Up until midnight there had been 69 declarations this month of zones in the sky over Australia where normal air traffic control was unavailable to airliners, air freighters and private aircraft capable of using the same air space. The position of the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Anthony Albanese is that this is a consequence of union agitation for a pay rise. The position of AirServices Australia which is supposed to provide controlled separation is that there is no problem because the chief executive officer Greg Russell promised earlier last month that staff shortages among controllers had been ‘solved.’ The position of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority is that there is no safety issue with the lack of air traffic control, just that it is less safe, but still safe, sort of.

The position of the airlines is that it is unsafe, they are as mad as hell, it is costing them lots of money to fly around the closures, except that sometimes some of them roll the dice anyhow, and they want it fixed.

The position of the union, Civil Air, from whose website the latest graphic has been lifted, is that its members are legally forbidden to work the overtime being insisted upon by AirServices to keep the skies open because the regulations set strict limits on fatigue, and mismanagement has seen the training of new controllers drop way below the attrition caused by retirements and better offers to work abroad.

The truth is that the protocols of self separation by airline pilots, called TIBA or Traffic Information Broadcast Areas, are completely unsuited to the density of movements in Australian skies to which they are being applied.

They pose a serious threat to safety, which is why the airlines are avoiding them, and rely on perfect scenarios. Under TIBA any number of aircraft can supposedly talk to each other and understand exactly what each other is doing, avoid issues like wake turbulence, and cope with a sudden change of altitude or heading caused by routine events like cabin depressurisations or other emergencies. Australia allows this space to be occupied as well by small turboprops without an automated collision warning system called TCAS being installed.

It is a dangerous folly for the Minister or his regulator to tolerate this situation, and sanctimonious bleatings about how safe it is are misleading the public.

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