Thursday, February 25, 2010

Australian report: Avoidable accidents due to low-level flying

by B. N. Sullivan

Australian Transport Safety Bureau logoThe Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has published the first report in a new series of pilot education documents. The first report focuses on aircraft accidents involving unnecessary and unauthorized low-level flying.

In a press statement that accompanied the release of the Low-level Flying report, the ATSB says:
Between 1999 and 2008, there were 147 fatal accidents in Australia reported to the ATSB involving aerial work, flying training, private, business, sport and recreational flying. Of those fatal accidents, at least six were associated with unauthorised, and unnecessary, low flying. Those six accidents, along with a seventh non-fatal accident, presented here as case studies, were chosen by aviation safety investigators at the ATSB to highlight the inherent dangers of unauthorised low flying and to offer some lessons learnt from each case. It is hoped that these lessons learnt will help pilots make more accurate risk assessments and better decisions before electing to fly at low levels.

At low altitudes, there are many obstacles to avoid and there is a lower margin for error. Recognising the risks and hazards of low-level flying, CASA requires pilots to receive special training and endorsements before they can legally conduct low-level flying. In the accidents below, most of the pilots had neither of these, and none had a legitimate reason to be flying below 500 ft. Some legitimate reasons for flying at low level include aerial stock mustering, crop spraying, and fire fighting operations. For most private pilots, there is generally no reason to fly at low levels, except during takeoff and landing, conducting a forced or precautionary landing, or to avoid adverse weather conditions.

What is sad and unfortunate about the accidents described in the following case studies is that they were all avoidable.
The report is available for download, free of charge, here: Avoidable Accidents, No. 1: Low-level Flying - ATSB (24-page 'pdf' file)