Safety topic from Episode 7


One of the prime factors taken into consideration when designing this itinerary for our second Out-n-Back series was the weather. As the first series covered south-eastern Australia, we wanted to turn the tables and bring you a completely different set of considerations with relation to terrain, airspace and climate.

When it was agreed the route would include far north Queensland and the north-eastern coastline, the first decision needed to be timing. Number one factor on any air safari is everyone’s safety and comfort, right? 

So let’s take a broad look at Australia’s climate calendar. We all know the basics - go north or central Australia in winter, south in summer. You could fry an egg on the wing at Tibooburra in January, or get blown off the map up at Cape York over Christmas. November is going to be way more appealing in Tassie than Birdsville, and I’d plan a winter visit to Darwin any day rather than an icy July welcome at Jindabyne. You get the picture. 

So we knew to avoid the wet season throughout northern Australia, roughly between October and February/March which is uncomfortably hot and prone to wildly unstable weather patterns. Our choice of conducting the safari in August worked very well. We based this choice on the high probability of it being one of the most reliable VFR weather windows, avoiding late winter winds and the onset of the heat and instability of the monsoon season of the tropical north. 

Practical example

At every stage of your safari, it’s wise to have a heads-up on what the weather is forecast to be doing not just today and tomorrow, but also for the next few days. Check out the synoptic charts to see how the weather patterns heading your way may impact your onward journey.  

So, whilst in blazing sunshine and calm winds at Mt Isa, Catherine took some time discussing the longer range forecast with the crews. The onwards route was to take them north from Mt Isa to Normanton to refuel, then Karumba for an overnight stay, then the following day up to Kowanyama and on to Horn Island. 

The following day’s forecast was good, however the day after that promised some unsettled weather on the forecast. They discussed their options, looking at where they could stop overnight en route if necessary, or change their route to avoid the weather. They looked at refuelling options in each of the scenarios, and had to research accommodation availability as well. 

As it turned out, they got as far as Kowanyama and decided that the VFR window for reaching Horn Island was now reducing, and they elected to cut that waypoint out of the itinerary, and head straight across to the east coast to Cooktown. This meant stopping at the tiny outpost of Laura for fuel, which involved phone calls to the drum refueller to confirm he and his fuel supply were both there, and available, and to discuss the condition of the strip. Oh, and while Catherine had him on the phone, she also asked him about local weather conditions there.

Take-home tip:  always be ready to revise your itinerary if weather deteriorates on your route. 

Passenger comfort

If you are confident of clear skies ahead on your journey, it’s perhaps time to consider the fine print on your forecast. If you see high temperatures and strong headwinds on the agenda, try and work your timing so you are not being confronted with this at the end of a long day flying. These conditions, to which our tropical north is particularly prone, can produce relentless turbulence, which is really fatiguing for the pilot and very uncomfortable for the passengers. 

As a general rule of thumb, flying in the cooler, more stable air of the morning is generally more comfortable than tackling the possible build-up of heat and instability that is common on hot days.   

From the Tips department

  • If your EFB doesn’t have the function to overlay this electronically, draw a pencil line on your PCA to show where that front or line of weather is going to be and note the time next to it.  
  • You know that land line number at the end of the Area Forecast? That’s the number of a qualified weather adviser at Airservices Australia who you may call if you wish to discuss the weather forecast and gain a clearer picture of what is expected. 
  • Treat AWIS and AWIB information with care. It is only as accurate as the equipment which records it allows, and conditions like cloud base, mist and fog may be quite different to what has been reported half an hour ago. 
  • Read through AIP GEN 3.5 and give yourself a refresher on all the terms and codes in an aviation forecast.