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Latest Articles Last Updated: Jul 14th, 2011 - 11:11:49

New article by Dick Smith - Ten years of aviation safety neglect
By Dick Smith
Nov 2, 2006, 09:50

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The following article was written by Dick Smith for publication in Australia.  It was initially sent to The Bulletin magazine, who rejected it.  It was then sent to The Australian, The Australian Financial Review and the Sydney Morning Herald.  All rejected the article.


Dick then did a deal with The Australian Financial Review which resulted in the article being published in an edited form on the understanding that he would allow a photograph of him to be used at no cost in an entirely different article.


Read the article here in full and be concerned about what is happening in relation to airline safety in Australia.


Here is the article:


Ten years of aviation safety neglect

By Dick Smith


Australian air safety deficiencies





Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) for 10 – 30 passenger airline aircraft.

No requirement.

Mandatory TCAS I or equivalent requirement from 1995.

Terrain Awareness and Warning System (TAWS) for turbine powered aircraft of 6 or more passengers.

No requirement.

Mandatory from 29 March 2005.

Minimum of controlled airspace for jet airline aircraft

No requirement.


Approach radar for Class C airspace

Required but not complied with.


Graphical weather in the cockpit

Not planned.

Already operating.

Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS)

Not planned.**

Already operating.


** Promoting alternate technology.


It is ten years since Australia turned its back on air safety reforms now taken for granted in most of the developed world.


This deliberate avoidance of air safety changes with clearly defined benefits will inevitably end in a major disaster involving a jet airliner in this country.


And the travelling public will be scandalised to learn through the subsequent Royal Commission how strong willed airline managements and weak willed ministers took decisions that betrayed the trust people had come to place in carriers that falsely trumpeted their ‘safety first’ credentials.


There are in service in Australia today over 150 airline aircraft of less than 30 seats capacity that could not legally fly anywhere in the US or Europe because they are not fitted with a traffic alert and collision avoidance system.


These devices, called TCAS 1, have been compulsory in America since 1995, as has a more elaborate system called TCAS II for larger aircraft. Australia only adopted the latter, and had no choice but to do so, since without such devices our airliners could not legally use any of the commercially important air traffic corridors or airports in the rest of the world.


The penny pinching over TCAS 1 for small airliner operations is a seriously flawed decision.


Automated collision avoidance systems are necessary because Australia permits aircraft of all sizes and speeds to fly through large areas of identical air space without the continual direction of air traffic control.


There have been no mid air collisions between aircraft fitted with TCAS in the world since it came into use and where the pilots followed the advisory calls.


A peculiarity of Australian rules is that light aircraft that use controlled airspace are compelled to fit transponders that tell big jets where they are, but leave the 30 passenger and fewer airline flights without TCAS in the same air space.


TCAS safety rules were followed internationally by TAWS, the Terrain Awareness and Warning System, which is an enhanced ground proximity warning system that has been compulsory in the US for all turbine aircraft of six or more seats since March 29, 2005.


This is the greatest safety innovation of the past decade, yet there is no similar requirement for its use in Australia. Old ground proximity warning devices only look down and issue an alert to pull up, often when it is too late.  TAWS looks forward.


If this requirement for TAWS had been in force in Australia on May 7 last year it is most likely that our worst airliner crash in 30 years at Lockhart River in Far Northern Queensland would not have occurred – yes, 15 people could be alive today.


The Metroliner would have ‘seen’ the mountain ridge it struck while flying in thick cloud in time to climb over it, where the downward looking system could not.


We have to ask why other countries would have such requirements for aircraft with 6 passengers or more, but Australia has not even started the process of making it a proposed rule for discussion by all parties.


Why have we dropped the ball compared to the many years when we were a world leader in air safety innovation and reform?


Part of the answer lies in the consequences of the policy of selling off airports together with a policy of full cost recovery for all aviation activities.


As Minister for Aviation, John Anderson, took the easy path of screwing the customers and the especially the already marginalised rural carriers but not reforming the cost side of air traffic control, regulation and compliance.


He knew that if he imposed even minor safety improvement costs on the small regional operators even more country towns would lose their air services under his stewardship.


But he wasn’t strong enough to alter or even recognise the policy settings that lead to this dismal outcome, and he was no match for the cost cutting fanaticism in Qantas, that felt threatened by the few dollars or less a passenger it would cost for Jetstar’s 177 seat Airbuses to have the services of a control tower at its Avalon base.


Anderson also deskilled aviation safety regulation. An example is his appointment of Nick Burton Taylor, businessman and National Party supporter, as the Chairman of Airservices Australia – the person who is ultimately responsible for airspace regulation in Australia. Burton Taylor has no expertise in aviation safety regulation and is almost invisible.  There will be serious consequences for the neglect that has relegated Australia from the front bench to back bench of aviation safety innovation.


Even when as minister John Anderson was right, he was too weak to deliver his policy outcomes.  Government policy was to adopt world’s best practice where high density airspace (known as Class C) is used and install an approach radar facility, because without one, it is impossible to know with certainty the position of all aircraft in the vicinity.


Yet when Anderson issued a legal direction for Airservices Australia to install approach radars he was ignored. Two years have now passed and there hasn’t even been an order placed for approach radars, with Airservices Australia defying the government on the grounds they aren’t necessary because there has never been a collision in this type of air space in this country.


How many dead people does Airservices Australia require before they reconsider such a capricious and dangerous stance?


We have more aircraft and more people flying on a regular basis than ever before, yet we ignore or reject the improved safety standards adopted by America and Europe.


In the US, airliners are not permitted to use any airport without being in controlled air space. In Australia there is no such requirement, something ordinary travellers are unaware of when they fly in large jets into Avalon, Ballina, Proserpine, Ayers Rock and Broome.


Current operations at those airports would be illegal by the standards of most of the developed world. Why are they tolerated in this country?


Why is graphical weather data now available in the cockpits of aircraft in the US, unavailable, and not even on any published safety agenda, in this country?


Why is there no consideration being given to using the safety improvements known as the Wide Area Augmentation System which is being introduced this year in American skies?


Why has our country been sleeping for the last 10 years and what will make it wake up?


We proudly point to having some of the world’s busiest air routes, like Sydney-Melbourne, yet we allow practices in our skies that are third world.


While I was chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority during the Hawke administration I was able to advance safety reforms. Now there is a culture of change aversion that has effectively removed Australia from identifying and participating in improvements to air safety.


But I expect my critics will continue to be obsessed by the man and not by the dangers inherent in current standards and procedures that are blithely pushed to one side by the airlines and government.


So why do I keep beating my head against the brick wall of indifference to make these points?


Because one day one or more passenger jets are going to be ripped apart in an accident that could not happen in most of the developed world.


And a Prime Minister and Transport Minister will try and express shock and amazement and say “But we didn’t know about this.”


I’m saying these things now to make sure that they do know, and that there is no excuse for such ignorance and indifference, and such wilful, foolish and disgraceful neglect.

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