Over the past few months, we’ve seen large sections of restricted TIBA airspace established by NOTAM up Australia’s East Coast in both the YMMM/Melbourne and YBBB/Brisbane FIRs – one of the busiest air corridors in the world.
In fact, there were 340 instances of uncontrolled airspace between June 2022 and April 2023 alone. And it’s still happening.
We think that deserves a little more attention. Here’s a brief look at the cause, where the airspace is, and the procedures you need to know to use it (or avoid it).
It is, but it isn’t.
The smoking gun here appears to be a fundamental shortage of air traffic controllers.
Airservices Australia have recently denied this is the case, instead blaming short-term and unplanned leave for the most recent occurrence.
Scratching your head? Me too, the stats just don’t lie. 340 instances – a number Airservices themselves previously put down to problems with ‘staff availability.’
This isn’t an attempt to point the finger at them. They are doing the best they can with the resources they have right now. In fact, the issue of ATC controller shortages has been well reported in recent weeks across the world including by heavy hitters the US FAA and EASA. It’s a Covid hangover – and the recovery has been quick. So quick in fact, Flightradar 24 recently reported their busiest day tracking commercial flights, ever. That’s a lot of metal for controllers to move.
The Australian CAA (CASA) have also weighed in admitting that there is indeed a controller shortage, compounded of course by sick leave.
The answer right now is TIBA – traffic information broadcasts by aircraft, whopping great pieces of restricted Class G typically all the way up to FL600.
Where has this been happening?
Both of Australia’s two FIRs have been affected – YMMM/Melbourne and YBBB/Brisbane.
In the South, look out for TIBA airspace east of YSCB/Canberra airport, Australia’s capital city found inland from Sydney.
Further north there has been a greater effect as large portions of coastal airspace near YBCG/Gold Coast and YBTL/Townsville airports have been impacted. This is an extremely busy air corridor – 80% of Australia’s population live on the East Coast.
At the top end of Australia, YPDN/Darwin airport has also been affected which can result in re-routes for international traffic headed up into South-East Asia and beyond.
Here’s what those hotspots look like on a map:
It’s not all the time.
TIBA airspace is being activated by NOTAM, typically for hours at a time. A look at today’s batch indicated all is ops-normal. However, a local airline captain has advised OPSGROUP that it is currently a frequent occurrence. We last reported on the issue ourselves on July 4.
Broadcast, or avoid?
The vast majority of airline traffic appear to be avoiding the TIBA airspace. This typically involves less direct routes at the expense of delays and fuel. Helpfully, for major city pairings the NOTAMs contain suggested routes that will keep you clear. But expect SIDs or STARs you may be less familiar with.
In fact, major carriers have policies in place that prevent them from using TIBA airspace anyway – unless they happen to be in it when it is activated.
That’s not to say there won’t be other traffic taking advantage of the more advantageous routes though. The East Coast is characterised by a huge variety of traffic including charter, skydiving, medevac and survey all of which may have valid reasons for using TIBA.
It can still be used safely, but with the procedures below (a heads up: dual comms are a requirement).
How on earth do I ‘do TIBA’?
First things first. Whatever you do, don’t enter without permission. Australia’s TIBA airspace is typically restricted – in the sense you will need PPR to use it. The relevant NOTAMs are quite helpful, and provide all the information on how to get it. Here’s an example.
Your approval will typically involve a phone call beforehand, and a chat to a flight information service in adjacent airspace for traffic information.
Once you’re in, you are totally responsible for terrain and collision avoidance. Turn that radio up and make sure you’re both alert and monitoring both the TIBA frequency and the relevant ATS one – now is not the time for controlled rest. Whoever is on the radios is going to be busy.
The Australian AIP then takes over. You can find the procedures in full here (time saver: flick to ENR 1.1-91). We’ve also put together a summary of those in this handy little briefing card which may be useful to keep in your flight bag:
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