Sharing airspace and equitable access is topical at the moment, thanks to the recent Airservices proposal to lower Class E airspace to 1,500ft AGL across the J curve of the east coast of Australia. By the time this article is published, RAAus expects to have a clearer understanding of this proposal and a way forward. Suffice to say now, RAAus and our sister sport organisations are keenly and thoughtfully interacting and responding to this proposal. A proposal which has the potential to severely limit non-transponder equipped RAAus aircraft by either requiring conduct of unsafe flights under 1,500ft AGL or imposing a requirement to fit and maintain a transponder, resulting in serious additional costs to access the airspace.

The proposed airspace change may lead an attentive pilot to consider the challenges and variations of airspace and flight operations possible in this country and indeed in the world.

As pilots, we fly a variety of aircraft, operations, locations and in a variety of airspace. From a private farm strip in G airspace, to non-controlled CTAF airports, controlled airports in Class D or C or cross-country flights in Class G or E, Australia certainly has large variations of possible operation types for recreational pilots. The locations also result in a variety of traffic. A private strip may be used by an occasional homebuilt or ultralight. Or the farm strip may be utilised by the family to conduct inspections of fence lines, water troughs, crop and stock health checks. That same strip may be used seasonally by aerial application aircraft, with the aircraft rarely operating above 300’ AGL.

The CTAF airport may have an aviation estate, with all the possible aircraft variations from RAAus, CASA, gliding, warbird, flight training and parachute operations. It may be surrounded by farmland with private strips or have been almost engulfed in suburbia with all the inherent neighbourly challenges.

Pilots could be flying for fun, conducting charters, flying cargo, conducting aerial surveys, taking photos, the sky is literally the limit. There may be a variety of training organisations with variations in circuit size, school expectations of what radio calls and procedures should be conducted, and solo students or test flights by a manufacturer.

The common areas for traffic convergence in the circuit results in a wide variety of standards in calls, procedures and conduct, which also leads pilots to form tribes. It’s a fact of human nature that tribal alliances invariably lead to a lack of empathy for the other person and their airborne needs.


As HFO of RAAus, I have seen several situations develop at airports and in airspace that appear to be a direct result of the lack of operational understanding, compliance or empathy for the other pilot’s operation.


Private pilots and commercial flights have operated in proximity, due to lack of understanding of each other’s operational needs. This includes factors from the private pilot perspective of poor or late radio calls, lacking familiarity of IFR arrival points. For the pilot of the heavy, this includes poor radio calls in relation to VFR references, lack of interaction and expectations that pilots will get out of the way. Large passenger carrying aircraft also operate with limited forward visibility and cannot easily manoeuvre in a circuit, resulting in a preference for straight in approaches where possible.

Non-powered aircraft have been reported as thermalling in the circuit area, not broadcasting intentions to other pilots and being cut off by powered aircraft. Powered aircraft have taken off over the top of gliders who have just landed and have not yet been able to clear the runway. Regardless of the circumstances, a key factor for many of the examples is a lack of understanding or compliance along with lack of consideration for the other pilot’s operational needs or safe flight limitations.


Other factors include pilots not building a clear picture of the traffic in the area, from radio calls and understanding of normal procedures. While VFR pilots are not required to research the IFR waypoints and arrival procedures at shared airports, some understanding of where an IFR heavy might be tracking to approach a runway would be useful in helping to build the picture.

Likewise, an IFR aircraft broadcasting an IFR reference point at a non-controlled airport will not assist a VFR pilot to understand where they are, where they are going and how to get out of the way. References to distance, bearing and height AMSL are AIP recommendations when mixed traffic operations exist.


The Airservices proposal mentioned earlier may lead the thoughtful pilot (and organisation) to consider why the proposal was put forward. Presumably Airservices (and possibly the airlines) have concerns about safe mixed operations at airports, just as any pilot would hold concerns when mixing it up with the big end of town. RAAus is keen to explore an overarching national strategy for airspace use, particularly when an expected and massive increase in traffic because of drones, VTOL and other unmanned, beyond line-ofsight operations are actually already here and gaining momentum.


As RAAus pilots, we are privileged to have members with a huge variety of experience levels, occupations, training and expertise. Just like on the roads, we could be sharing our airspace with smaller, larger, faster or slower aircraft. The pilots of the other aircraft may need specific flight path minimums, larger or smaller circuit sizes, have speed limitations or inertia issues. They may have priority to land due to lack of engines, lack of manoeuvrability, lack of visibility or other criteria. While most RAAus pilots are flying for private purposes with no imperative to land quickly as a result, commercial operators often have time, fuel and landing slot limitations. If pilots give some thought to what the other pilot’s operation and aircraft type may need, more collaborative, professional and safe operations will prevail.


Over the years of working for RAAus and as a CFI and private pilot, I have noticed a distinct tendency for pilots to form tribes. I am not talking the Ford versus Holden or AFL and NRL tribes, although at an aero club bar on a Saturday night, the tail wheel versus nose wheel tribe is definitely evident. I am talking about the tendency for pilots to assume that pilots who operate aircraft, which are different to their aircraft (be it RAAus, CASA, gliding, warbirds etc.), don’t operate as professionally, or don’t make radio calls as they should, haven’t been trained correctly, or don’t operate in the circuit ‘the right way’, or don’t think ‘the right way’.

To make this issue worse, pilot tribes tend to socialise within their own circles, leading to more misunderstanding, more mistrust and greater expectation bias. Pilots, regardless of the aircraft they are in, are human. And humans, as we know, make mistakes. These mistakes can be simple. An oversight, poor training or lack of understanding, resulting from overload, distraction, stupidity (we have all been there!) or poor judgement. However, mistakes in aviation have the potential to be serious or even fatal.

A simple solution could be to have a discussion with other pilots or arrange a shared briefing night where operators explain their operational needs and expectations. This will go a long way towards helping pilots understand each other’s needs and will help make the skies safer and friendlier for all pilots.

Likewise, an airport flight operations safety meeting, leaving the tribes at the door, to discuss interactions at the airport – agree on common procedures, discuss incidents, brief each other on operational needs or get together to chat without the tribal influences would remind each other we all generally fly because we enjoy it. We should be able to interact professionally to keep these flights polite, respectful and most importantly, to keep each other safe. The loss of any pilot or aircraft hurts us all.

In the end, we all fly because we love it, we should interact in the air with each other and talk to each other on the ground. If we don’t, proposals like the Airservices Australia broad-reaching change to Class E airspace has the potential to force us into airspace we don’t need. This will result in additional equipment which, while it might improve some aspects of visibility for aircraft, may result in pilots watching screens instead of keeping their eyes outside the cockpit and using the radio. It is up to us all to remove the tribal limitations, reach out and talk to each other.