Adventure flight safety explained
Australia's aviation safety regulations allow the operation of a range of ex-military, historic and replica aircraft in adventure-style flights.
Numerous aviation organisations offer flights to the public in these jet and propeller aircraft for a fee.
These flights are marketed as 'warbird', 'combat', 'military', 'top-gun' or 'adventure' flights, rather than traditional 'joy flights'.
The flights may involve mock military-style combat manoeuvres, aerobatics and mock bombing runs.
The information below is an outline of how the safety risks of these flights are managed by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and - since May 2007 - the Australian Warbirds Association Limited.
It is intended as a guide for people considering taking adventure flights and should not be seen as an endorsement of any particular organisation or adventure flights in general.
Are adventure flights safe?
The safety risks of adventure flights are very different to the risks of flying in large passenger jet aircraft or smaller commuter aircraft.
In fact, the safety risks of adventure flights are unique.
The reason is simple – these are flights conducted in historic, ex-military and replica aircraft, operating under more extreme flying conditions.
Many of these ex-military aircraft were manufactured in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.
It is also important to remember that the original design specifications and standards of manufacture were military, not civilian. This means the way the aircraft were built and then maintained was not the same as civilian standards for passenger-carrying aircraft.
The maintenance standards required for these historic, ex-military and replica aircraft today are not as high as the standards required for commercial passenger-carrying aircraft.
In addition, the flights may involve aerobatics or mock military manoeuvres and this intrinsically carries a higher risk than flying in a commercial or private aircraft in level flight.
Depending on the location, the adventure flight may not be supported by air traffic control services.
All these factors mean taking an adventure flight has a higher level of risk than flying as a passenger on a commercial airline.
So what's CASA's role in adventure flights?
Under the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations ex-military, replica and historic aircraft intended for adventure flight operations are registered with CASA and placed in the Limited Category of airworthiness.
This allows the aircraft to operate under a special set of conditions contained in Civil Aviation Safety Regulations 21.189 and Civil Aviation Regulations 262AM.
The aircraft must be operated and maintained in accordance with the Australian Warbirds Association Limited manual or have a specific approval issued by CASA to operate.
The Australian Warbirds Association has approval from CASA to administer aircraft operating under the Limited Category.
CASA will not generally conduct direct routine surveillance of Limited Category aircraft.
CASA's involvement is restricted to licensing pilots and granting approval to the Australian Warbirds Association to provide a measure of self-administration of the sector in respect to airworthiness matters and adventure flight operations.
CASA also delivers education about the risks of adventure flights and will remove people from the aviation industry who endanger lives or engage in other unsafe practices.
The regulations provide that neither the Commonwealth nor CASA are liable in negligence or otherwise for any loss or damage incurred by anyone because of, or arising out of, the design, construction, restoration, repair, maintenance or operation of a limited category aircraft or an experimental aircraft, or any act or omission of CASA done or made in good faith to any of those things.
What are the conditions on these flights?
Under the regulations there are a range of important requirements relating to adventure flights operated under the Limited Category. These include:
- the number of people on any aircraft are restricted to no more than six
- some aircraft are restricted in where they are allowed to fly
- the aircraft must be in a good state of repair and airworthiness
- the aircraft type must have a satisfactory history of operations
- as far as can be reasonably determined, CASA or an authorised person is satisfied that the aircraft can reasonably be expected to be safe when it is operated under the conditions limiting its intended use
- the operator must produce a statement, in a form and manner acceptable to CASA or the authorised person, setting out the purpose or purposes for which the aircraft is to be used
- CASA or an authorised person may inspect the aircraft to determine whether it is in a good state of preservation and repair and is in a condition for safe operation and require the applicant to carry out a flight check to enable CASA or the authorised person to make the determination.
Do people have to understand and accept the risks?
Yes. Before you take an adventure flight you must be given an explanation of the risks involved and you must accept those risks.
People who fly in Limited Category aircraft must be properly briefed and must have acknowledged that briefing in writing.
If you choose to take an adventure flight you will be asked to sign a document to confirm you have been briefed about the safety issues.
In addition, every Limited Category aircraft must carry a placard with the following warning clearly displayed inside the aircraft in a way that each person can read:
PERSONS FLY IN THIS AIRCRAFT AT THEIR OWN RISK
THIS AIRCRAFT HAS BEEN DESIGNED FOR SPECIAL
OPERATIONS AND IS NOT OPERATED TO THE SAME SAFETY
STANDARDS AS A NORMAL COMMERCIAL PASSENGER
What will I be asked to sign?
If you take an adventure flight in Limited Category aircraft, you will be asked to sign a document acknowledging you have been told and understand the risks involved.
The risks you must accept are:
- the design, manufacture, and airworthiness of the aircraft are not required to meet any standard recognised by CASA
- CASA does not require the aircraft to be operated to the same degree of safety as an aircraft on a commercial passenger flight
- a person who flies in limited category aircraft does so at his or her own risk.
What types of pilots fly these aircraft?
The pilots flying adventure flights must have a licence of a higher standard than a private pilots licence.
They are required to hold a commercial pilot licence or an air transport pilot licence, with appropriate ratings and endorsements.
The endorsements qualify the pilot to fly the particular type of aircraft, while ratings are the qualifications for different types of flying, such as low level or aerobatics.
What types of aircraft are commonly called warbirds?
In general, an ex-military aircraft now being flown in civilian aviation is known as a warbird.
They can be historic or modern aircraft and in some cases are replicas.
Both jets and propeller driven aircraft operate as warbirds engaged in adventure flights.
Types include MiGs, YAKs, Strikemasters, L39 Albatross, Trojan, Tiger Moth and CT4.
There are currently more than 200 ex-military (warbird), historic and replica aircraft registered with CASA and flying in the Limited Category in Australia.
Have there been any accidents in Limited Category aircraft?
Yes, there have been accidents involving these kinds of aircraft.
However, accidents are not common, despite the higher level of risks that must be accepted when flying in these aircraft.
Since the inception of Limited Category airworthiness and adventure flight operations in 1998, two fatal crashes have occurred.
Why doesn't CASA take a more active role in managing safety in this area of aviation?
Ninety six per cent of Australians fly on commercial aircraft operated by our airlines or charter companies.
Naturally, this is where CASA concentrates its time and resources.
CASA's primary responsibility is to carry out safety checks and audits on airlines and other passenger carrying operations to make sure standards are acceptable and risks are being properly managed.
CASA has a policy on industry priorities and the carriage of people in aircraft (CEO-PN001-2004: CASA's Industry Sector Priorities and Classification of Civil Aviation Activities - Please note: As of 15 June 2009, this policy notice has been suspended pending further review and reconsideration) which sets out how it approaches its functions under the Civil Aviation Act on behalf of the Australian public.
Non-passenger carrying operations are not ignored by CASA, but fewer resources are allocated to these activities. Lower priority sectors include private aviation, freight only flights and sports aviation.
Adventure flights operating in the Limited Category are regarded by CASA as similar to sports aviation.
This means that people taking part in this type of aviation are expected to understand the risks involved and to accept those risks.
That is why people on adventure flights are required to be briefed on the risks and to sign a document acknowledging they accept these risks.
Where can I get more information on ex-military/warbirds, historic and replica aircraft?
Further information on these aircraft and adventure flight operations can be obtained from the Australian Warbirds Association Limited website.