This mostly matters to those who don’t like flying at the best of times and have to use crappy country airstrips like the ones the pilots of a larger airliner would only contemplate if they were on fire.

Navigating into rough strips like the one at Lockhart River where Transair hit a hill on approach killing all 15 people on a small turbo-prop aircraft in 2005 is an unforgiving test of precise awareness of terrain that can be hidden in tropical rain clouds or darkness.

Airservices Australia hit on the idea of developing a system called GRAS for Ground Based Augmentation System, something that would enhance the information a pilot can get from a global positioning device, which is useful for telling you to veer left or right but useless for indicating the varying height of the ground below an approach path.

It was never clear if the home grown GRAS would quickly extend to really remote areas, or be confined to busier places where the fees for its use could pay for it faster. It was controversial because in theory there was a free system, called WAAS or Wide Area Augumentation System that relied not on ground stations like the Australian plan, but a satellite.

But the catch was, there was no suitable satellite for the saturation coverage of Australia with WAAS. So, if you are still reading, Airservices Australia took the plunge, and after spending at least $20 million, couldn’t get it to work. The failure was disclosed in the answer to a question by Bob Brown in the Senate.

The final bill, which may prove trivial compared to its cross border equipment leasing exposure to the global financial crisis, will not be given a figure until the AirServices accounts for the year to June 30 are tabled in Canberra, probably mid October.

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