• Ballina-Byron Gateway is now has an active Surveillance Flight Information Service (SFIS). (Google Earth image)
    Ballina-Byron Gateway is now has an active Surveillance Flight Information Service (SFIS). (Google Earth image)

A review into the airspace around Ballina Byron Gateway airport in northern NSW has recommended controlled airspace (CTA) be established with special access for sport and recreational aircraft.

CASA's Office of Airspace Regulation (OAR) released a draft report this morning that made nine recommendations, which included establishing a Class D tower no later than 30 November 2023.

OAR conducted the review of the Ballina-Lismore-Casino airspace after an increase in aircraft movements since 2017 was noted and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau recorded 41 safety occurences from 1 July 2020 to 31 July 2021.

Among those occurences were 15 communication issues, five separation issues and one collision with terrain.

"Considerable growth in aircraft movements, particularly passenger transport movements is apparent since 2017 in the Ballina airspace," the OAR report states. "The risk profile has altered during that period driven by the introduction of new carriers and the provision of additional airline services.

"A number of successive risk mitigation measures have been introduced during that same period in a graduated fashion, with each intended to improve on the former. Incidents continue to be reported validating the concerns of many stakeholders and operators.

"Furthermore, these incidents indicate the prevalence of potentially unacceptable airspace risk despite the existing controls."

One such mitigation measure was to introduce a Surveillance Flight Information Service (SFIS) in August last year. Airservices also created a Broadcast Area around the airport operating in conjuction with Certified Air/Ground Radio Service (CA/GRS) already in operation.

The OAR report made nine recommendations, two of which have already been implemented.

  1. Separate the Lismore and Casino Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF) from the Ballina CTAF by 16 June 2022.
  2. Evans Head Airport should be allocated the common CTAF (126.7 MHz) by 16 June 2022.
  3. CASA should direct Airservices to install an ADS-B ground station to improve surveillance as soon as practicable but no later than December 2022.
  4. CASA should explore a suitable regulatory framework that can safely authorise sport and recreational aircraft and pilot certificate holders to operate in the controlled airspace associated with Ballina where pilot certificate holders meet CASA specified competency standards and the aircraft are appropriately equipped.
  5. CASA’s Stakeholder Engagement Division should conduct additional safety promotion programs in relation to Ballina operations as soon as practicable, including reinforcing the mandatory radio calls required when operating within the Ballina MBA and providing guidance for ASAOs to might develop a suitable scheme and make application to CASA for approval, under the regulatory framework identified in recommendation 4.
  6. Uncertified aerodromes and flight training areas around Ballina should be promulgated in AIPs to increase pilot situational awareness.
  7. As an interim action pending the completion of Recommendation 8, CASA should demand CTA around Ballina with a base which is as low as possible. ATC services should be provided during all periods of scheduled Air Transport Operations and include an Approach Control Service to aircraft operating under the Instrument Flight Rules (IFR), separation between IFR aircraft, VFR traffic information to all aircraft, and sequencing of all aircraft to and from the runway. CASA and Airservices should jointly explore opportunities to detect non-cooperative aircraft or vehicles in the immediate vicinity of the runway. The services should be established as soon as practicable but no later than 15 June 2023.
  8. CASA should make a determination that Ballina will become a controlled aerodrome with an associated control zone and control area as soon as practicable, but no later than 30 November 2023.
  9. CASA should prepare and finalise an Airspace Change Proposal (ACP) for a control zone and control area steps in preparation for the implementation of Recommendations 7 and 8.

Recommendations 1 and 2 were implemented last month and came into effect today.

The OAR report recognised the impact a Class D tower would have on recreational aviation currently operating in and around the Ballina-Byron area.

"The establishment of a CTR around Ballina may also have a detrimental effect on operations from the private airfields in the area," it notes. "The sport and recreational aircraft which operate from these airfields may require an airways clearance when the aerodrome control service is active.

"The hang-gliding and paragliding operations at Pat Morton Lookout (Lennox Head) would be affected by the declaration of a CTR due to the proximity to Ballina, approximately 2.7 nm northeast of the Ballina non-directional beacon (NDB).

"Consideration of a Letter of Agreement between the hang-gliding club and Airservices or an exemption issued by CASA may address access issues for the club.

"Similarly, RPAS operated within the 3NM of the airport would require CASA approval and coordination with Airservices."

Airservices Australia has estimated the cost of establishing a Class D tower to be $17-20 million with annual operating costs of $4-5 million. OAR has noted that industry estimates for setting up a remote digital tower to be $4-5 million.

The OAR draft airspace review report is open for feeback until 17 July and can be accessed via the CASA Consultation Hub.

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