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Dick Smith has a win against #CASA with “commonsense”

Dick Smith has a win against #CASA with “commonsense”.

Dick Smith has been calling for changes to the Air Services (#ASA) and  #CASA dominance on resisting serious safety issues to RPT in #ozaviation. This has been since Dick Smith relinquished the #CASA Board chair.

Dick has called for immediate changes to airspace management, using Ballina NSW as an example on May 30th 2015 in The Australian.

That #CASA is not given nor requires safety cases to be an automatic part of AirServices operations [demonstrated by the recent Adelaide changes, which went before the ASA Board and were approved, without any safety case] is a serious safety concern. Looking at the CAAct [Civil Aviation Act] at 9A, demonstrates an organisation not meeting it’s obligations to the Minister, if at all.

Dick stops short of ascribing CASA as likely to be the one called “responsible … for aviation deaths…”, falling short describing this situation as causing safety issues for passengers.

On Saturday morning [6th June 2015], Dick Smith was on the Today show live with Debbie.

[View here – Dick Smith talks about safety, where casa has failed to allow ground transfer of information in a similar way to what the FAA allow in the US. ].

Dick is calling for proper changes to the unsafe situation that both CASA and Airservices have not at all addressed. In fact, Dick ascribes the problem to “…an incredibly weak minister in Warren Truss…” refusing to listen and deal with his responsibilities.

Dick has single-minded approach in working on a safe outcome for the RPT traveling public for over ten years. This demonstrates and reflects the glacial change in the regulatory reform of the regulator – #CASA. The glacial change has certainly met a “..melting moment..” in the past week.

Attached below are the stories that are published in The Australian.

Dick Smith went public over the #CASA issues in May 2015 on MACA’s [ABC] all over programme, which dealt with Part 61 probems. The AHIA has been very vocal in having immediate changes made after Skidmore joined #CASA.

Dick Smith is working towards a series of public meetings to bring the publics attention to these serious flaws in safety in Australia. As is known, #CASA has not dealt with publicly raised safety issues at all well, depending on “..more regulation..” and the effect has been to drive aviation, particularly in the bush and GA [General Aviation] sector to the brink of non-existence.

The reverse gear that has been found by the “well-known” #CASA spokesman – Peter Gibson, finally has met his match.

In the past it has been Gibson, as #CASA’s denier, who has been responsible for some particularly off the planet comments and who has refused to retract comments that are demonstrably incorrect.

The classic surrounds the unsubstantiated comments about the Lockhart River tragedy by Gibson.

A quick look at the work that has been undertaken in the past three years reveals a fractured industry, a noncooperative regulator [#CASA], a poor safety investigator [#ATSB] and a Minister who at best, could be described as “looking in the wrong direction”.

The review by David Forsyth and the #ASRR got some of this right. The new #CASA Board has some rapid work to undertake immediately before any further ground is lost by the aviation industry.

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Aviation watchdog CASA shares safety role

Ballina Byron Gateway Airport manager Neil Weatherson welcomes the change in CASA rules:

Ballina Byron Gateway Airport manager Neil Weatherson welcomes the change in CASA rules: ‘If they do it in the US, it’s possible here’. Picture: Lyndon Mechielsen Source: News Corp Australia

The aviation watchdog has buckled to more than a decade of pressure from aviators including businessman Dick Smith, agreeing to allow airport ground staff including firemen to provide air-traffic information to pilots as they do in the US.

The move follows revelations in The Weekend Australian last Saturday that outdated regu­lations had stopped regional airports that did not have air traffic control towers and controllers from making use of other staff to improve air safety by relaying basic observations of aircraft movements.

The change is likely to be taken up first by larger airports that have fire services including Ballina in NSW, Gladstone in Queensland and Newman in Western Australia.

It could also apply to smaller airports — such as Hervey Bay in southeast Queensland, within the seat of Wide Bay held by Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss — where other ground staff could provide the radio service.

Mr Smith will soon hold public meetings in Wide Bay to apply pressure on Mr Truss, whose ministerial portfolio includes aviation, to adopt the US air traffic control system.

He described the Civil Aviation Safety Authority’s decision as a “cave-in”. “It’s a great change, because for 15 years they have done everything to prevent what they have now allowed,” he said.

CASA’s change of heart was welcomed by Ballina Byron Gateway Airport manager Neil Weatherson, who is keen to ­establish a radio operator at the burgeoning facility, which now handles 430,000 passengers a year, making it the biggest ­regional airport in NSW after Newcastle.

Mr Weatherson said he would prefer to do so without having to pay for a dedicated radio crew, given the recently built $13.5 million fire station had a roster of 17 full-time staff and a viewing tower.

“It’s an option,” he said of the possibility of having the fire crew man the Unicom radio service.

“If they do it in the US, it’s possible here.”

Mr Weatherson pointed out, however, that it would not be his ­exclusive call, because while the airport was owned by the council, the fire and rescue operation is run by Airservices Australia, which is financed by the airlines.

Ballina Byron fire station manager Wayne Morrison said he had “not formed a view”.

Last week, before CASA’s change of policy, an Airservices spokesman said the possibility of fire station staff providing radio services was “not currently being considered”.

Yesterday, an Airservices spokeswoman said it was “a matter for the airport”.

As late as last week, CASA said US fire crews did not provide air traffic information services to ­pilots, but was this week forced to admit they did after The Australian cited an airport manager in Colorado and three pilots who had flown in the US attesting to it.

For a decade, CASA regu­lations have sharply restricted ground staff who are not licensed air traffic controllers, or held a controllers’ licence within the past 10 years, from providing any but the most basic weather information to pilots, and banned them from communicating air traffic movements beyond “unscheduled landings by aircraft”.

According to Mr Smith, this reflected CASA’s yielding to unions over demarcation issues and a desire in the aviation establishment to restrict who could perform such services to “retired air traffic controller mates”.

Under the new policy announced yesterday, CASA will, on a case-by-case basis, allow airport operators to have designated ground staff trained in handling the Unicom radio service and providing pilots with information such as what aircraft are in the circuit around the airport, and on the runways and taxiways.

It will grant official exemptions from regulations to allow such radio operators to do so lawfully.

“All safety issues would be ­addressed in the assessment of the application,” CASA said. “In the case of a Unicom this regulatory support would include an appropriate legal instrument needed to enable basic information on air traffic to be provided by the Unicom operator to pilots.”

In the US, a wide range of ground staff operate the Unicom, including fire and rescue officers, aircraft refuellers, maintenance staff, baggage handlers and check-in employees.

Mr Smith will continue his campaign for his other major proposed change to the way Australian airspace is managed: having air traffic controllers direct aircraft wherever radar is available.

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CASA admits US ground staff have safety role at airports

The aviation watchdog has been forced to admit that, unlike in Australia, fire-and-rescue officers and other ground staff at US airports without control towers give local air traffic information to pilots to enhance air safety.

The backdown, which follows revelations in The Weekend Australian, marks a major victory for businessman and aviator Dick Smith, who said for 15 years the Civil Aviation Safety Authority had denied that American ground staff perform the service.

Mr Smith yesterday welcomed CASA’s admission, and claimed CASA’s stance on the matter at first represented “a mistake”, but later amounted to “a lie” to protect the organisation, after he presented evidenc­e to back up his stance includin­g to the Deputy Prime Minister, Warren Truss, who holds responsibility for aviation.

The developments come as pressure mounts on CASA and Airservices Australia over calls from pilots, and families of crash victims, to adopt the air traffic control system used in the US.

As reported in The Weekend Australian, large tracts of Australian airspace — including many airports with substantial passenger traffic, such as Ballina in northern NSW — are under radar coverage but declared uncontrolled airspace, with air traffic controllers banned from directing aircraft flying at less than 8500 feet, even though they may still be on their screens.

In the US, all commercial aircraft are essentially always direct­ed by air traffic controllers, even where radar is not available, in which case they ensure separation through procedural methods. At smaller US airports without air traffic control towers, ground staff, often fire fighters, observe local air traffic and relay information to pilots through the Unicom radio system.

Last week, CASA spokesman Peter Gibson told The Weekend Australian: “Unicom services in the US do not provide traffic information services.”

But after being confronted by evidence to the contrary from two pilots who had flown in the US, the manager of an airport in Colorado, and Mr Smith, Mr Gibson admitted yesterday that US ground staff do provide such services. “Thus we don’t dispute what Dick is saying,” he said.

Airservices Australia recently put in a $13.5 million fire-and-rescue station at Ballina airport, with a staff of 17, but it has no license­d Certified Air/Ground Radio Operator to provide local air traffic information to pilots, who have to rely on talking to each other to avoid collisions.

Only licensed air traffic controllers and CA/GROs, who must have held an air traffic controllers’ licence in the past 10 years, are allowed to provide detailed information.

While Mr Gibson said Australian ground staff without such qualifications can still provide some air traffic inform­ation, aviation regulations restrict this to “unscheduled landings by aircraft”, and in practice such staff do not provide the service undertaken by their US counterparts.

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 Pilots, victims’ families call for change as planes fly blind

Dick Smith with his Cessna Citation plane at Ballina Airport. Picture: Renee Nowytarger

Dick Smith with his Cessna Citation plane at Ballina Airport. Picture: Renee Nowytarger Source: News Corp Australia

Cruising at 400 knots in private jet luxury at 37,000 feet in his “pocket rocket”, an elegant Cessna Cita­tion, businessman and aviator Dick Smith receives the comforting voice and instructions of air traffic control in Brisbane, directing his every move and keeping him and his three charges on board out of danger.

But passing down through 8500 feet on the way to Ballina on the NSW north coast, air traffic control leaves the plane to its fate. The rules dictate air traffic control can no longer direct it below that altitude. The aircraft and its four souls are on their own in “uncontrolled airspace”.

There is no fully fledged radio operator at Ballina and, unlike in the US, firefighters on the ground at the airport are banned from providing air traffic information.

Smith changes radio frequencies so that a system he calls “the blind calling in the blind” comes into play: pilots of different aircraft talk to each other to try to work out their relative positions and maintain separation.

“If we’re in cloud and … on a heading to fly into a mountain, then the air traffic control system just says, ‘well, you’re just stupid’ — they won’t let you know, even though you’re still on their radar,” Smith says.

Smith’s friend and co-pilot on the flight to Ballina, former US Air Force F-16 fighter pilot and airline captain Richard Woodward, says the Australian system “drives me nuts”.

“You’ve got this very advanced national air traffic control system but, instead, you have pilot­s flying around in clouds saying to each other, ‘Hi, I’m here, where are you, let’s work out how not to crash into each other’,” Woodward says.

Benalla in Victoria is seared in the minds of aviators. It is where six people died when the plane they were flying in from Sydney crashed into a mountain in July 2004.

Sydney chipboard company executive Robert Henderson was one of those killed. His brother David says the accident could happen again because of the refusal of authorities to apply controlled airspace procedures wherever possible.

“It’s simple. I can’t see any reason why you should not have controlled airspace where there is radar coverage,” Henderson tells The Weekend Australian.

Robert Henderson died along with his daughter Jacquie, 33; her husband and Blackhawk pilot in the Army Aviation Corps Alan Stark, 37; friend Belinda Andrews, 33; Qantas jumbo jet pilot Geoff Brockie, 37; and pilot Kerry Endicott.

David Henderson, who chairs the family business, is himself an experienced pilot, having at one stage flown the company-owned Piper Cheyenne to Benalla, where the company has a plant, as often as once a week.“If we can prevent just one accident in the future, it’s worthwhile,” Henderson said.

Investigations found the GPS navigation system on the Cheyenne had a fault, taking the aircraft on a track about 30km to the east of the correct one, in rain and low cloud. The aircraft was on air traffic control radar screens, and on two occasions an automatic alert warning informed air traffic controllers it was off-course.

The air traffic controllers ignored­ the warnings and did not inform the pilot — possibly, according­ to an investigation report, because they wrongly assumed­ the pilot was tracking to another navigation point.

Smith says he suspects the controllers knew that, once it flew below controlled airspace, they would have no authority to direct the aircraft anyway.

One of the things Henderson and Smith are bitter about is that, at the inquest, Smith was not permitted to give evidence after barristers argued against it.

While aviation authorities say air traffic controllers were retrained following the accident and new procedures introduced, Smith claims the fundamental problem of “unnecessarily uncontrolled” airspace remains.

In the US and Canada, the system of uncontrolled airspace for commercial aircraft was done away with decades ago. Aircraft are, essentially, always under the direction of air-traffic control, even where radar is not available. Where it isn’t, procedural controls can still apply.

About a decade ago, the then Coalition government announced it would switch to the US system.

In April 2006, Nationals MP Warren Truss, now Deputy Prime Minister and Infrastructure Minister with portfolio responsibility for aviation, wrote to a constituent with the reassurance that the ­government’s airspace policy, the National Airspace System, was “designed to introduce the benefits of the US airspace model”.

Some airports such as Coffs Harbour, in northern NSW and with about 350,000 passenger movements, are under designated controlled airspace. Coffs has a control tower. Ballina, with about 430,000 passengers, does not.

A Civil Aviation Safety Authority spokesman says the agency is required to assess changes to airspace based on risk, “not hard triggers such as passenger numbers”.

A spokesman for Mr Truss says considerable improvements have been made to the air traffic control system over the past decade.

“The current Australian Airspace Policy Statement was last updated in 2012 and incorporates the features of the US and European systems which are appropriate to Australian flying conditions,” the spokesman says.

The CASA spokesman says that issues relating to the airspace system are not “regularly or repeatedly being identified as the cause of accidents or incidents.

One absurdity, according to Smith and Woodward, is that restrictive rules stop Australian airports from introducing a US system in which various service providers, such as fire and rescue officers, provide pilots flying in the area with local weather and traffic information.

At Yampa Valley Regional Airport in the US Rocky Mountains, the fire and rescue officers routinely enter radio contact with aircraft as they approach.

They provide the pilots with wind speed and direction as well as information from what they can observe, such as the height and look of the clouds. They can also say what is happening on the runway.

Yampa Valley airport manager Kevin Booth says the firefighters liked the role.

“They have to be there anyway, they are in a great position to see what’s going on, and it gives them great pride to provide the service,” Booth says.

Just months ago, Airservices Australia put in a $13.5 million fire station at Ballina that has a viewing area that looks like a control tower, manned by 17 firefighters operating in shifts. But there was, apparently, no money left over to provide a Certified Air/Ground Operator, or CA/GRO for the airport, who would be authorised to provide detailed weather inform­ation and local air traffic movements.

Civil aviation safety regulations state CA/GROs “must hold, or have held within the last 10 years, an ICAO recognised Air Traffic Controller licence or an Australian Flight Service Officer licence”.

The rules do not completely prevent other airport employees, such as firefighters, from talking to pilots­ over the Unicom radio system, but restrict such conversations to the most basic of information. The rules ban any discussion of air traffic.

The Airservices spokesman says allowing the Ballina firefighters to provide local weather and traffic details to pilots “is not currently being considered”. He would not say why not.

The CASA spokesman says Unicom services in the US do not provide traffic information services, but this is directly contradicted by Booth, Smith and Woodward.

Smith says that if ground staff at the small Lockhart River airport in Cape York, who were not air traffic controllers, had been required to have standard radio contact with approaching aircraft, 15 people might not have died when a Fairfield Metroliner crashed into a mountain while approaching the airfield in bad weather in May 2005.

The manager of the airport, Manfred Kranabetter, who was at Lockhart River when the crash occurred, says that had the pilot contacted ground staff as part of a standard routine they could have told the pilot that a mountain on his intended approach was obscured by cloud.

“But I only provide information when I’m asked,” Kranabetter says.

Smith is incensed about the uncontrolled airspace and the radio operator restrictions. He has focused his ire on Truss. Yesterday, he wrote a letter calling on him to fulfil the Coalition’s commitment to introduce the US system — or resign.

In coming weeks the multi-­millionaire will hold public meetings in Ballina and Hervey Bay, in Truss’s southeast Queensland electorate of Wide Bay, which also has an airport designated to be in uncontrolled airspace.

At an impromptu meeting at Ballina airport this week, Smith told Ballina Byron Gateway Airport manager Neil Weatherson: “I might frighten the hell out of the people who are going to be flying here.”

In his letter to Truss, Smith quotes a Virgin Airlines pilot who described on an anonymous pilots’ blog how on one occasion several aircraft at Ballina were flying around the airport in cloud and rain, jamming the radio waves as they frantically tried to work out where each other was and how to avoid colliding.

“It was an absolute mess in terms of the radio,” the pilot, who spoke to The Weekend Australian on condition of anonymity, says.

“Quite frankly, it was a significant safety-of-flight issue.

“I find it quite extraordinary that we have at Ballina a new fire-rescue service to deal with an accident, but we have no risk mitigation in place to stop it happening in the first place.”

The CASA spokesman says regulation requires aviation fire services to be installed at domestic aerodromes that have in excess of 350,000 passenger movements.

As manager of Ballina, Weatherson says he would be happy for the airport to be brought under controlled airspace, eager to set up a full radio operator service, and quite content for that to be handled by the fire-and-rescue team.

“I’d love to have a CA/GRO … the issue is who pays for it, and how to recover it,” he says.

 

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