Steve Creedy | November 16, 2007
FORMER Civil Aviation Safety Authority chairman Dick Smith has withdrawn his threat of legal action over Flightwatch after Airservices Australia agreed to review its decision to transfer the service to air traffic control radio frequencies.
Mr Smith said last night he had a letter from Airservices telling him it would participate in an external review of its plans for Flightwatch, which provides weather and other information to pilots, following a request from Transport Minister Mark Vaile. The transfer of remaining Flightwatch frequencies would be put on hold.
He said he was happy with the decision and believed that an external review would take up his call for a review of the cost-benefits of the decision.
"An independent review, I believe will say it should be retained," he said.
Mr Smith was last night resisting a call by Airservices to correct some claims he made in his legal threat about the closure of transmitters and the lack of a safety case. It was still his belief that the move was unsafe, a claim backed by the traffic controllers' union, Civil Air.
Civil Air earlier this week supported Mr Smith's call: "Airservices Australia's proposal to transfer the Flightwatch responsibilities to air traffic control added pressure to already extremely busy air traffic controllers. Flightwatch is categorised as the lowest priority of air traffic control duties."
Civil Air president Michael Haines said, "In times of bad weather, when the service is most relevant, controller workload will almost certainly preclude air traffic control provision of Flightwatch information."
While Airservices has agreed to the review, it denies it was going to close the 29 Flightwatch transmitters as part of the move to air traffic control and that it had not adequately investigated the safety of the move. Airservices chief executive Greg Russell said the decision to transfer Flightwatch would not affect the overall safety of the air traffic management system.
He said a review in 2006, undertaken in accordance with Airservices' safety management system, led to Flightwatch being changed to air traffic control frequencies using lower airspace Very High Frequency (VHF) channels.
"Other than the change of frequencies, the procedures for pilots requesting and receiving Flightwatch information remains unchanged," Mr Russell said.
"The Flightwatch service remains a free-of-charge service for general aviation and VFR pilots."
Mr Russell also denied Mr Smith's charge that there had been a lack of consultation. He said Airservices advised the industry through the Regional Airspace Users Advisory Committee of the proposed changes in August and kept consulting with industry through RAPAC and other regional forums.
The service received only about 50 calls per day and four inquiries about the change have been received since pilots were advised of the change and all but one had been satisfactorily resolved.
He said the VHF stations previously used by Flightwatch would used for air traffic control.
"This will allow Airservices the flexibility to accommodate growth in air traffic, provide better coverage for aircraft in low-level regional areas and meet the requirements of any further expansion of Class 'E' airspace," he said.
An Airservices spokesman said last night that safety was priority for the air traffic control provider.
The spokesman said there were worries the debate had caused confusion in the industry about whether Flightwatch was closing.
"It isn't it's just going to a different frequency," he said.
Following is copy of Legal Response to Mr Smith from Airservices Solicitors:
|Copy of letter from Minter Ellison for Airservices
By Dick Smith
Nov 16, 2007, 09:06
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