Safety topic from Episode 2

NOTAMs and Military Restricted Airspace

Surprises while you’re flying are highly overrated. Seriously, isn’t there enough going on in your day? You’re trying to refold your WAC with one hand, without knocking your passenger out, meantime hoping you’re vaguely on track since you’ve somehow managed to dial an airport in Namibia into your GPS and you’re really wishing that little red light that keeps coming on would go away. 

In a weak moment you’ve signed up for taking the new in-laws on their first flight with you and you’ve chosen the sleepy but picturesque little airfield just over the ranges. They’re going to love it, particularly Bruce, who’s thrown his clubs into the back of your little Cessna, ever optimistic of a quick nine holes.

Now it’s time for the surprise. You’ve finally identified the airport in the distance and a micro slash of silver catches your eye out to the left. You don’t know it yet, but it’s the lead aircraft in a huge gaggle of gliders all competing for the thermal action under that exact cloud you’re about to skim past. There’s a soaring competition on here today; everyone’s excited, except maybe you because you forgot to read your NOTAMs before you left home. Oh, and now Geraldine’s feeling sick.

Do your homework

NOTAMs need to become your best friends. The more often you read them, the more you’ll “get it”. A NOTAM is issued to put you in the picture when something irregular is happening at or near an aerodrome or within a specified area.  Accessing and reading current NOTAMs is an integral part of your flight planning. They are an effective means of advising pilots of changing circumstances at a particular location, and the time frame, areas and levels that these changes will affect.  

Obtaining the latest NOTAMs is just as important at non-controlled aerodromes as it is at towered ones. For example, popular events such as the annual race meets at places like Louth, Clare and Birdsville attract a large number of visiting aircraft, and special procedures will likely be in place that you will need to follow. There might be a cadet flying camp on at Bathurst, or some scheduled blasting at Mt Isa, a hot air balloon ho-down at Mudgee, or maybe the main runway at Kalgoorlie is being resurfaced this week. These are all good tips you’d love to have a clue about before you turn up in the circuit, agreed?   

Military Restricted Area NOTAMs

Whilst we’re on the subject of accessing NOTAMs, you are required to check the status of any restricted area along and nearby your planned route. 

Military restricted areas (RAs) are used for many activities; any of which could be hazardous if you accidentally stray into these areas without a clearance when they are active. RAAF air traffic controllers around the country could keep an audience in raptures for hours with the serious mayhem that violations of restricted airspace have caused over the years. Such violations are a sign of inexperience, incomplete pre-flight planning and in some cases bone laziness on the part of a pilot. RAs are marked on Visual Terminal Charts (VTC), Visual Navigation Charts (VNC) and on the En Route Charts (ERC).

Be practical, however. Save yourself some hassle, and make sure the NOTAM for a particular RA actually affects your route. Many, for example, apply to levels from, say, 9500ft upwards and can be disregarded if you’re happily flying along at 5500ft.  Read off the RA designator from your chart, then head to the PRD section of your ERSA where you’ll find information on each designated parcel of airspace. 

RAs are either active at set times as per DAH/ERSA and charts, or by NOTAM. A number of these areas are activated at very short notice so you must always ensure you have up-to-date information about the status of the areas.

Entering PRD areas or Airspace Group codes when requesting a Location Briefing will provide current NOTAMs on the status of that restricted airspace. All military controlled airspace has its own code (for AVFAX) and abbreviation (for NAIPS). Remember that not all PRD areas are activated by NOTAM so don’t assume the area is de-active simply because there is no current NOTAM.

Conditional RA Status

In order to assist with shared use of military airspace, all RAs have been allocated an “RA Status”.  This status will give an indication as to the likelihood of obtaining a clearance to fly through restricted airspace. 

The procedure for getting a clearance for these areas is the same as that for getting a clearance into civil class C airspace. You will need to call the appropriate frequency as per the ERSA but you should have a backup plan if a clearance is not available. Remember if in any doubt as to the conditional status of an RA, assume RA3 and avoid.

Tindal Military Airspace (TNX) in the Northern Territory is a massive area where the various areas of military controlled restricted airspace are constantly changing. For an in-depth explanation of Tindal’s airspace, check out the Darwin/Tindal page of OnTrack on the CASA website

But remember, if you are ever unsure as to the status of any airspace through which you are planning to fly, always ask. As a last resort once you are airborne, contact ATC on your Area frequency and request the status of the relevant RA.  Remember, you may not be aware of the existence of any restricted airspace unless you have studied your ERC low chart, a vital part of your flight planning. A WAC and a moving map GPS is not a good enough combination. 

Pre-flight checklist

Use the following checklist as a tool to ensure you retrieve all NOTAMs relevant to your flight.

  • Aerodrome NOTAM (include any alternate aerodromes), if planning to refuel you MUST contact the aerodrome operator (as provided in ERSA). Australia does not NOTAM fuel availability except for major catastrophes or long-term outages due to remote area flooding.
  • Sub-FIR NOTAM (7 series – 7**0)
  • PRD NOTAM (individual PRD or Airspace Groups)
  • Head Office NOTAM (YSHO). Head Office NOTAMs are those which are not limited to a particular area, but which affect Australia as a whole.

For assistance with reading NOTAMs, refer to the NOTAM section of AIP GEN 3.1, or speak to the Briefing Office 1800 805 150. The Briefing Office is also the number to call for assistance with location codes, FIR codes, PRD codes and other briefing requirements.