• Ballina Byron Gateway Airport in northern NSW. (Google Earth image)
    Ballina Byron Gateway Airport in northern NSW. (Google Earth image)

A close call at Ballina Byron Gateway Airport in September last year has prompted the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) to issue a warning about the importance of see-and-avoid separation.

Cessna C208 Caravan VH-SJJ and Robinson R22 VH-MFH came into conflict on runway 06 on 19 September 2017 when the Caravan departed for Nambucca Heads whilst the helicopter was descending to the runway ahead of it. The instructor in MFH elected to land on a grass area beside the runway to avoid a potential colllision with the departing aeroplane.

According to the ATSB report released today, the Certified Air/Ground Radio Operator (CAGRO) advised the Cessna pilot of the Robinson's operation, but the desire to depart before an approaching A320 landed distracted the pilot.

The pilot of SJJ reported that although he had a clear view of the runway ahead, he did not see the helicopter at any stage.

"The CA/GRO acknowledged that the C208 pilot already had traffic information on the inbound Airbus and advised, ‘...on your right hand side there is helicopter JKH, also...’ and following a four-second pause, ‘...conducting operations runway 06, helicopter MFH’. At 1106:55, the C208 pilot responded ‘thanks for that and SJJ is entering and rolling runway 06’", the ATSB reported.

"At this time, MFH was on short final for runway 06 at approximately 200 ft above the runway and approaching a point that was about two thirds of the way along runway 06. The instructor realised that the C208 was departing and transmitted that MFH was ‘runway 06 for the runway’. That call partly over-transmitted on the C208 pilot’s response to the CA/GRO.

"The instructor took control of the helicopter and vacated the runway to the north followed by a call to advise their location at the‘northern grass.’ The C208 pilot continued the take-off and departure to Nambucca Heads."

The ATSB later commented at the Cessna pilot entered and departed the runway "prior to positively identifying the helicopter on short final."

In the Safety Message included in the report, the ATSB highlighted the importance of a good visual look-out at non-controlled airports.

"Pilots are reminded to apply effective see-and-avoid principles when operating at or near non-controlled aerodromes. While broadcasting on and monitoring of the CTAF is the key way for pilots to establish  situational and traffic awareness, it is also important to maintain a constant visual lookout to validate any operating assumptions and avoid traffic conflicts."

The full report on the incident is on the ATSB website.


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