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Senator Fawcett questions – Still not answered – Where is the Archerfield case??

Estimates (supplementary)
The Department

Senator FAWCETT: Gentlemen, a number of individuals and aviation associations have criticised—in fact, some have condemned in quite strong words—both the minister and the department for their handling of the issues around commercial development on Bankstown and Archerfield airports.

I would like to know if you would make an opening statement about how you see the department’s role in interacting with airport operators, the minister and CASA in terms of that process.

Mr Mrdak: I would be interested in seeing what those comments are. I do not believe that those comments are in any way reflective of the regulatory arrangements and the actual situation at a number of airports, particularly those. I am aware of recent criticism of decisions, but I do not think that some of the media commentary reflects the facts.

In essence our role is set out in the act and also under the airport leases, which provide for the way in which we go about ensuring that the airport master plan provides for growth at the airports for aeronautical and non-aeronautical activity and to make sure that demand is being met. We also have a range of statutory requirements in relation to building control, environmental regimes and operations of the airport that we administer. The Civil Aviation Safety Authority obviously has responsibility for safety at the airports.

In relation to particular planning matters there are obviously differences of views at times between those of the airport operators in relation to development and those of some of the customers at that airport, particularly general aviation customers. I would characterise that at times as being robust, but I do not believe I would agree at any time that the act, the regs and the statutory requirements have not been met.

Senator FAWCETT: You mentioned that one of your requirements it to ensure the potential for growth. Are you referring there to growth in the aviation use of the airport or growth in the commercial use of the airport?

Mr Mrdak: Both. Our primary focus is to make sure the airports are available to provide facilities for aviation growth. That is the primary focus of the master planning process and the way in which we regulate the airports.

Senator FAWCETT: Perhaps if we go to a couple of examples that might help to unpack some of the concerns of industry. We will start with Archerfield and runway 28 right in particular. There have been some concerns in terms of the new corporate hangars and warbird hangars that have been built very close to runway 28 right and the impact that has in terms of instrument flight rules departures from that runway. One of the initial actions when that was raised was that the runway take-off distance available was shortened. If you look at the on-route supplement in the annexe at the rear, that restriction is still there. That starts to limit the type of aircraft that you can operate. If you are looking to operate a business jet or even something like a King Air or a 350, for example—which in Archerfield’s case would need a weight exemption—that starts limiting rather than enhancing the growth of the airport. Can you explain that inconsistency for me?

Mr Mrdak: I am not sure there is. I will ask Mr Doherty to comment. I am certainly not aware that there has been any restriction on anyone’s ability to operate from that field.

Senator FAWCETT: Shortening the runway is one heck of a restriction.

Mr Mrdak: I would be interested in seeing whether that has actually in practice impacted on any operation, but I will ask Mr Doherty to comment on the specifics.

Mr Doherty: Certainly the intention would not be to allow a development which was going to restrict the nature of the operation. I am aware that there has been controversy over a couple of buildings at Archerfield and I understand that there was basically disagreement between experts as to the extent to which that may or may not affect the operations of some aircraft at that airport. My understanding was that the most recent exercise on that was a study by the ATSB that indicated that those structures were, in fact, not an issue, so there was not an ongoing program. I am interested to hear you say that the restriction is still reflected in the documentation. The way the process should work would be that, if the airport lessee proposes a development, if would go through a building control process and would be referred to the expert agencies—in this case particularly, Air Services and CASA—for them to comment on any possible interference with aviation operations. As I understand in that case, it must have been around the interpretation at that stage. While it was given the clearance at the time, I think there are others who felt subsequently that it should not have been. But as I said, I thought the latest on that episode was that the ATSB had had a close look at it and advised that they did not see this as a problem.

Senator FAWCETT: You are correct that the ATSB did do an investigation and you are correct that there was a difference of opinion; but, interestingly, the ATSB investigation appears to have made the same error of interpretation of the Manual of Standards part 139, which looks at obstacle clearances, in that there are actually two tables in the back of that chapter which determine clearance gradients required. They took table 7.1, which applies to approach and landing clearances, and table 7.1-2 applies to the take-off requirement and expands the runway width requirement from 150 to 180 metres. With that, the splay that then goes out puts those two buildings well and truly in the zone where it impacts on the capability to use that for departures.

Mr Doherty: I am not able to comment that—that is not an area within my expertise—but it may be a matter that you can take up with ATSB.

CHAIR: Rather than spending the next 20 minutes inquiring, is this the place for Senator Fawcett to ask the questions about his concerns or is it ATSB?

Senator FAWCETT: If I can continue, all I am doing is highlighting an example. We have had the secretary tell us that everything is rosy. I have three or four examples where quite clearly the process of checking, verification and independent audit of the advice, whether it is given by the airport operator, by a consultant or by CASA in some cases has not been taken up and acted on appropriately by the department. That is the issue at hand, so all that detail was merely an example where due diligence has not been applied to a process and the end result is operational restrictions on people at the airport, which flies directly in the face of the stated intention of providing paths for growth for the airport.

CHAIR: Okay. This is fantastic. From a truckie to a test pilot, I do not mind what you do. What I am trying to say is we are not going to sit here all night if there is a quicker way of you getting answers. I am just going to put it to you that way. So I go back to my original question: are we in the right area?
Mr Mrdak: I think there are a range of issues Mr Doherty has been discussing with the senator. I think we need to have a look at what the senator wishes to put forward.

Mr Wolfe: I may add something. With regard to those particular claims that you have indicated in relation to the ATSB advice, my understanding is that the ATSB has responded to those claims, so I would definitely suggest you take it up with the ATSB.

Senator FAWCETT: Okay, let us have a look at the runway and safety area at the end of runway 28 right. You talked about the fact that there is a building inspector who works for the federal government, who is supposed to be involved as part of that development process. In fact the Archerfield Airport Corporation on their website when they talk about developments, very clearly lay out the criteria that should trigger the involvement of a federal agency, and the auction site which has been built in that safety area—or just over the road but still in the area concerned—was not referred—and please correct me if I am wrong—to the building inspector. The airport made their own determination that the site, which was a hardstand for the purpose of auctioning and selling large trucks and machinery and those sorts of things, did not constitute something that they needed to actually involve the federal government in.

Speaking as a professional pilot—and, thankfully, most of my aviation experience in single-engine aircraft means that I have had an ejection seat—if I have a large obstacle in front of me and the engine fails, I can leave the aircraft. The people on the ground will suffer the consequences. In this case part of the requirement in place is that the Queensland government has identified public safety areas around the runway ends.

CHAIR: If there is a question, Senator Fawcett, I would urge you to get to it, please.

Senator FAWCETT: My question is: why are the checks and balances not in place to make sure that when things occur that impact operations on airports which still come under Commonwealth or, where by lease, Commonwealth control, that the airport operator does actually refer things? And, if the subsequent activities on that land break state regulations, why are the checks and balances not there to make sure that we are supporting safe operations at airports? The Commonwealth has said that it wants to work with the state, and the minister has said in his recent speeches that he wishes to integrate more with the state and make sure we work with them. Clearly, the system has broken down in this case.

Mr Doherty: We may need to look more closely at the particular case, but my understanding is that, yes, there is a Queensland policy relating to public safety zones, and certainly in the white paper and beyond we are keen to have that reflected in planning particularly on the airport but also off-airport to the extent that it can. Those policies operate in different ways to define an area within which activity should be restricted because of the risk of exposing either the aircraft or persons on the ground to the risk of damage and, while it might be slight, it becomes a problem.

It does not work as a complete prohibition, however. There may be a range of activities which are still permissible in that area if they do not involve bringing a large concentration of people. So while it might be inappropriate to have a large shopping centre or something like that which involves congregating large groups of people, it may be quite appropriate to have a longstay car park or something which does not involve having large groups of people there at one time.

My understanding of that case is that it has been looked at and that the nature of the activity conducted there does not infringe the public safety zone policy. But it is something that we can take further advice on.

Senator FAWCETT: I would ask you to, and to take that on notice. Certainly what is there, and there is photographic evidence of it being there—large pieces of plant as well as many members of the public attending auctions at that location—is problematical. As you read both the Queensland legislation and the federal, the obligation is a two-way street. One is to protect people on the ground—and there was an accident adjacent to that location a number of years ago when the pilot, and four people working in a factory, were killed when an aircraft crashed. There is also the obligation to the aircraft and its pilot and passengers to provide safety in a zone which is one of the most critical areas. US studies show that about 80 per cent of accidents occur in that area on takeoff, or landing when there is an undershoot, if you have an engine failure. The obligation is on your department to make sure that we provide a safe area around airports so that in the event of an emergency the pilots do have somewhere to land. It is not like military aircraft with ejection seats and the options to try and turn back. Civilians are constrained—

CHAIR: Senator Fawcett, I will remind you that if there is a question would you please come to it. The questions are very important, but I do not honestly believe we need all the preamble. You have the call and I urge you to get to the question.
Mr Wilson: We will take the issue with regard to the end zone at Archerfield on notice and provide the committee with a detailed response.

Senator FAWCETT: About the process: there was a repcon in Flight Safety Australia recently, which looked at the issue of building approvals again, this time well away from the airport. But things that affect what are called the PANS-OPS clearance requirements for aircraft that are in IFR—so they cannot see. What became very clear in that repcon was that as the redacted report went to different agencies the airport operators said, ‘It is up to CASA’. And CASA said, ‘We can’t, actually—it’s up to the department’. The department came back and said, ‘Look, processes are in place’. But we have seen over the years that rather than saying, ‘No, you can’t build a building, because that actually infringes the requirements,’ the building has gone ahead and instead there has been a reactive approach where the gradients and flight settings increase.

Senator Carr: Be fair. The minister put out a white paper on these issues, the first that had ever actually been produced by the Commonwealth. It outlined the procedures with regard to planning for development around airports. You have raised some issues with regard to one site, which the department has undertaken to have a look at. But I do think we have to get this in context; none of this work was ever done before.

Senator FAWCETT: My point is that this is not just around Archerfield. It is also around the Sydney Basin, and this is a clear indication that what has been put in place in terms of a process is not being applied, monitored or audited. My question is: what checks and balances are in place from the department to make sure that the processes that are laid down are actually being followed and adhered to? What independent body audits or checks the application of these processes?

Mr Doherty: There is work on foot on this. We do take the protection of those services very seriously. There is the OLS relating to visual flight and the PANS-OPS relating to instrument flight. The PANS-OPS is seen as non-negotiable; there is no scope for an intrusion into the PANS-OPS for any particular time.

We have provisions in the Commonwealth legislation which are designed to provide notice of proposed buildings which would go close to the controlled surface, to allow those to be assessed and to make a judgement. We are currently working with a group of state officials to try to do a couple of things. One is to make sure that those sorts of controls are expanded properly into airports which are not controlled under the Commonwealth’s Airports Act provisions. And secondly, to make sure that we have robust arrangements in place for how they are administered. So we are keen to work on making sure that we have the right arrangements in place to make sure those are given effect to. We agree with you: those are extremely important.

Senator FAWCETT: I think if you look into it—and again, I am happy to be corrected—I believe that there are at least two examples in Brisbane and Sydney where the PANS-OPS base has been increased as a result of buildings that have gone up and have not been blocked, even though under our ICAO obligations we are supposed to. I encourage you to look into that and, if I could put that on notice to come back to me—

Mr Wilson: If you could put those two examples on notice that would be helpful.

Senator FAWCETT: Certainly.

Aviation and Airports

Senator FAWCETT: I want to confirm whether the department still acts on behalf of the Commonwealth in leases of airports?

Mr Mrdak: Yes.

Senator FAWCETT: Section 9.2 of the lease talks about maintenance of runways and pavements:
The lessee must maintain the runways, taxiways, pavements and all parts of the airport essential for safe access by air transport to a standard no less than the standard at the commencement of the lease.

Why then at Bankstown Airport has the airport operator ripped up the cross-runway, which is the only north-south runway available to light operators in the area, closed taxiways, reduced the number of runways by nearly three-quarters and moved the purpose-built compass wing area to a part of the tarmac that has ferrous material in it, which makes it not suitable, and also reduced significantly the area available for rotary wing training operations by moving it from the south to the north side of the runways?

Mr Doherty: The decommissioning of the cross-runway at Bankstown occurred in March 2005. It was identified in the master plan as a change of the layout of the aeronautics and that is provided for in the Airports Act. The new master plan was approved in 2005, so that was the basis for the action that then followed.

Senator FAWCETT: The changes were also opposed by operators at the airfield and MOPS 139 requires operators be consulted. Also with the cross-runway, particularly where there is ab initio training involved which there is—in fact the minister just in the last 12 months has reported the number of training operations at Bankstown is increasing—means the useability factor for a runway and cross-wing operations in particular should be 99.5 per cent. Was it actually established prior to that plan being approved and were the opinions of the users taken into account? The users certainly still believe that whilst they put forward contrary positions they were not considered nor in fact available publicly to see who opposed it.

Mr Doherty: I can only speak broadly. I understand that there were submissions from two of the tenants at the time which were taken into account and, I think before the decision was made, advice was sought from both CASA and Airservices. The essential advice was that the cross-runway was used very rarely, that it was inappropriate to use it while the main parallel runway system was in operation and the requirement to use the cross-runway occurred on maybe a couple of days a year for part of a day, so it was used to a very small extent, and there was no objection raised from CASA on safety grounds.

Senator FAWCETT: Mr Doherty, how often do you use the airbags or seatbelts in your car?

Mr Doherty: I use the seatbelts all the time.

Senator FAWCETT: To prevent injuries in an accident. How often are they required?

Senator Carr: It is a bit unfair to put it to these officers. A decision was made and signed off, as I understand, by Minister Anderson at the time of the previous government. It really is a bit difficult to pursue the matter with officers some years later.

Senator FAWCETT: Minister, my point is that the process in terms of transparency around the relationship between the department, regardless of the flavour of government, and the aviation operators is not effective in terms of actually preserving the utility of airports for their primary purpose which is aviation. To quote the current minister: ‘Nothing, I repeat, nothing is as important in aviation as safety.’ I have no further questions.



Senator FAWCETT: On a slightly different topic, do you still act on behalf of CASA to develop departure approach plates as part of the AIP publications for aircrew?

Mr Harfield: We are certified under CASA regulation part 173 to actually design and produce instrument approaches.

Senator FAWCETT: If there were a building development in a capital city that pushed the floor of the PANS-OPS criteria higher, you would be then required to modify approach plates?

Mr Harfield: If that was an approved variation and the PANS-OPS was varied then we would have to go back and revalidate the instrument approach. The instrument approach would have to then be authorised by not only our chief designer but also CASA. It has to be flight tested and approved but still has to stay within the approved design criteria.

Senator FAWCETT: I am happy for you to take this on notice if you need to, but could you come back to the committee with any situations where you have had to revise your PANS-OPS criteria as a result of urban development or city development in either the Brisbane or Sydney areas in particular, or anywhere in Australia, but particularly those two?

Mr Russell: We will take that on notice. There have been some issues that I would like to make sure we get right.

Senator FAWCETT: Could you expand on that, please, Mr Russell, and tell the committee what those issues have been.

Mr Russell: It is urban encroachment on major airports. I think you are probably pointing this way. In Sydney, for instance, there are a number of high-rises around the airport that fall into this category. There are a number of infrastructure developments close to the airport, again, that fall into this category. If we could have some time to research this properly, we will come back to you on notice if we may.

Mr Harfield: I just want to provide some clarity. What we will do is provide information where there has been a redesign or a variation as a result of a change being put in. We do not have the authority to change PANS-OPS criteria. I just wanted to make that clear.

Senator FAWCETT: Yes, I understand that. With the issues you are working through, Mr Russell, do you feel as though there are appropriate checks and balances in place such that, if a developer does actually put forward a proposal, the operator, CASA and Air Services Australia have opportunity in a transparent way to register their opposition to something which is going to adversely affect the operational capacity of an airport and the requirements of airlines to actually fly steeper gradients during departures or approaches?

Mr Mrdak: This is an area of growing concern for us, as the department acknowledged before the dinner break. Mr Russell, Mr McCormick and I, as the aviation policy group, which is the CEOs of the aviation agencies, have discussed this issue at length. We have recognised the need to improve the processes involved in judging and advising. Also in relation to the point you raised, to some degree the aviation industry has worked hard to accommodate in the past some of these breaches of services. I think we have reached the point where we believe we can no longer do that. Hence there is some work happening at the moment where we have established a group of officers from our respective departments and agencies which is now working on a much more robust approach to, firstly, identifying potential breaches. As you know there are regulations under the Airports Act which provide for protection of prescribed airspace. How do we better identify those, how do we ensure that local and state governments are aware of it and how do we as the agencies get together much more effectively to make sure that those breaches of the services are no longer accommodated in the way that they have been?

Senator FAWCETT: Do you have a time frame for that work?

Mr Mrdak: Our officers have started talking about this in some detail. I expect that the next couple of months is when we will try and provide a much better approach to how we have handled this to date.

Senator FAWCETT: Do you have any plans for industry involvement so that they can have some input as to how their perspective can be incorporated?

Mr Mrdak: We certainly will. We have not got to that stage as yet. I think the first stage is for our officers to identify exactly what the current processes are and where the weaknesses are. That will then enable us to design a better way to handle this. As Mr Doherty and Mr Stone indicated in the evidence from the department a little earlier, this is an area which we are taking up with a great deal of strength with the states and their planning agencies.

Senator FAWCETT: I am very pleased to hear that. Could you take on notice to provide to the committee how industry will be involved, particularly how feedback around an application is transparent so that, rather than just being told consultation has occurred but not knowing whether all the submissions were positive or negative, industry know whether they are a lone voice or everyone else supported their position but, for some reason, the decision has gone the other way? That would be very useful.

Mr Mrdak: Certainly.


Senator FAWCETT: I do not believe that they were necessarily seeking compensation for it but I am happy to take that offline with you. Moving to some separate issues, we have had a number of operators from both Bankstown and Archerfield in particular talk to us about concerns around commercial development on airfields. The secretary and I have had some discussions in previous sessions around the different agencies that are involved in this, and CASA is clearly a key player in this space. The concerns that industry are coming back to us with are that either CASA is not being listened to or CASA is not concerned about some of the developments. Would you care to comment on how you see CASA’s role in the current construct and whether you feel that CASA is empowered so that if you do see a safety concern, be it something in the OLS that is affecting operations at an airport or the PANS-OPS criteria more broadly, you have the remit and the authority to say no or if at the moment all you can do is make a recommendation.

Mr McCormick: I appreciate there as been quite a bit of discussion about this already and I will allow the secretary to speak if he wishes. We have heads of power for safety issues. If there is something that affects safety, we do have some ability to do things. We do not have any role to play in the planning environment or the infrastructure environment. Perhaps Mr Mrdak will say a few words on that.

Mr Mrdak: It comes back to my earlier comments. We recognise this is an area where there is a renewed focus by the agencies. The white paper certainly set out the need to safeguard and protect aviation activity. There is a very heightened focus by the government. We are undertaking the master planning process for the leased airports in this area, and we are looking to work much more closely with CASA than we have in the past.

Senator FAWCETT: With respect, Secretary, I am comfortable with your position. I am greatly heartened by it. I am keen to hear from CASA’s perspective where they would like to see their position in all of this, because in the safety role you have a key part to play in preserving the efficacy, the efficiency and the safety of particularly our secondary airports.

Mr McCormick: We do take that very seriously. I will ask Peter Cromarty, Executive Manager of Airspace and Aerodrome Regulation, to give you a few more technical points on where we are.

Mr Cromarty: I think the issue boils down to the point that the aerodrome is a piece of infrastructure which is owned by somebody, quite often the local council, and the council has to take a commercial decision between what they consider to be, in relative terms, the benefit of whatever the development is that they want to put on the aerodrome and the benefit of the aviation infrastructure. As far as CASA are concerned, we have very few powers to restrict developments of the nature you are talking about.

Senator FAWCETT: I accept that from a development perspective, but MOS 139 and other regulations point to the fact that the primary concern is the safety and the ongoing utility of the airport as an air operating environment, both the airspace and the surface, to make sure there is continuing access. And the lease that the Commonwealth has signed with airports such as Bankstown and Archerfield, as the two that are in question at the moment, go to the fact that we need to preserve that safe operating environment. What people come back to us with frequently is: ‘If CASA has not objected then we are good to go.’ What we do not see in the public space is a transparent record of what CASA’s position has been. For example, with runway 28R at Archerfield, when people have had concerns about the new corporate hangars and the Warbird hangars, what has CASA’s position been? Do you have concerns about the IFR take-offs, the restricted runway length and the potential impact of someone doing an overshoot off the 28 RNAV?

Mr Cromarty: As I understand it, the situation at Archerfield was that the hangar was in a position where it was at the precise point where there was an anomaly between the obstacle limitation surfaces and the PANS-OPS surfaces. Now, when I was watching the committee broadcast earlier, I heard there was some question about the diligence we had put into this. I can assure you we spent a huge amount of time trying to come to a compromise position which would allow the airport to continue to operate as it had done and comply with the regulations that we could comply with. In the end, Airservices and CASA came to a compromise position, a conservative position, which facilitated the airport’s operations yet also enabled us to comply as we could with the contradictory requirements of the ICAO standards.
As far as Bankstown is concerned, the withdrawal of a runway, as I said before, is a commercial decision for the airport; and, provided the airport in all considerations complies with MOS part 139, then CASA is satisfied.

Senator FAWCETT: So you are satisfied that there are suitable options for a student pilot flying a Cessna with a 10 knot cross-wind limit to land in adverse wind conditions, in a north-southerly or a northerly wind in the Sydney Basin?

Mr Cromarty: I would say flying ops is not my area. However, having been a flying instructor I would say that it is the instructor’s responsibility to make sure that the student can fly in the conditions they are flying in.

Senator FAWCETT: Conditions do vary, so that is not necessarily a fail-safe. Coming back to runway 28 at Archerfield, you talked about that overlap between the two points. It does not take away from the fact, though, that the information that is provided, for example into the en-route sub—because it is only a registered airfield as opposed to a certified airfield—comes from the operator and the description of 150 used in that equation, as opposed to the 180 from my readings of the MOS and the tables in there, particularly 7.1-2, appears to be an error. Yet that appears to be the basis of the take-off requirement. Is there any other circumstance in Australia where the compromise you have referred to of having to keep that obstacle visual during an IFR take-off has been applied, or is that unique to Archerfield?

Mr Cromarty: Not that I am aware of, no.

Senator FAWCETT: So it is unique, it is unusual, but it maybe accounts for the take-off. But what about the overshoot case, where somebody has come off the 28 RNAV, is forced to do an overshoot because of heavy rain and so does not have visual contact with what is now quite a large obstacle that intrudes into the airspace?

Mr Cromarty: May I take that on notice and get the definitive answer for you?

Senator FAWCETT: Please do, but it just highlights the fact that the system of oversight—putting safety ahead of the commercial interest—has broken down and there are operators who are at risk because of that breakdown in the system.

Mr McCormick: I do not think that is correct. I am not sure that that is the case and that we necessarily agree with that.

Senator FAWCETT: I will be happy to see your answer on notice because, as I read the various publications, that is the situation I am led to understand to be the case. That is certainly also the contention of the operating fraternity at Archerfield.

Mr McCormick: If the question on notice has some specificity about what you want addressed, we will certainly get you the answer.

Senator FAWCETT: I will also be placing some questions on notice about the runway and safety area on 28 right about the culvert and the development of the auction site within the public safety area as defined by the Queensland government and the fact that that is not as advertised originally. There are significant obstacles, large plant, in that area.


Senator FAWCETT: Undoubtedly, you have been following the proceedings for the last couple of hours—

Mr Dolan: I have.

Senator FAWCETT: so you probably know exactly where I am heading. Your name has been taken in vain around Archerfield and the concern around runway 28 right there. With your report 38 of 2008 you did great work in identifying discrepancies in needing to move forward. I have a few questions to try to get some details on the table. Your report has been used to essentially say there was a discrepancy and that is being addressed but there is no safety issue. NOTAM C250/07, which was mentioned in your report, requires a reduction in the TORA and TODA for runway 28 right for IFR departures from 1,400 to 1,095 metres. If there was only a discrepancy and there was no issue, why was a NOTAM necessary?

Mr Dolan: There was a potential safety issue in terms of the location of the hangar which led to the intervention in terms of the shortening of the usable runway. Perhaps it is worth taking a step back. You have clearly read the report. The terms of reference that were set were limited. The questions we were trying to address were: first of all, was there a problem with the obstacle limitation surface as it was in place following adjustments in the light of the construction of the hangar? Secondly, there was the problem of the actual design of the departure. We still take the view that at the time we were looking at it, the obstacle limitations surfaces and how they operated for the airport were safe. If one were doing this from zero, one would probably not have constructed the hangar where it is, but we were satisfied that the steps that had been taken to ensure safety operated well and that the instrument departure design was sound in itself but did very much highlight a problem with the ICAO standards and a need for clarification.

The reason we limited it to that was that we have received through our confidential reporting system some quite specific concerns about those issues. I want to make clear, the limits were placed for good reasons on what was available to us at the time. I understand that other issues have been raised since, but they had not been raised with us.

Senator FAWCETT: So noting the limited terms of reference and constraints put on you and just coming to the actual report then, one of the mitigating circumstances was obviously a reduction in the length of the runway. That NOTAM has subsequently been rescinded and the notes that were on the airfield charts have been removed. Other than the ERSA supplement which still identifies that restriction, a lot of the other things that would normally be required under the MOS, such as ‘distance to run available’ type signage, are not present at Archerfield. Do you consider that is still a safety issue?

Mr Dolan: I would have to say that since the completion of that report we have not done any further review. This sort of investigation is at the margins of what we would normally do. The issues in play here are essentially regulatory. We have not had any occurrences reported to us that I am aware of—and Mr Walsh may correct me on that. We have got no basis in terms of our normal system of getting information about safety occurrences in the system to say that something needs another look.

Senator FAWCETT: I understand and accept that. The problem that we are facing is that it is a case of following the bouncing ball, and the bouncing ball tends to rest with the ATSB report, and people say that there is no problem because ATSB said so. I guess I am just trying to extract all the information I can about the basis of your report limitations if you report perceptions of people who may have contributed to the report, because that informs us where we perhaps need to look elsewhere.

The mitigation that was put in place in terms of CASA’s compromise, as they called it, to say that as long as the hangar was visible during the first part of a takeoff that was acceptable, clearly does not apply to somebody who is on approach to land and has a bolt landing perhaps due to a heavy rain shower such that the pilot is low-level. If you actually look at the IFR flyover clearance requirements, we are talking very flat, clear requirements in that scenario and the hangar is clearly in the space where that is going to become an issue. From the ATSB’s perspective, did you consider that as part of your report?

Mr Dolan: No, we did not, Senator. As I say, the information available to us at the time was focused on departure not on approach. There is nothing in our report that would cast light on that issue you have raised.

Senator FAWCETT: My last question before the chair moves me on is talking around departures. I notice on page 3 of your report, where you talk about the turn initiation area, you describe in the PANS-OPS terms things like the obstacle identification surface and 150 metres which is normally the inner edge running along. Under the old MOS 139 it was table 7-1 and under the new one it is table 10-1. Table 10-2 applies to take-offs whereas table 10-1 applies to landings. The figure of 150 is relevant for approach runway considerations for a code 3 runway. For a code 3 runway for departures it is actually 180 metres. Would you care to comment on that discrepancy, given that, as you said, your investigation focused on departures as opposed to arrivals?

Mr Dolan: On the basis of what I have in front of me, I do not think I am in a position to comment.

Senator FAWCETT: Please take that on notice and whether whoever worked on that area of the report could explain the different numbers between the various versions of MOS. He could explain whichever one he wishes to use.

Mr Dolan: I would be very happy to take that on notice. There are two things to come back to this committee based on the view we come to on that consideration. It is always open to us, if additional information comes to light, to reopen one of our investigations if that is necessary. I am not undertaking to do that, but I am certainly undertaking to consider it if necessary.

Senator FAWCETT: Thank you.



Senator FAWCETT: The Archerfield plan at the moment indicates simultaneously a proposed extension of runway 28 right and at the same time has zoned an area for light industrial that would be slap in the middle of the runway and safety area. So, there is a direct conflict there straightaway, because if that development goes ahead then the runway extension cannot go ahead, which means the airport loses the potential to expand its operations. Why did that get approved?

Mr Mrdak: The Archerfield master plan is currently in the process of development. There is an approved master plan, but Archerfield is currently going through the process of obtaining approval of a new master plan. To the best of my knowledge, we have sought resolution of a number of issues that we identified with the draft master plan, and Archerfield is currently working through those issues and we are awaiting a response from the airport.

Senator FAWCETT: So, a conflict like that, if it was in this current plan, would not be approved?
Mr Wilson: I would have to take the detailed question on notice rather than try to provide you with an answer off the cuff in regard to the technical aspects of the operation of an airport. But the underlying premise, as Mr Mrdak indicated, was that we would provide advice in regard to the ongoing operation of the aviation sector.

Senator HEFFERNAN: Would it be possible for the committee to get a touch and feel briefing, because this same thing is coming up with Bankstown, is it not; this encroachment?

Senator FAWCETT: It is coming up with Bankstown. A lot of your plan here talks about leased airports, and if time was permitting I would have a lot more questions to ask about leased airports. But the same issues are arising at airports under the ALOP scheme that are run by local councils. Can I get the department’s impression as to whether the same imperative and your perception that aviation is the primary use at leased airports also applies to airports that are now run by local councils?

Senator Carr: Did I understand you correctly, Senator Heffernan? You are requesting a briefing on these issues?

Senator HEFFERNAN: I think because it is such an important issue—

Senator Carr: I also understand what the officers are saying to me, that it is custom and practice. Would it be helpful if there were a briefing organised?

Senator FAWCETT: A briefing would be fantastic, but today in estimates I would like some answers to these questions.

Senator Carr: Sure, they will give you the answer you need. But there is a whole series of questions you are asking about this issue. If the officers are telling me that is custom and practice, we could organise through the committee to have a—

Senator HEFFERNAN: What I am interested in is a separate issue. There is obviously a hell of a lot of pressure from developers to encroach—
Senator Carr: I am not seeking to deny your questions.

Mr Mrdak: In relation to those aerodromes which are owned and operated by local government, clearly there have been issues. The industry has raised issues with those owners. Clearly, the Commonwealth’s regulatory powers are not there in the same way as they are under the Airports Act, under the leased airports, which is why we have focused very much on the safeguarding process of intrusions into safety areas. Certainly, if there were developments which conflicted with the ongoing operation of the airport that would be a concern. The transfer deeds for the airports require the agreement of the Commonwealth for any closure of an airport.

Senator FAWCETT: Having identified that those deeds still give the Commonwealth that direct link for its intent for airport development, I noticed in your white paper that it specifically highlights things like residential, aged care and so on.

At Evans Head at the moment a local government is actually looking to build an aged care facility right next door to a runway. How can the Commonwealth allow that to occur, given that that council operates the airport under a deed and you still have the reach through that deed to enforce the primary purpose of the airport and the prevention of development that will decrease its utility as an aviation facility?

Senator FAWCETT: I will come back to the issue of fees between the federal government and local government. You questioned whether or not they would be applicable. Part 2 subparagraph H sub 1 talks about the local authority taking action such as within its power to create land use zoning around the aerodrome that would prevent residential and other incompatible development. I would like to get on the record the Commonwealth’s position as to how they intend to enforce the deed, because yesterday in South Australia the local government association released a report into regional airports which indicates that a number of them are operating at a loss, and there is a growing pressure on local government authorities to divest themselves of the land for other purposes just to remain viable.

That obviously puts pressure on the viability of the airport as an aviation asset. So for the certainty of all players, even ahead of this process of the planning group that you are chairing, Mr Wilson, I think it is important that the Commonwealth states whether it is intending to enforce the terms of this deed under which these airports were transferred to local government.

Mr Mrdak: The Commonwealth’s position has been that we would like to see these airports remain as aviation infrastructure. Obviously, the local governments are the owners of these assets and they are best placed to make the judgments for their local communities; but the Commonwealth’s priority interest is to ensure that aviation users’ needs are met, and I think that has been our consistent position. I will just check with Mr Doherty, but I think that consistently our advice has been that, where there is an aviation need, we would like to see that met by the aeronautic infrastructure.

Senator FAWCETT: When you say ‘you would like to see that met’, does that indicate the Commonwealth is actually prepared to enforce the terms of the deed?

Mr Mrdak: We have, in the past, made clear our position to various councils and developers that we believe the deeds require the continuing ongoing operation of particular aerodromes.

Senator FAWCETT: Have you done that in the past with airfields like Archerfield?

Mr Mrdak: Archerfield is captured by a completely different regime. It is captured by the Airports Act.

Senator FAWCETT: I understand. It still has that linkage of a lease through the various acts, including the Airports (Transitional) Act, that bind the current owners of the airport, or the leaseholders, to have the same relationship with sublessees and use of the land that was the intention of the Commonwealth.

Mr Mrdak: The airport lease requires the operation of an aerodrome. That is a fundamental requirement of the airport lease.

Senator FAWCETT: Can you give me an update on the status of the Queensland Scouts application to utilise some surplus Airservices land for their aviation facility?

Mr Russell: I am not familiar with those details. Can you let me know where and I will take it on notice to respond to you?

Senator FAWCETT: My understanding is they had applied to use some land adjacent to Archerfield Airport.

Mr Russell: I am not familiar with it. That is not to say that they have not, but I need to know more information and then I will get back to you.

Senator FAWCETT: Mr Mrdak, perhaps you could explain for me why the Scouts have actually had to apply for that land, given that they used to have a purpose-built almost million-dollar facility at Archerfield Airport?

Mr Mrdak: I do apologise, but I am not familiar with that issue. Along with Mr Russell, I will take it on notice.

Senator FAWCETT: Coming back to our previous discussion around leases, if a group has a lease with the Commonwealth which was duly signed and approved by people with delegations in the Commonwealth, when that was transferred to the Federal Airports Corporation did all those obligations on behalf of the Commonwealth to the leaseholder transfer to the Federal Airports Corporation?

Mr Mrdak: The Federal Airports Corporation is a successor of the department. Leases that were in existence at the time that the airports were leased under the Airports (Transitional) Act are effectively all assigned to the airport lessee company who stepped into the rights of the Federal Airports Corporation.

Senator FAWCETT: That was the next stage and that was under the transitions act.

Mr Mrdak: That is right.

Senator FAWCETT: Essentially, leases that were transferred should have put on the lessor—in other words, the airport companies—the same obligations to deal with the people who held leases at the airport on the same terms and conditions.

Mr Mrdak: Without knowing the specifics of the case that you are asking about, that is essentially the position under the transition act, yes.

Senator FAWCETT: This is the subject of some considerable correspondence between then Prime Minister Rudd and Minister Albanese. There was some considerable media coverage. Are you saying that you were not aware at all of the issue of the Scouts having to demolish their building at Archerfield Airport?


Senator FAWCETT: Could you describe the nature of CASA’s contribution to the National Airports Safeguarding Advisory Group?

Mr McCormick: I will ask Mr Cromarty to reply to that.

Mr Cromarty: I am the CASA representative on the NASAG. The nature of my contribution is to provide regulatory advice to the group.

Senator FAWCETT: That is not particularly informative. With the current policy and regulation, the only time public safety comes into account at the moment in Queensland is with their public safety areas. Almost everything else pertains to noise. Given that CASA is the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, are you advising the group about the relative safety record of the different spheres of aviation? For example, FAR’s 25 transport category, versus 23, versus experimental such that they make deliberations about the level of developments and encroachment on airports—right through to regional airports. That group has a good understanding of the increased risk profile that community developments close to an airport face where you have low-time pilots with FAR 23, or lower, category aircraft operating.

Mr Cromarty: The regulation of developments near airports is a matter for the local councils and the state governments. CASA has no powers over those type of developments.

Senator FAWCETT: I am not asking if you have powers. This is a consultative group. It is an advisory group bringing together the different levels of government to get a comprehensive set of standards, or a framework, around airport approvals. It is quite clear in the white paper and in general experience that local government do not have expertise in aviation matters, particularly around safety. That is why CASA is involved. If CASA is not providing that input as to the relative safety of things like the James Reason model, and the fact if you remove different layers of protection you are actually increasing the risk, who is supposed to provide that kind of input to the process?

Mr Cromarty: We do provide that type of information to the group. The group is predominantly planning specialists and the group is producing advisory material for the benefit of the planning authorities and the state regulators so that they will be aware of such issues as you describe. That document has been released once for consultation and, as I understand it, is about to be released again. All I can tell you is that we have given our input where we can.

Senator FAWCETT: Which leads me back to my original question. Could you describe the nature of that input and the kinds of issues that you have been raising with people representing local or state planning authorities so that they understand the aviation side of the safety equation as opposed to just the planning around noise and things like that?

Mr McCormick: I think you will appreciate that the demarcation lines between state planning and perhaps planning done at a federal level is a very complex question. Our general input into all these matters when it comes to construction is whether they impinge on the obstacle clearance slopes or obstacle clearance planes and what the impact of that development will be. As to the actual planning approval and where the process goes apart from our regulatory input to that is not in our purview.

Senator FAWCETT: I understand that is the current system. I understand those are the current constraints. I also understand that the intent of the white paper and this group that has been set up is to develop a new framework, a new understanding between the levels of government such that there can be some translation of knowledge and expertise that will inform planning requirements. Do you think it is acceptable in the nature of the intent of this group for CASA and other departments to just sit back and go, ‘It has always been thus and that is not our responsibility’, or do you think you actually have an obligation to put forth the aviation safety case into the development of this new framework?

Mr McCormick: It is fair to say that CASA put forward a safety case and the safety issues by the strongest means possible whenever those issues arise. But we are not leading that development, nor are we leading that work. But we do not allow safety issues to go unrecognised, or un-highlighted, when they arise.


The Department

Senator FAWCETT: I turn to answers you gave on notice at the last estimates following up on the NASAG. One of the questions I asked was: do you consider that the airspace and noise considerations are all that is required to safeguard airports? Your answer was yes. Are you aware of the ATSB report into engine failures or degradation of power after take-off?

Mr Mrdak: I am not aware of—

Senator FAWCETT: There is a specific report. I would like you to look into it. That report made recommendations about the requirement for forced landing areas for aircraft. There were 240-odd incidents leading up to 31 December 2010 in the decade before that. They include degradations in the forced landings and 75 energy failures. I would like you to revisit the discussion on public safety areas that has been pushed off to a later date. I would like your response to that on notice as to whether it is adequate.

Mr Mrdak: Certainly, Senator. I will do that.

Senator FAWCETT: Secondly, in terms of Adelaide and the efficacy of the NASAG process, I asked if a request to extend building heights were put forward, how would it be handled? The response was that there is no request.

In February this year, the front page of the Adelaide Advertiser reported on a strong push to get rid of what they called archaic limitations on building heights. There was some talk of a 100-storey building. If you are familiar with the layout of airports in Adelaide, that would have a huge impact. I would like your written answer as to how you will handle that request when it inevitably comes.

Thirdly, I asked about the investment into aviation infrastructure in leased airports. During the briefing your staff gave, you talked about the percentages, and quite high percentages, in some cases. At Jandakot, for example, the figure is in the tens of millions allocated against the airport.

The best the Parliamentary Library could find was water supply, sewerage, drainage, electricity, gas communication systems and existing interests. There is no mention of runways, taxiways, aircraft run-up areas and additional runways, which have been on the books for ages.

What oversight does your department have on the implementation of the undertaking that these lessees have to invest the money they make in aviation related infrastructure?

Mr Doherty: I am not sure that there is a general obligation on us to do that. When the sale agreements were set up for the initial privatisation of the airports, a number of the airports did have obligations in relation to particular developments. They were discharged within the time frame for those obligations. So we do not as a rule have a process of keeping an account of the individual investment.

Senator FAWCETT: Mr Doherty, thank you. I ask you to take this on notice, given that we are rapidly running out of time.

How will the department implement your stated vision from the white paper and your response to me that airports are predominantly about aviation?

How will you actually achieve that vision statement for your department’s view of airports if you do not monitor the investment and the upkeep?

I ask you to also extend that to ALOP aerodromes, particularly given that the transfer deed specifically prohibited local government from doing things like building dams or things that might attract bird life? Right at the moment there are a number of councils who are doing things like interrupting drainage, creating bird habitats and building dams right next to runways. I would like your detailed explanation about how you will maintain oversight of aviation infrastructure that is clearly degrading at both the leased airports and within the ALOP space.

Mr Mrdak: Certainly, Senator. I think Mr Doherty was talking about specific development commitments, but we will come back to you with a statement in relation to how we oversight them. As I said, ALOP, as we have discussed, is largely a matter for local government. The guidelines under NASAG try to deal with some of those issues you have raised. So we will come back to you with a detailed answer.

Senator FAWCETT: You said that it is a matter for local government. I will give you a list on notice of issues that I would like you to address one by one as to whether you think local government have actually done a credible job in preserving aviation infrastructure in the leased airports, such as Jandakot.


Mr McCormick: In respect of the other development at Archerfield, we have an ongoing investigation into that—an auction company, I believe. I would like to give you that information on notice, if I could, in the interests of time.

Senator FAWCETT: That brings me, I guess, to the point of MOS 139. Whilst it is around airfield design in particular, is the point that you have raised about intrusions into airspace for the benefit of the building or for the benefit of keeping the aeroplane safe?

Mr McCormick: Our focus is on keeping aircraft safe.

Senator FAWCETT: Could you describe for me the different classifications of airfield in Australia and CASA’s responsibility in terms of safety at each of those different classifications?

Mr McCormick: Our classifications generally are either registered or certified. But I will ask Mr McGregor, who is our Acting Executive Manager, Airspace and Aerodrome Regulation, to perhaps enlighten you a little more.

Senator FAWCETT: Mr McGregor, did you hear the question?

Mr McGregor: Could I have it again, please?

Senator FAWCETT: I asked for a definition of the different categories of aerodromes and CASA’s responsibility for operations at each of those aerodromes.

Mr McGregor: Basically, there are two categories which are regulated—that is, certified and registered aerodromes. CASA has an oversight audit program that deals with both.

Senator FAWCETT: And beyond that?

Mr McGregor: Beyond that? They are basically the areas of regulation—certified and registered aerodromes.

Senator FAWCETT: MOS 139 highlights that, if you are operating an airfield that is not certified or registered but you have air transport operations, and particularly aircraft that have nine or more seats, there are CASA oversight requirements on that. Do you think that is appropriate, given that it is not a licensed or registered airfield?

Mr McGregor: I must say that I am just answering in terms of the regulation of the aerodromes.

Senator FAWCETT: This is part of the regulation of aerodromes. It is in your manual?

Mr McGregor: Yes.

Mr McCormick: There are approximately 134 registered aerodromes and approximately 188 registered aerodromes. If there are PT operations to an aerodrome that is not registered or certified—and I do not know at this stage whether there are, as you say, at nine seats or above—that would be surveilled under the approval of that air operator’s certificate for the operator who is operating into that airfield. Of course, 139 does have requirements on the operator of the airfield, particularly in relation to runway widths, and those two items are somewhat separate.

Senator FAWCETT: Would you accept the fact that that is an application of the James Reason model of safety?

Are you familiar with the James Reason model?

Mr McCormick: Yes, I am.

Senator FAWCETT: It is another element of safety and, while you predominantly regulate the aircraft and the aircrew, the environment that they operate in is also an important part of safety?

Mr McCormick: Most definitely so, and everything that hangs off that, from baggage services through to air traffic control services. What we are trying to do is look over the whole industry under the various heads of power that we have. Certain parts of the industry require more oversight than others. But we do have that ability and we are looking at the industry holistically.

Senator FAWCETT: I recognise that RAA aircraft are at arm’s length and you have a very distant oversight of that; but do you have a direct responsibility for oversighting general aviation safety?

Mr McCormick: That is correct.

Senator FAWCETT: So, regardless of where an operator chooses to fly an aircraft, you would have a responsibility for having oversight for the safety of that aircraft and the operation?

Mr McCormick: When it comes to a broad statement, the answer is yes. When it comes to general aviation private operations of a person in their own aircraft, operating from their own airfield, say, that is on their own property, we tend not to have an area that we delve into in that respect. But our general view is, yes, we do. Some years ago, in 2009 and into 2010, we converted, as you are most probably aware, the gap airfields into class D airspace on the basis that we could have better oversight and better safety protection for the GA operators who predominantly use those airfields.

Senator FAWCETT: So if a GA operator is operating at an airfield and the owner of the airfield, who is not the operator—so it is not a private airfield—elects to build, for example, a water storage dam or reservoir which attracts birds right next to the runway, would that be considered a safety issue?

Mr McCormick: We certainly would look at that, yes.

Senator FAWCETT: Where that has occurred, have you looked at that?

Mr McCormick: You would have to give me a specific example. I do not know of—

Senator FAWCETT: Casino?

Mr McCormick: Unless Mr McGregor has any specific information on Casino, I will have to take that on notice.

Senator FAWCETT: The question in part is: given your previous answers to this committee, that if an ALOP aerodrome is not registered or certified you are essentially hands off, what mechanism is in place for you to be able to have that influence and, as you put it, that head of power to intervene and, if needs be, direct the airport operator to rectify a dangerous situation? Or is it incumbent on the operator to then curtail his operations to remain safe in accordance with CASA’s expectations?

Mr McCormick: There are a couple of examples of this. We have had GPS type approaches into airfields which were not certified or registered where we ran into this conflict. That is one of the reasons that we have maintained the oversight of the certified and registered airfields and require that as a minimum for someone who is going to have an instrument approach to their airfield.
We are very cognisant as well, though, that all regulation carries a cost. It carries a burden, in particular, on the general aviation sector. We are trying to get the maximum amount of safety oversight that we can without unnecessarily burdening them with economic cost. ‘Unnecessarily’ means that we do not have a one-size-fits-all approach to every airfield that is not certified or not registered.

Senator FAWCETT: My question, though, is: what framework is in place? If an operator is concerned with something—one of those slices of Swiss cheese in the James Reason model—that is impacting his safety, what avenue do they have to come to you, as the regulator, and to have you enforce, from the government’s perspective, the intent statement of the white paper on aviation, the NASAG intent statement, the terms of the lease or the deed that transferred ownership of airfields to local government?

Mr McCormick: Some of those matters, such as the NASAG and those other issues that you raise on the airfield operation or who owns the airfield et cetera, of course are matters of government policy and rightly fit with the department. Off-airfield development is a similar thing, where, again, CASA has a limited role to play. Whether we should have a larger role or not is not a question for me to decide; but, as far as our available powers go, there are numerous heads of power where people can come to us directly, or write to us or email us or whatever, and we will take the issue on its face value.

Senator FAWCETT: What I am hearing there is that there are examples where there is a legitimate safety concern and you do not currently have a head of power that will enable you to act.

Mr McCormick: I do not think that is correct. I think we do have adequate heads of power, except for the off-airfield development. We have section 92, where we can give directions to airfield operators, and that is not restricted to certified and registered aerodromes.

Senator FAWCETT: So potentially you could get rid of a body of water that is attracting birds, but you may not be able to affect a situation in Victoria where somebody just off-airfield has planted trees deliberately at the end of a runway to encumber aircraft operations and require the runway to get shorter and shorter?

Mr McCormick: I think that is fair to say, yes.

Senator FAWCETT: Chair, I will come back with some questions in a minute.

Senator FAWCETT: I will come back quickly to your role in the process of airport development, under local government. In fact under MOS 139, when an airport operator wishes to choose things like critical aircraft to determine runway length and a whole range of other things for the aircraft, you are supposed to be consulted. Can you confirm—I am happy for you to take this on notice—who was consulted when, for example, Jandakot decided that 2 Bravo would be their critical aircraft? Local government and state government in New South Wales have similar requirements to MOS 139 in terms of consultation, particularly where proposed development may infringe on the obstacle limitation surface. Were you consulted at Bankstown when the Toll building was put in on the final approach for the helipad? The helicopter operators now have to fly over, the whole time.

For example, with places like Casino, they built a whole caravan park or motor home village on the extended centre line of the runway and had to shorten the runway by 1,500 feet to still allow appropriate clearance. Were you consulted on that? Bearing in mind that it might not be your regulation but that it was state and local government requirements, you should have been consulted on that.

Mr McCormick: I will take that on notice because Airservices and the department are involved in this to some extent as well.


Senator FAWCETT: In terms of your tracking of safety issues and monitoring developments, your report goes to the heart of the fact that, following a partial power loss or a complete engine failure, the pilot essentially has three options, which is to do a forced landing outside the airfield, on the airfield but not on the runway, or on the runway if they are very skilful or have the appropriate height et cetera.

Two of those situations require that clear space be available. Are you concerned by the encroachment of residential and non-aviation facilities, whether that be Bella Vista at Caloundra, the old folks home that has just been approved at Evans Head, or things like the Toll building at Bankstown in the undershoot of the approach to the helipad? Do you have concerns from a safety perspective, given that your excellent report highlights the need for survivability for the pilot to be able to conduct a forced landing in and around the vicinity of the aerodrome, that this encroachment of non-aviation related infrastructure is actually elevating the risk, given the relatively high occurrence of those power loss situations?

Mr Dolan: The short answer is that, in accordance with the risk analysis that we undertake, I am not at the point where I share the concern, or not to the extent that you clearly do. The number is, say, 242 occurrences over a 10-year period, which is 24 a year—

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