45TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE, Kaohsiung, Taiwan, 27-31 March 2006
WP No. 96
Review Policy on Formation Flights within Controlled Airspace
Presented by TOC
1.1. This paper is prepared as part of the regular review of IFATCA policy. The current policy is dated from 1991.
2.1. The initial discussion on this subject took place in 1989 acknowledging at that time that the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) was monitoring the IFATCA outcome. The concerns back then were breakout in the event of radio failure.
2.2. In 1990 the concern shifted to separation from the formation and other IFR flights.
2.3. In 1991 the current IFATCA Policy was adopted stating;
|“Additional separation, above that required by standard separation may be required in some cases between formation flights and other aircraft or other formation flights.
The word ‘formation’ shall be used in the radio callsign of a formation flight at least once, on first contact with each ATC frequency.”
2.4. In 1992 there was no working paper however the conference report refers to the fact that ICAO had not developed any further information.
2.5. It would appear that at the time the policy was created the emphasis had shifted to include two items:
a) Separation from formations and other flights, and
b) The use of the word formation.
with the problem associated with radio failure dropped. Since then ICAO has developed Standards And Recommended Practices (SARPS) which covers the concerns of IFATCA.
2.6. Separation from formations and other flights
2.6.1. Referring to current ICAO Docs, Annex 2 para 3.1.8, Formation flights (Review of the General Concept of Separation Panel, Seventh Meeting (1990); Air Navigation Commission; Automatic Dependent Surveillance Panel, Second Meeting (1992); Definitions: air-taxiing; separation between aircraft; formation flights by civil aircraft in controlled airspace; automatic dependent surveillance; 18 March 1994, 25 July 1994, 10 November 1994):
Aircraft shall not be flown in formation except by pre-arrangement among the pilots- in-command of the aircraft taking part in the flight and, for formation flight in controlled airspace, in accordance with the conditions prescribed by the appropriate ATS authority(ies). These conditions shall include the following:
a) the formation operates as a single aircraft with regard to navigation and position reporting;
b) separation between aircraft in the flight shall be the responsibility of the flight leader and the pilots-in-command of the other aircraft in the flight and shall include periods of transition when aircraft are manoeuvring to attain their own separation within the formation and during join-up and break-away; and
c) a distance not exceeding 1 km (0.5 NM) laterally and longitudinally and 30 m (100ft) vertically from the flight leader shall be maintained by each aircraft.
2.6.2. WP91 of the 1991 Conference stated that some MA’s States applied greater separation than specified, this may still be the case. Temporary airspace reservation, either stationary or mobile, may be established for the use of large formation flights.
2.6.3. It would appear from Annex 2 that any formation irrespective of numbers must comply with the lateral and vertical dimensions defined and as such separation from other aircraft is not compromised and that standard separation can be applied. In view of this the policy “Additional separation, above that required by standard separation may be required in some cases between formation flights and other aircraft or other formation flights.” may not be required as it is always an option for any State or controller to utilise an increased separation standard in appropriate circumstances.
2.7. Use of the word formation
2.7.1. Investigation of ICAO Docs reveals that there is no laid down requirement for formation flights to inform ATC as part of their callsign.
2.7.2. An argument can be made that the controller need not know that it is a formation by the fact that it will be operating as a single flight within navigation bounds. However, it could be argued that he/she should know that he/she is working a formation, so that in the event of a break up of the formation the appropriate action can be taken.
2.8. R/T failure, emergency in a formation
2.8.1. Although concern with regard to this was raised in the 1991 paper no action was taken, however there can be situations when the formation can no longer continue and must separate into individual flights.
2.8.2. ICAO does not appear to cover for this and it is assumed that it will be handled under current emergency procedures.
2.8.3. From an IFATCA perspective it would be appropriate to know that the formation cannot continue as a result of an emergency situation. It can be covered under requirements that it is the pilot’s responsibility for separation until cleared otherwise by ATC. However the UK have developed procedures which give structure to the event.
2.8.4. UK procedures:
“If conditions are such that the aircraft of the formation are unable to maintain separation within Controlled Airspace (CAS) from each other, the formation leader will inform the controlling authority. The formation leader is responsible for separation between aircraft comprising the formation until standard separation has been achieved between individual aircraft and each aircraft identified and placed under service. On receipt of such a message a civil controller shall:
a) If practicable, obtain normal separation standards between all aircraft in the
formation as soon as possible, using radar if available;
b) If normal separation standards cannot be obtained the aircraft shall be given as
much separation from each other as possible and the formation given directions to enable it to leave CAS by the shortest possible route.”
2.9. Civil Formations
2.9.1. All the above discussions were on military formations, however there are occasions such as banner towing aircraft in formation, all kinds of commemorating formations, in a Control Zone (CTR) for example.
2.9.2. In civil operations the use of R/T is different. Normally the leader of the formation does a check in on the frequency if everybody is there (“…formation check in, 1..2..3), then he starts with the check in on the freq. (… TWR, this is the …formation..”) Besides the slightly different use of R/T a formation can be less manoeuvrable as a single flight, something to be aware of when providing separation.
2.9.3. Prior to departure the formation flight is normally briefed on operations within the team. This includes actions to be taken in case of, comm. failure, emergencies, weather problems etc.. A lot of problems will normally be resolved within the formation, but there might be cases wherein the formation, or a part of it, requires assistance. This assistance may not be that different than that normally given to a single flight. It can mean though that the formation requires to land immediately instead of diverting or leaving CAS. In these cases it has to be realised that the controller may have to deal with several aircraft at the same time, which might take a little more time or airspace to manoeuvre.
2.9.4. Most of the formations referred to are following VFR. For them the normal visual flight rules apply. In other words “remain VMC and divert…” If the formation does split up each of them has to remain VMC and find his own way back to where he came from or divert to his alternate. This alternate could be in the controlled area within which they are flying and action by the controller will be required.
3.1. The current IFATCA policy on separation between formation flights and other aircraft has been superseded by amendments to ICAO documentation. These changes bring some of the IFATCA policy in line with ICAO recommended practices and are therefore recommended for deletion.
3.2. In both civil and military operations of formation flights the use of the word formation in radio contact is very useful to the controller and can pre-empt possible awareness to future events.
3.3. An addition to the current policy addition should be made with regard to the handling of an emergency situation when the formation or element of the formation cannot continue as a formation.
It is recommended that:
4.1. IFATCA Policy, on page 3 2 7 4 of the IFATCA Manual:
“Additional separation, above that required by standard separation may be required in some cases between formation flights and other aircraft or other formation flights.”
4.2. IFATCA Policy is:
“If conditions are such that the aircraft of the formation are unable to maintain separation within controlled airspace from each other, the formation leader will inform the controlling authority. The formation leader is responsible for separation between aircraft comprising the formation until standard separation has been achieved.”
and is included on page 3 2 7 4 of the IFATCA Manual.
IFATCA Technical & Professional Manual.
ICAO Annex 2.
Last Update: April 8, 2020