarily at low-capacity airports, to assess their effectiveness before broader implementation.

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*AFAP S&T team’s analysis of incidents in Ballina/Byron Bay airspace reported to ATSB in the last 5 years (1st January 2018 to 16th November 2023):

 Type of Incident  Number of Occurrences
 Total number of reported incidents  238
 Number of investigated incidents  3 (2 involved reduction in separation)
 Number of incidents involving loss of/reduction in separation  18 (2 were due to following ATC instructions)
 Number of incidents due to operational non-compliance with mandatory radio communication  87 [*see note below]
 Number of incidents due to bird strike  84
 Number of incidents due to other operational non-compliance  11 [*see note below]

*Notes:

Comms issues: the largest percentage of incidents were due to no mandatory broadcast made. Others included no response to radio calls, poor transmission, incorrect frequency used and Ballina frequency congestion.

Other operational non-compliance: operations against circuit direction, not following ATC instructions or airspace procedures, landing on occupied runway and runway incursions.

For more information about this topic please email technical@afap.org.au


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