Logic Takes A Dive on Airspace:


Published November 2004


Recently I was obliged to more closely examine what has occurred on 25 November 2004 in relation to Airservices Australia and our airspace. There might be some people who like myself did not really follow what Airservices have done in November 2004.


Imagine you are driving down the road following the rules, not speeding and driving on your side of the road. Then a policeman directs you off the road. You ask not unreasonably, “Yes officer what have I done?” He relies, “Nothing Sir, but there is a bus coming down the road, it's five miles away but we have to clear the road so that it can use the road without worrying about if there is any other traffic.”


Last year on 27 November 2003 the system of having E airspace over D towers came into effect. Thus at Albury and Coffs Harbour, just for example, if it was VMC you could fly over the tower at 4,500 feet and above on the appropriate directional heights. From 25 November this year, you will require a clearance because that airspace is now C.


So why was it that CASA and Airservices and Minister Anderson supported the change last November (2003) that brought in this E airspace over D towers? If it was that dangerous, why was it not stopped immediately? The fact is they do it in America where I am told the FAA estimate there are about 189,000 active aircraft and we in Australia, on 27 November last year, decided to do the same thing with what I am told is our approximately 6,000 active aircraft.


So who really made the decision to withdraw this E airspace and why? Did the Board members of Airservices Australia believe they might be personally liable if there was a tragic accident in the post November 2003 and pre wind back airspace system? If this was so, surely it was up to the government to put their minds to rest. That done, why not move forward again and reinstall the 2003 pre wind back system?


One thing is sure; it was Airservices Australia that have grabbed back this airspace. Why they did I think we will have to wait and see. It comes down to a notion of ‘wait and see’ because in my opinion it defies logic to say that what was done in November 2003 is now not safe. Have you heard Airservices saying “We made a mistake last year and exposed Australian aviation to an unacceptable risk?” I doubt it. What you might hear them say is “We have made it safer from 25 November 2004.” In my opinion the line, 'It is safer to leave the plane on the ground' follows from the suggested notion, which Airservices is currently pushing i.e. that they have now made it safer.


Of course it’s going to be safer if it’s controlled airspace and sure, it’s safer for the bus if we all pull over whenever a bus is on the road. But like the car and the bus, we in the air have to share this medium of air and we have the advantage over the car and bus, in that air is three-dimensional. Busses drive in single lane roads with opposing traffic, a bit like light aircraft were able to transit over D towers on a clear day.


If most commercial aircraft have TCAS and it is a requirement to fly in E to have a transponder on mode C, how can it reasonably be said that we in Australia are not safe if we have E airspace over a D tower? AOPA agreed not to object to the mandating of transponders in E if we could have E over D towers. The E space has gone but transponders are still compulsory in the remaining E space. Good one!


There was no complaint from CASA to these 25 November 2004 wind back moves. Why would there be? It is going to be safer. Why should CASA get upset about putting police out on the road to stop the cars when there is a bus? CASA don’t pay the police, but aircraft do and will pay for this extra Airservices service. Be it ultimately the traveling public or aircraft owner, it is still paid for.


Unlike the States paying for the police to stop the cars, the Commonwealth Government says all users of airspace have to pay and pay enough not just for the service but also to give the Commonwealth Government a dividend, (see sections 46 and 47 of the Air Services Act 1995). I am very disappointed to see that the Minister has not made more noise on this issue.


A year ago on 27 November 2003 he said “The system being implemented today has been subjected to rigorous safety analysis by Airservices Australia and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, with both these agencies satisfied that the changes are safe…. We are working in stages to introduce a United States based airspace system that offers Australia a safe, proven system.” Yeah, well it's even safe now and hang the expense!


The Minister also said on the same day in November last year, “I believe that NAS will encourage greater participation in the aviation industry, and that the benefits of greater participation will be a growth in employment both in the aviation industry and in regional communities that rely on it.” Except for extra air traffic controllers, I cannot see these wind back changes achieving that ideal.


When the tower is not open at Albury the D and C controlled airspace reverts to G and we have overlaying E at 8,500. However at Coffs Harbour when the tower is closed we still have C airspace active at 4,500 feet. Why is this?


It is all too easy to push the safety nerve button in aviation. “Fare paying passengers must be safe.” Do I hear you say, “Just like bus passengers?” The Minister said on that big day last year “Australia’s major airlines and the Royal Australian Air Force have accepted the new system as safe.” So what has changed that it is now unsafe such that we must lose E over D towers?


© C. P. McKeown - 25 November 2004