The madness of leaving Newcastle Airport under the air traffic control of one man and a radio for four weeks over the holiday season as reported in Crikey yesterday has been overturned.
Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon (who is the local member) and Transport & Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese ditched CASA’s supposedly ‘safe’ arrangements overnight, and Defence, which leases access to the Williamtown field to the airlines, will reinstate the air traffic control it normally provides.
This will be one man and a radio and, crucially, a radar screen, so that the location of all aircraft on the arrival and departure paths to the busy airport can be known at all times.
There are likely consequences for CASA and AirServices Australia from this ministerial intervention which follows threatened legal action by Dick Smith over the previous plans on the grounds that they were contrary to CASA’s legal obligations in relation to safe air navigation.
For the first time since CASA and AirServices Australia began to argue that it was perfectly safe to have airliners flying through sections of busy airspace without precision control their minister, Anthony Albanese, has implicitly rejected that proposition.
This puts Albanese on the same page as Qantas and Tiger Airways, which refuse on safety grounds to use the areas of uncontrolled airspace that AirServices Australia keeps declaring at short notice because of its chronic inability to adequately staff the control consoles.
Virgin Blue has more recently joined in condemnation of the air traffic fiascos, and even threatened to invoice AirServices for damages to its business, while Qantas low-cost subsidiary Jetstar has consistently gone along with whatever CASA or AirServices dish up.
While the Newcastle situation did not involve AirServices it did rely on the fiction from themselves and CASA that a lack of certainty in the position of airliners and other traffic in uncontrolled airspace was perfectly safe.
This fiction lies at the heart of the danger that the mismanagement of air traffic control staffing levels by AirServices poses to the public, and which most of the airlines will no longer tolerate.
It has now been exposed.
In the original CASA statement justifying the one man and a radio system, the safety regulator emphasised that all aircraft using Newcastle airport airspace would have to use radar transponders.
But without radar CASA’s man on the ground couldn’t see them anyhow! It was a gratuitously stupid thing for CASA to say, in relation to an airport taking more than one million passengers a year, and has at last been noticed at the ministerial level.