Airservices Australia last week released a proposal to lower the base of Class E airspace between Cairns and Melbourne to 1500 feet above ground.
Currently, the lower level of the Class E is 8500 feet in most places.
IFR flights in Class E get a separation service from other IFR flights, but not from VFR flights, which don't require a clearance to transit. This has caused concerns among commercial IFR operators in the recent past because it is seen as being high-risk during approaches to regional airports.
"Airservices is seeking to change their service provision at 15 regional airports and across thousands of miles of low level airspace as part of the Airspace Modernisation Program," Airservices states in the consultation documents.
"Benefiting the entire east coast and regional Australia, they are leveraging Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADS-B) and radar surveillance assets to enhance their service delivery.
"It is proposed to lower the base of Class E airspace to 1500 ft (AGL) in medium and high density en route airspace between Cairns and Melbourne in 2021. This will replace the Class G airspace segments, while enhancing services provided to Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) and Visual Flight Rules (VFR) aircraft, similar to the changes we introduced in 2020."
Among the benefits Airservices has listed are:
- greater alignment to ICAO system and US practice
- improved safety for RPT operations
- reduced complexity for pilots and ATC
- CTA containment for IFR flights.
Airservices points out also that VFR flights can operate in Class E without restriction and believes the proposal "fosters equitable access" and caters for the current and future needs of airspace users.
However, some sectors of the GA community have expressed misgivings about the proposal because the change appears to have significant ramifications through the loss of large amounts of Class G airspace.
Among the many concerns is that radio carriage is mandatory for VFR flight in Class E, which may force non-equipped aircraft to fly closer to the terrain to remain in Class G, and that VHF radio coverage in some areas may not go down far enough to ensure reception at 1500 feet.
There are also fears within the GA community that safety will be compromised because ATC has no power to issue an IFR clearance through G class where most VFR traffic has been. With VFR now forced to operate in Class E, IFR flights will be given clearances through airspace where VFR traffic is unknown.
The full proposal and feedback process is on the CASA AvSEF website.