Safety topic from Episode 6

Operations in and around controlled airspace

If the thought of flying into a busy metropolitan aerodrome is intimidating, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Many pilots “put off” flying into places like Bankstown, Moorabbin, Cairns or even Alice Springs for fear of bungling the procedures. Pilots from regional and rural Australia, without the routine exposure of flying in and around a busy Class D or Class C airport, may lack confidence in dealing with Air Traffic Controllers. However there are plenty of educational tools available to help demystify the seemingly complex procedures at these locations. 

The most important point we’d like to make is that ATC IS YOUR FRIEND. They’re here to help you, so if you need any assistance whatsoever, use plain English and ask ATC for help. 

There are some well researched products available to help familiarise you with procedures in place at our Class D aerodromes around the country. 

  •   A user-friendly, interactive programme packed with photos, videos and location-specific procedures for operating at the following aerodromes:
    • Bankstown, Camden, Archerfield, Sunshine Coast, Cairns, Townsville, Moorabbin & Avalon, Launceston, Hobart/Cambridge, Parafield, Jandakot, Alice Springs & Darwin
  • CASA and Airservices have also produced a series of poster-sized wall charts for the use of flying schools around the country. These charts feature the current VTC of the particular aerodrome, overlaid with tips for avoiding airspace infringements, expected tracks of IFR arrivals and departures, location-specific procedures and pilot-view images of key Approach Points. Wall charts currently published are: Sydney Basin, Melbourne Basin, Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane & Sunshine Coast, Tasmania and Cairns/Townsville.

However, even with meticulous preparation, it’s easy to become disoriented or flustered when operating in an unfamiliar environment.  In all cases, when in doubt, advise ATC with your inbound call that you are “unfamiliar” and ask for help. 

Why not call ATC the day before and tell them you’re flying in. Give your callsign and the direction from which you’ll be flying, and ask them what instructions you can expect from them for your arrival. You could ask for a heads-up about which Approach Point they’re likely to nominate. That way, you can find it on your chart before you get there. It’s just another way of being prepared.


At busy aerodromes, frequency congestion can be kept to a minimum if pilots stick to correct readbacks of ATC instructions.

AIP Gen 3.4 4.4 lays out mandatory read-back requirements. You need to know these items:

    1. An ATC route clearance in its entirety, and any amendments;
    2. En route holding instructions;
    3. Any route and holding point specified in a taxi clearance;
    4. Any clearances, conditional clearances or instructions to hold short of, enter, land on, line up on, wait, take off from, cross, taxi or backtrack on, any runway. (Note: if you are issued an instruction involving a holding point, you must include those two words “holding point” in your read-back.)
    5. Any approach clearance;
    6. Assigned runway, altimeter settings directed to specific aircraft, radio and radio navigation aid frequency instructions. (Note: an “expectation” of the runway to be used is not to be read back.)
    7. SSR codes, data link logon codes;
    8. Level instructions, direction of turn, heading and speed instructions.

Just as importantly, know which items do not need to be read back, e.g. “Report at ...” and “Expect ...”.  These unnecessary read-backs clutter the radio frequency, and are not appreciated by busy Air Traffic Controllers with multiple aircraft to monitor.

Ref:  AIP ENR 1.1 Section 2