With no certainty at this stage as to which miserably mean spirited and visionless conservative party will win the August 21 election, it might be reasonable to tidy up a critical element in the radar and air space controversy that Dick Smith recently ignited.

The central issue is that of dragging Australia into world’s best practice, and using active air traffic control, by air traffic controllers rather than busy pilots, to separate passenger airliners from other aircraft when using Australian airports.

It is a no brainer, but in a nation where pilots, airlines and regulators ferociously resisted black box flight recorders and weather radar, if not the use of radio and enclosed cockpits nearly 100 years ago, anything is possible when airline greed and pilot complicity coincide.

This is the recent political history of air space reform.

In 2004 John Anderson, the Minister for Transport in a Howard Government, issued a ministerial direction that radar control would be used to separate airliners approaching and departing a number of regional airports, including Launceston, where there was not just a serious incident on May 1, 2008, but subsequently, the release of a deficient ATSB report that made no safety recommendations and tip toed around the air space management issues it should have addressed.

Anderson was ignored.

Before the 2007 Federal election the Shadow Transport Minister, Martin Ferguson said:

FergusonFerguson (in my opinion) was the tool of the airlines and the change resistant culture of aviation regulation in Australia.

Dick Smith has shared with me a letter he wrote to the Prime Minister Julia Gillard recently concerning that policy switch, and his fear that if re-elected, a Labor government would NOT introduce the active separation of airliners using Launceston Airport.

In that letter he says:

DS extractOn July 21 we reported the ministerial direction made by the current Infrastructure and Transport Minister, Anthony Albanese, that active control be provided 24/7/365 at Launceston.

On July 25 we reported that as indicated in the documentation from CASA that Minister Albanese relied upon, this was not the case, and on July 26 we reported that it really was the case.

What we didn’t report at the time was that ‘some unfortunate errors in press release writing’ had caused the misunderstanding. My view is that in fact CASA was trying to pull the wool over Albanese’s eyes, by framing its recommendations to conform with change resistance in air space reform in this country, and that Albanese is not John Anderson, and that this was a serious error of judgement somewhere along the path from the air space regulation office in CASA to the Minister’s minders.

Thus we have now reached a position where if re-elected Labor will do what Albanese promised to do, which is an historic advance for air safety in this country, and that if the Coalition is elected to government its Minister for Transport will carry out what it previously promised to do, but failed to enforce under John Anderson.

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