An aviation researcher, writer, aviation participant, pilot & agricultural researcher. Author of over 35 scientific publications world wide.


Good reads

Oil Prices


Air Traffic Control

Ben Sandilands again:

Friday, October 18, 2013

The report:

Air Space – Seperation Incidents ar-2012-034_final


ATSB thriller: How AirServices separates foreign jets with tired, confused staff

In a triple publication of reports dealing with serious air traffic control lapses by AirServices Australia, and incompetent and dangerous actions by military air space controllers the ATSB says it remains unsatisified that the civil air traffic control services provider has adequately addressed some its safety concerns.

The air safety investigator also takes issue with CASA, the air safety regulator, over the adequacy of its involvement with the provision of military air traffic control at Williamtown (Newcastle) and Darwin to civilian jets, and goes into some detail yet again of an incident at Newcastle where a Virgin Blue jet was given a direction that put it at immediate risk of a collision with a defence charter flight by a military controller who had no idea what he was doing.

If read in full, and with care, these reports reflect badly on the management and conduct of civil and military air space separation services and make it clear that much needs to be done to make them as safe as government, and CASA, and the air navigation services providers would like the public to believe.

Buried in each report are words to the effect that really, there isn’t anything to be worried about. Each report also makes it clear there is a great deal to be worried about.

The ATSB reports will be covered in subsequent postings.

The curious and quizzical can read them in full by going to the following links in the meantime.

The final report of the investigation into a loss of separation assurance between a Tiger Airways (Singapore) A320 and an Etihad A340-600 off shore from the Kimberley in Indian Ocean air space managed by AirServices in 2012 can be read here

An incident in which a Virgin Australia 737 and a Qantas 737 came too close to each other near Ceduna, South Australia, is detailed here

The review of loss of separation incidents in Australian airspace between January 2008 and June 2011, which zeroed in on the military/civil air traffic managment divide, and which was ordered by the now shadow Minister responsible for such things, Anthony Albanese, can be read here, and qualifies in terms of ATSB reports as a ‘gripping read.’ 

air safety , , ,


A current ABC report on the matter reveals:

Report finds serious safety, management problems with Australia’s air traffic control system

Updated 4 hours 11 minutes ago

An internal report into Australia’s air traffic control system has found serious deficiencies with the operation, safety and management of the country’s skies.

Documents released under Freedom of Information laws show Australia’s monopoly air traffic control provider, Airservices Australia, has overseen a system where problems go unsolved amid an organisational culture which employees say is “dysfunctional”.

The report, written by Australia’s air safety regulator the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) and obtained by the ABC, lays out hundreds of incidents, ranging from training shortcomings to mismanagement of staff.


Frustrated by an ever-growing number of serious incidents where the root cause was never properly identified, CASA considered withdrawing Airservices’ approval to operate the network.

CASA however pulled Airservices’ ongoing approval to operate the air traffic control system, and imposed a rolling three-year licence, which comes with regular audits and more oversight.

The air safety regulator also wants the current regulations strengthened, giving it the ability to issue fines or take other enforcement actions to force Airservices to improve its operations.

Pilots and controllers alarmed

Non-compliance issues

Melbourne 30+
Adelaide 30
Brisbane 29
Perth 25
Sydney 12
Cairns 12
Canberra 17
Alice Springs 17

This table details the number of “non-compliance” notices issued per region, including issues ranging from documentation problems, safety management and training.

Source: CASA


Air traffic controllers have expressed concern about the report, with one telling the ABC that he “couldn’t believe that Airservices had failed to comply with so many things”.

The ABC has spoken to several current and former controllers, all of whom wished to remain anonymous due to fears of retribution and being blacklisted by the monopoly air traffic provider, which is the only real employer of air traffic controllers.

One controller called the company he works for “dysfunctional”, saying he was worried about an entrenched culture of mismanagement and bureaucracy.

“If you’ve got a monopoly and you’re making money, and if no-one really cares what you’re doing, then why would you improve?” he said.

Australian and International Pilots Association vice president Captain Richard Woodward said the report was concerning.

“I think the system has shown some fairly severe cracks, and the report identifies that,” he said.

“It was a concerning report because it’s not nice to see the Australian system has that many faults.

“When you read it closely you clearly find there’s been a bunch of management issues that have brought this about, and also a lack of trained controllers.”

Air traffic controllers are paid well – senior, experienced employees can receive about $200,000 per year.

But many controllers are frustrated at the inadequate levels of training provided for new staff.

“Airspace closes if Airservices can’t find enough staff,” one of the controllers said.

“Management tries to get around it by moving shifts forward and leaving airspace vacant and uncontrolled.”


The ABC has been told controllers have to ask for annual leave up to four years in advance.

One controller said he had worked more than a month of extra shifts over a year, backfilling for other controllers who were sick or were not qualified to operate certain parts of Australian airspace.

He said Airservices relied on people to agree to extra shifts, rather than finding and training new people.

“All of us have huge amounts of leave, we’re all carrying leave credits,” he said.

“Airservices is pretty dysfunctional. They’re not planning for what’s going to happen, but why would they when they’re making the money?”

More planes in the air, ever-increasing workload

There are more planes in Australia’s skies than ever before.

The mining boom has seen a huge increase in air traffic in areas that have not traditionally experienced large numbers of flights.

Perth has seen a 57 per cent jump, Brisbane a 34 per cent increase, and overall traffic is expected to grow around 3 to 4 per cent per year.

But the number of air traffic controllers has remained the same, all while the Airservices bureaucracy has ballooned.

The report found that over the last decade Airservices increased its employee numbers by about one third.

Air traffic controllers have told the ABC the growth has been mostly in the area of middle-management.

Overworked and stressed conditions have led to a growing number of mistakes.

The 2012 Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) audit detailed 10 “serious incidents” involving air transport in so-called separation events.

Separation refers to the minimum distance between planes required to remove the risk of a collision.

Four of the ten incidents involved air traffic services.

“Near misses are unacceptable in a modern air traffic environment so those items should definitely be fixed and that’s directly related to the quality and standard and training and availability of the air traffic system,” Mr Woodward said.

“Controllers are working very hard, long hours, long shift hours. It would be good to see them recruit a new breed of controllers and fill all those gaps that they’ve clearly got.”

Despite repeated requests, the union which represents air traffic controllers, CivilAir, declined an interview with the ABC, but did provide a letter.


Topics: air-transport, industry, australia

First posted 7 hours 31 minutes ago