Airservices says Virgin Australia jet wasn’t invisible
Airservices Australia has issued a brief response to Plane Talking’s reporting of the inhibited Virgin Australia flight between Sydney and Brisbane last Friday morning. It is a classic example of PR self harm.
Airservices Australia has issued a brief response to Plane Talking’s reporting of the inhibited Virgin Australia flight between Sydney and Brisbane last Friday morning.
A spokesperson said:
“We reported the incident to the ATSB in accordance with our well established policies and procedures.
“The aircraft was never lost to Airservices air traffic controllers and continued to be displayed on air traffic control displays managing the airspace.
“Additionally, our aviation system has multiple layers of safety mechanisms to ensure that serious incidents do not occur. Those defences include automated safety alerts in air traffic control systems and aircraft cockpits, and they all continued to operate.”
This response is clearly composed to mislead the casual reader, but it doesn’t cut it with the airlines, or those concerned about the threat Airservices continues to present to safety of flight in Australia.
The facts are that air traffic controllers are trained to ignore inhibited flight path traces, because they are inhibited as being no longer of interest to the separation of traffic.
The trace and icon associated with an inhibited flight is rendered black, on a grey background.
The Virgin Australia flight was lost, and to claim it wasn’t is a lie. The first words that were spoken by an Airservices controller after a pilot on the Virgin Australia flight announced that it was close to the handover point for its descent instructions to Brisbane Airport were, inter alia, “who the ….. are you.”
Airservices had no idea where the Virgin Australia jet was from the moment its flight trace was inhibited near Newcastle to its call to the system overhead Evans Head, as detailed in the ATSB notification, and it is as the ATSB says, this prolonged loss of separation assurance of more than 30 minutes which is the reason for the inquiry.
Just what part of ‘loss of separation assurance’ doesn’t Airservices understand?
Airservices is currently under investigation for other failings of safety standards by the ATSB which is the safety investigator.
Just what part of the ATSB’s role doesn’t Airservices get?
In reports already finalised by the ATSB in recent times Airservices has been found to have failed to properly train or oversight the standards and competencies of some of its officers involved in grievously dangerous and unsatisfactory incidents.
It has been found to be in breach of its obligations on various occasions. Earlier this year the alarming rise in the frequency of air traffic separation incidents in Australia was made the subject of a special and continuing ATSB investigation at the behest of the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Anthony Albanese.
In another incident earlier this year Airservices lost the flight path of an Etihad jet as it flew ever deeper over the inland, a situation, which like that of the Virgin Australia flight, only became known to controllers when the Etihad jet called for additional instructions.
The references by the Airservices spokesperson to the ‘layers of safety’ present in the system, including an indirect reference to the TCAS traffic collision avoidance system found in most but not all aircraft that require separation from other aircraft by air traffic control is an abject disgrace.
TCAS is not intended to be a substitute for professional air traffic separation. TCAS is itself inhibited in some situations, and sometimes, it isn’t switched on when it should be.
For Airservices to claim that equipment installed on airliners such as the Virgin Australia 737-800 is part of a safety net to save itself from grossly incompetent management is to be blunt, shocking and nonsensical.
It is also contrary to international practice and our obligations to the safety of foreign airliners as well as our own.
It is the management of Airservices that is responsible for the actions and training, and the standards of its employees.
Statements like this excuse from the ATC provider, and the events that cause them, are a terrible indictment of safety of flight standards in Australia, and a warning to all airlines, domestic and international, that Airservices cannot be trusted to provide safe separation, has lost track of its obligations, and is incapable of dealing candidly with the reason why the ATSB has (at last) launched an inquiry.