FORMER Civil Aviation Safety Authority chairman Dick Smith is threatening to sue air traffic control authorities unless they reverse a decision to close down 27 Flightwatch transmitters he says are essential to air safety.

The transmitters provide weather and safety information to pilots and Mr Smith says their closure by Airservices Australia would be "an intolerable risk to public safety and a clear contravention of government policy".

He says the decision, which will save the air navigation authority an estimated $500,000 a year, was made in virtual secrecy and with no consultation or detailed study of cost and safety benefits.

View Mr Smiths Full Claim and Supporting Documentation

Undaunted by the $350,000 cost of his last unsuccessful legal battle with the air navigation provider, Mr Smith yesterday gave Airservices chief executive Gregg Russell until 10am on Thursday to wind back the decision or face a Federal Court injunction.

He said the move would save Airservices 0.1 cents in the dollar and was "just not worth it".

"There are 27 air safety radio stations that have been in place for 50 years that are being closed down two days before the election, with no consultation, no safety study," he said.

"You don't use it a lot but it's an absolute necessity."

Mr Smith's warning centres on a move by Airservices to transfer the Flightwatch service to air traffic control.

Airservices says pilots operating in the least controlled categories of airspace will benefit because they will be able to access flight information alerts on the same ATC frequencies used to monitor nearby aircraft.

It also argues the move will allow it to provide better hazard information and improved situational awareness.

But Mr Smith contends the decision is a substantial danger because of the "obvious risk" that pilots using ATC frequencies to seek Flightwatch-type updates would be blocked by others requiring instructions for landing and separation.

"When the weather's bad you will not be able to get your safety information," he said. "That's why it's there; it's only there for the bad times."

Mr Smith said the decision was also contrary to the federal Government's National Airspace System policy, which would eventually require a separate Flightwatch system so air traffic controllers could provide separation in presently uncontrolled "Class E" airspace.

He said Airservices' consultation on the change had been by way of an information sheet and that Transport Minister Mark Vaile had told him the authority had seen no need for wider consultation.

Mr Vaile had not responded to calls for a direction preventing the move.

"I am amazed that, as an individual, I have to spend my money taking on the responsibilities of the Government when it comes to air safety," Mr Smith said.

An Airservices spokesman said that only the method of delivering Flightwatch information, used primarily by pilots of smaller planes, had changed.

Read the PPrune Discussion Thread on this Topic

Topic from the Crikey Website today on this issue:


Ben Sandilands writes:

By either complete coincidence or shrewdly calculated timing, a lot is happening to air safety standards during the "caretaker mode" of government in the run-up to the election. The latest is the planned closure two days before the poll of the Flightwatch auxiliary air traffic information network for smaller general aviation aircraft that need to fly through the same space as airliners.
Dick Smith is threatening to sue Airservices Australia over the changes. His media statement and his letter to the air traffic authority involve complex and important issues. Whether Smith is right or wrong, the open debate and analysis that the law provides for isn’t taking place.
Why not? These changes are being steamrolled into place without any of the consultation required under the regulations, at a time when the Minister for Transport, Mark Vaile, can use "caretaker mode" as a cover for avoiding argument. No one will notice a thing, unless the loss of this service results in loss of life.
This latest tussle is indicative of the urge of government to keep air safety scrutiny out of the public eye. The most spectacular instance of this was the Civil Aviation Safety Authority’s bland assertion that it was entirely appropriate for Jetstar to self-examine an incident in which one of its A320s flew a stuffed up missed approach to Melbourne Airport on 21 July.
We now know what Jetstar had no idea at that time how seriously close to disaster more than 138 passengers and crew had been flown, or that it has flight standards issues which are being pursued by the independent Australian Transport Safety Bureau investigation.
Read that report carefully. Look at the pretty diagrams. This is an insight into a dysfunctional safety culture that needs fixing without delay.
Election mode has also provided a cone of ministerial silence over some incredible pronouncements by Bruce Byron, the chief executive officer of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, in a booklet on safety management released recently at the Safeskies forum.
Some gems: ''Basically CASA’s role is to attempt to influence the safety outcomes that somebody else delivers." Attempt!
And: "The consequences of a less prescriptive regulatory environment is a greater need for the business, particularly the CEO, to manage safety."
This astonishing document defies not just the many speeches by the transport minister promising more vigilant, more prescriptive, tougher, no nonsense regulation of safety, if tries to redefine the role of CASA as only "attempting to influence" the very people it is supposed to regulate.
Since when did parliament repeal the acts investing CASA with rigorous responsibilities and replacing them with a mandate to only "attempt to influence"?
Garuda, we are sorry. How dare the likes of Alexander Downer babble worthless platitudes about the unsafe practices of Indonesian pilots when Australia is in secretive and determined retreat from anything resembling effective aviation safety administration?
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