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air safety

Jun 27, 2015

Dick versus Angus over air space reform in Australia

Are we wasting millions, and destroying general aviation, by inadequately and unfairly introducing new air traffic control technology?

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Dick Smith, aviator, businessman, and supporter of good causes

In recent months an important, if not broadly understood aviation issue has been pursued behind the paywall of The Australian by Dick Smith on one side and the air traffic control provider AirServices Australia on the other.

Paywalls are essential if professional journalism is to survive, but unfortunately, a model that works effectively in Australia in conjunction with broad readership hasn’t yet been proven, which means that  it is questionable as to whether there has been much connection between a crucial number of readers and the issues that have been raised by the newspaper’s detailed and perceptive coverage.

Yet that continuing argument, concerning new air traffic control technology  (ADS-B or automatic dependant surveillance-broadcast) is one in which ruinous costs could lead to the shorter term destruction of the already hard pressed private and general aviation sectors in this country.

GA operators and private pilots are being asked to spend substantial sums of money on equipment that makes them ADS-B visible,  yet not in practice be of use in many lower flight level situations, meaning that the money spent will not deliver improved safety outcomes in airspace and approaches to a wide range of secondary or regional airstrips where they are urgently needed.

These include airports where civil airliners, hobby ultra-light flyers, parachutists, private jets,  more conventional propeller light aircraft and helicopters might all  be using the same airspace, such as around Ballina or Port Macquarie.

While there are many voices canvassed by The Australian stories, and the twists and turns in the narratives do not lend themselves to bland summary, the twin focuses of the row have been on the opposing positions taken by Dick Smith and Angus Houston, who is the chairman of AirServices Australia.

Angus, as he prefers to be called, says everything is fine and Dick is wrong, and has in passing taken umbrage at criticism in the Senate of the amount of money being paid to AirServices managers, who are responsible for a public enterprise which supports itself from air navigation charges and makes profits which flow straight into Treasury.

My view is that Angus underlines a problem with the administrative and executive branches in Australia, in that there is a strong preference in Government to believe anything the Mandarins tell Ministers regardless of what party or coalition is in power,  and that there is sod all serious independent auditing of claims and budget efficiency.

Angus is very loyal to his organisation, and some very fine professionals within it, but perhaps insufficiently skeptical of its narrative over the application of ADS-B technology as it currently stands.

Dick isn’t the only prominent general aviation figure quoted by coverage in The Australian  as to the inadequacy of the airspace management in Australia today, and the more so, under ADS-B in the near future.

If Angus were to shift modes from defending the air traffic control establishment to dealing with the need to make the reforms work without further risking the survivability of the private pilot and general aviation interests in Australia we might have progress.

It seems inescapably reasonable that spending on ADS-B and the proper management of airspace must produce a very significant improvement in air safety by diminishing risk across all flying activities that involve the sharing of the skies between larger and smaller aircraft.

Otherwise, through insupportable cost pressures and inefficiencies, the very food chain in the aviation industry in terms of training, experience and critical skills in support services will be broken, and the ‘common good’ to use an old fashioned term, will be deeply harmed.

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6 comments

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6 thoughts on “Dick versus Angus over air space reform in Australia

  1. Noel B

    I completely disagree with this statement:

    “yet not in practice be of use in many lower flight level situations, meaning that the money spent will not deliver improved safety outcomes in airspace”

    With a myriad of “home” ADS-B feeders to many sites like flightradar24, planefinder etc etc, which cover exceptional low level areas, in times of trouble, like a few recent lost and sadly fatal aircraft incidents in South East Queensland as an example, far better last known locations would be mapped, perhaps resulting in a much speedier and dramatically shortened SAR area, granted AirServices likely dont have this ability at this time, but dont kid yourself, ATC and SOC’s know about these sites and consult them as part of a wide array of what they do. ATC guys know these collaborative sites have far superior coverage than theirs at low level in most areas, especially along the coastal and adjacent inland areas of most of Oz.

    A fair number of small aircraft, ultralights even, out of YCAB and YRED for example, are ADS-B capable and trackable by many on both sides of the Great Dividing Range. THis is replicated across much of Oz.

  2. Ben Sandilands

    Fair enough. I was only trying to paraphrase those who made such statements in the Australian newspaper stories.

    One reason I have for the most part avoided GA stories is that they usually ignite fire fights among readers, with occasional burning arrow aimed at the blogger that has dared to even raise any particular GA topic you care to name.

    This taught me that in GA just about everyone hates everyone else and that there is anything but general agreement on anything in general aviation.

    Not saying that is right or wrong, and your comment is very useful. But this is a part of aviation coverage I usually try to avoid.

    Given the long period in which it has been reported, to my eyes, quite thoroughly in The Australian, I thought I should acknowledge that.

    At a deeper level, and as a former student of public administration, the executive/administrative divide in Australia is a worry. Successive aviation ministers have their responses to serious anomalies, like Pel-Air, and passenger accident liability, written for them by the very people who are being criticised for poor decisions, and I don’t think that is helpful, whether in bank and finance regulation, or air safety.

    But you’ve given good reasons for your opinions, and I think we should all give them careful consideration.

  3. Jen Jensen

    Ben Sandilands wrote “At a deeper level, and as a former student of public administration, the executive/administrative divide in Australia is a worry. Successive aviation ministers have their responses to serious anomalies, like Pel-Air, and passenger accident liability, written for them by the very people who are being criticised for poor decisions, and I don’t think that is helpful, whether in bank and finance regulation, or air safety.”

    That is the crux of the matter.
    We all hope that Angus Houston and Mark Skinner will reform their departments and not be seen to be in “Yes Minister” mode. It is imperative that they both sort out the issues with fresh eyes, not just parrot the department think.

  4. PAIN_P2

    Dear Ben from my post off Aunty Pru…

    From the PT article Ben in reply to a comment…

    “..Fair enough. I was only trying to paraphrase those who made such statements in the Australian newspaper stories.

    One reason I have for the most part avoided GA stories is that they usually ignite fire fights among readers, with occasional burning arrow aimed at the blogger that has dared to even raise any particular GA topic you care to name.

    This taught me that in GA just about everyone hates everyone else and that there is anything but general agreement on anything in general aviation.

    Not saying that is right or wrong, and your comment is very useful. But this is a part of aviation coverage I usually try to avoid…”

    … Sad sad really but Ben does have a point when it comes to general debate on GA issues, especially when it comes to Dick Smith.

    Being a paid subscriber of the Oz Ben maybe interested to know that on this Dick Smith GA campaign the stats would suggest that Dick is in ascendancy i.e. those in support of the Dick campaign.

    Going off the 39 comments (as a baseline) 35% were not in support of Dick, 12% were neither for or against, leaving 53% in support. However there is also another observable change in the commentary; that is Joe Public is becoming far more informed because of the Dick Smith campaign.

    Here is a spread of positive Dick Smith comments from the Paul Kelly Article (why no negative DS comments – well they are all basically poorly written repetitive snipes with little or no intellectual value whatsoever), first from some self-confessed layman…

    For more of this post go here: http://auntypru.com/forum/-Things-that-go-bump-in-the-night?pid=1203#pid1203

    Cheers

    P2

  5. wjrhamilton@optusnet.com.au

    Ben
    It is fundamental to understand a few basics.

    The first is that the “airspace” is “safe” now.

    What this really means is that the separation assurance (risk of collision) is of an acceptable standard, now. ADS-B does NOT make it “safer” because the statistical risk of collision is already close to “vanishingly small”, the statistical equivalent of zero, called ALARP, As Low As Reasonably Practical, with existing services.

    The second is that the move to GNSS (space based) navigation systems (of which ADS-B is only a small part) represents a huge cost saving to Airservices by transferring costs to operators and aircraft owners as Airservices shuts down ground based services.

    In the lower 48 states of the US, about the same land area as Australia, at any hour of the day or night, there are around 5/6000 Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) aircraft airborne, the Australian equivalent is less than 300 peak, mostly much less,and the bulk of that traffic is already visible to primary and secondary radar.

    Despite this, Australia is mandating a much wider fitment of ADS-B in this sparsely populated Australian airspace, than the FAA is mandating in 2020, because the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)understands that ADS-B is one tool to increase airspace capacity — a problem Australia does not have. FAA does not propose it as a safety enhancement for a problem that does not exist.

    In short, ADS-B is a very expensive solution to a problem we do not have, that has never been justified by any safety case (indeed, quite the reverse) let alone cost/benefit justified.

    Sadly, in Australia, and at great cost to the viability of the aviation Industry, we are very bad at risk analysis. In the words of one pilot union, we must address “perceptions of risk”, even if it is conclusively demonstrated that perceived risk is illusory, and at whatever cost.

    In shafting the aviation industry in Australia, the “knowledge nation” Government has almost eliminated a substantial export market in aviation services, the ADS-B issue is a symptom of the problem.

  6. Dan Dair

    wjrhamilton,
    You make very valid (& apparantly well-informed) points about the safety of airspace……

    I question though,
    How ‘safe’ is the more crowded airspace around cities & particular airports
    and
    Will the inclusion of ADB-B becons make it easier for ATC to prevent the ‘coal-terminal’ incident or ground-proximity incidents (reported here).?

    If not, what should the Government be mandating for improved air safety.?

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