Safety case for AirServices [#ASA] removal of NDB’s missing
Air Services, after the recent drubbing in the October 2014 Senate estimates, where a Board decision on removal of the Approach facility at Adelaide airport was made before a safety case was undertaken, demonstrates how out of touch ASA is with the aviation community.
There is no fall back position to the NDB’s if the GPS signal fails.
There are in fact, two fatal accidents where a GPS failure is reported in recent times:
- Benalla (2004), six fatalities, where a Mohave was some 11NM off-track due to a GPS receiver failure. The ASA controllers saw the divergance, but failed to notify the pilot.
- Lockhart River (2005), 15 fatalities, where an RPT Metroliner struck a hill and two GPS signal failures were reported during the flight.
Against traditional civic action campaigns such as “Save Our School”, “Save Our Park”, or “Save Our Library”, the catchcry “Save Our Non-Directional Beacon” sounds a bit esoteric.
But that’s the slogan with which the people of Horsham in western Victoria are lobbying politicians in their battle to keep an air navigation device at their local airport.
In a bid to save money, Airservices Australia, the government-owned body that runs the nation’s air-traffic-control and navigation system, is soon to decommission about half the 415 fixed navigation aids across the country.
According to Hugh Brownlee, the chief flying instructor at the Wimmera Aero Club, it is an example of how Airservices focuses on the interests of the big airlines rather than the many small businesses of general aviation. Non-directional beacons are radio transmitters that send out signals picked up by automatic direction finders on aircraft.
They can be used to home in on an airfield for a landing approach, or, in combination with other NDB signals, give the pilot a fix on the aircraft’s position. Horsham is not an airline destination, but it has considerable general aviation activity.
Airservices says old-style fixed aids such as NDBs are redundant with the introduction of new technology, particularly satellite global positioning system navigation aids.
But the aviators at Horsham, backed by the Horsham Rural City Council, say the NDB, which also provides the signal for weather information, represents a critical safety feature.
The council’s director of technical services, John Martin, said Airservices was attempting to shift costs by suggesting if the council thought it needed the NDB, it could pay for it.
“We have implored them to maintain it,” Mr Martin said.
Aviators and the council have lobbied local Nationals MP Andrew Broad, a pilot, and Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss, who is Transport Minister.
“In our view, Airservices’ plans compromise our safety for the sake of their convenience and cost,” Mr Brownlee wrote in a letter to Mr Broad.
GPS is not infallible: a Victorian coroner found a faulty GPS aid on a light aircraft was to blame in 2004 for a crash in bad weather that killed six people near Benalla.
Under new regulations, aircraft rated for instrument-flight rules can get by with a basic GPS system as long as they have an “alternate” positioning system like automatic direction finders.
But with fewer fixed navigation aids to make the ADF work, aviators say they will lose their “alternate” system and be forced to install much more expensive GPS systems costing between $10,000 and $40,000.
A spokesman for Mr Truss said the Horsham NDB’s fate was sealed, and referred to “the better capability provided by satellite-based technology and the cost savings from not having to replace and maintain the older navaid network in its entirety”.