Smith Did Not Analyze New Airspace Plans
ANN first reported
Wednesday about the growing debate in Australia over airspace
changes that affect a variety of general aviation operations. Now,
the government agency responsible for the airborne switcheroo has
accepted fault for the growing confusion.
The head of Australia's national air traffic control agency
admitted last night that the agency had not done a full analysis of
the controversial new airspace system before its introduction last
year. Bernie Smith, chief executive of Airservices Australia, said
the agency had relied on information provided by other groups about
the new system, potentially leaving itself open to legal action in
the event of an aviation incident.
Appearing before a Senate Estimates Committee hearing, Smith
said that, with the benefit of legal hindsight, it had been
inappropriate to rely on assessments by others such as the Civil
Aviation Safety Authority (CASA). "We should have done full
But Smith admitted he still supported the changed system. "The
fact that we didn't follow the processes that we were legally
required to certainly is something that poses a potential risk to
the organization... not the national airspace," he said.
Mr. Smith's statement came a day after Airservices announced
some immediate changes to the new system following criticism by
pilots and air traffic controllers. The system, which came
into effect in November, removed surveillance on some airspace,
such as over Launceston, Hobart and Alice Springs, where air
traffic controllers had previously separated commercial aircraft
from light planes. Under the new system, the onus was put on pilots
to look out for other planes.
A review of the system was ordered after an Australian Transport
Safety Bureau report into a near-miss between a Virgin Blue
airliner and a light plane over Launceston on Christmas Eve found
the incident occurred because of the new rules.
While the findings of the review are due to be presented to
Transport Minister John Anderson tomorrow, Airservices said experts
had identified "safety enhancements for immediate
An Airservices spokesman said one change would involve a
transportable radar system being set up at a yet-to-be-determined
location to cover airspace from which surveillance had been
removed. In another change, new charts identifying air traffic
control frequencies would be distributed to pilots whose planes
were not equipped with radar.
Mr Anderson again defended the new air traffic system yesterday.
"I stand completely by the view expressed to me by people who are
expert in this area, and I stand by my own conviction," he told
secretary Ken Matthews told the committee that the ordering of a
review did not mean preliminary safety assessments into the new
system were wrong. Mr Matthews said the Transport Safety Bureau's
report would call for "sensible improvements" to the system, not
Opposition transport spokesman Martin Ferguson said the changes
proved the new system was not safer, more efficient and cheaper, as
had been promised by the Government.
The changes were welcomed by groups representing commercial and
private pilots. Allan Pickering, vice-president of the Australian
and International Pilots Association, which covers Qantas pilots,
said the changes were a sensible response to a number of incidents
caused by pilots who have to rely on visual detection of other
aircraft not being on the correct radio frequencies.