On July 20 articles were printed in Tasmanian newspapers raising concerns about airspace over Tasmania and operations at Launceston and Hobart Airports. Details of the reports are available from these web sites.
The President of Civil Air, Robert Mason, has issued a response which has been sent to the editors of both newspapers. The response is as follows.
In response to concerns about aviation safety in Tasmania, I would like to make the following observations:
The incident in Launceston was neither a "near miss" nor gross abrogation of responsibilities on behalf of the controller involved. In this scenario the tower controller may have been able to extend to cover the arrival of the two jets but both were operated by companies that have a policy of not wanting the tower to stay open, as it attracts additional charges. When the tower is open, controllers separate the aircraft down to the ground. The Air Traffic Control service could be provided by local ATC should it be required by government and airline operators. At present the operators are unwilling to pay for the service.
The proximity of the aircraft was less than desirable but not dangerous. Of more concern from the findings of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau report were that it appears the separation may not have been effectively managed in the 2 cockpits to ensure that that no collision risk could occur. Airborne collision avoidance systems fitted to both aircraft did not alert the crews of the possibility of a collision because such a risk did not exist. The systems did provide valuable information to the crews as to the relative positions of the aircraft and, ultimately, positive action was taken to emplace more separation between the flights.
The availability of the since decommissioned radar at Launceston at the time of incident was, unfortunately, immaterial to the outcome. The aircraft were operating on a frequency specific to Launceston and not accessible by Melbourne ATC. The controllers, who did have access to radar, simply could not talk to the aircraft.
Had Launceston tower been open, the local controller would have managed the separation without radar as they do not have a display that is usable for Air Traffic Control. Whilst it may seem unsafe to the uninitiated, there are hundreds of thousands of aircraft movements across Australia every year, safely managed by highly skilled ATC and air crew without radar.
Particularly in Tasmania, the ability to hop on a flight across Bass Strait provides an invaluable link for many to keep in touch with friends, family, work, holidays and study. So should we be scared? The incident, in context, is certainly a less than desirable situation for the customers relying on air travel. We should be concerned, and hold the authorities involved responsible for emplacing procedures and/or services to prevent future occurrences, but need not be frightened. The simple truth is that the most dangerous part of the journey remains the drive to and from the airport.
President, Civil Air
The Australian Air Traffic Controllers' Association