Source: The Australian
Steve Creedy | July 11, 2008

CIVIL Aviation Safety Authority boss Bruce Byron has warned Airservices Australia to get its house in order, saying he does not want to be talking about air traffic controller shortages in a year's time.

Mr Byron yesterday made a rare radio appearance to address criticism by air traffic controllers and former CASA chairman Dick Smith that the authority was not doing enough to address allegations of safety problems in unsupervised airspace.....

The shortage of controllers at Airservices Australia, as well as related complaints about overtime and rosters, were thrust back into the public spotlight this week after The Australian revealed warnings that some foreign pilots were unaware of Traffic Information Broadcast by Aircraft (TIBA) procedures used in unsupervised airspace.

The claim by air traffic controllers in an industry forum prompted calls by their union, Civil Air, for a wholesale review of safety procedures for passenger jets in uncontrolled airspace.

The union also claimed that the number of instances of unsupervised airspace rose by 63 per cent in June to almost 100, a number disputed by Airservices.

But Mr Byron yesterday confirmed that the number of TIBA incidents had been rising.

"I get weekly reports on that," he told broadcaster Alan Jones on Sydney radio. "But I think to put it in context - and as I said, this is not an ideal situation - what we have is some circumstances where TIBA is declared for maybe a 45-minute or two-hour period, and there may be one or two aircraft affected.

"So we're not talking about very large numbers of aircraft all the time.

"But certainly, the times that these TIBA procedures are being declared has been increasing.

"Sometimes it's for a few hours, sometimes it's only for 30 minutes. And I want to see a situation develop where we're not talking about this in 12 months' time."

Mr Byron said the controller shortage had been developing for some time and he had been talking to Airservices chief executive Greg Russell about it for more than six months.

But he downplayed safety fears raised by Mr Smith and air traffic controllers. He said the TIBA procedures were internationally accepted and documented as well as in books foreign pilots were required to read before entering Australian airspace.

Traffic alert and collision avoidance systems provided another element in the system.

"Our role, as CASA, is to monitor each element of the system," he said. "If we ever get to a point where we think it is not being managed adequately - and things will change - our role is to take action.

"Now we're certainly not at that point with this situation."

Mr Byron admitted that CASA was relying on everyone "doing the right thing", although he noted this was the case even in a normal environment around Sydney.

He said CASA had carried out a risk assessment of the problem and was constantly monitoring Airservices.

"We're going into their control rooms at different times and making sure they're applying the correct procedures adequately," he said.

He also revealed that CASA was taking the opportunity to check foreign crews on their familiarity with TIBA procedures.

A CASA spokesman confirmed yesterday that the new assessments, which would be conducted during ramp checks, would begin today.

He said CASA would also increase its surveillance of Airservices' operations.

Mr Russell said during a speech last month that Airservices planned to double the number or air traffic control trainees to between 80 and 100 a year over the next five years as it moved to address shortages.

He said he expected to have recruited enough controllers by the end of this month to meet requirements but admitted this would not solve all the "service delivery" problems facing Airservices. However, Civil Air has questioned whether the recruitment will be enough and estimates there will still be a conservative shortfall of 180 controllers by 2013.